Living in Leicester: advice for academic visitors to the Molecular Cytogenetics Laboratory

Living in Leicester: typical chain hotel room
Living in Leicester: typical chain hotel room

There are many hotels in easy walking distance of the University, ranging from cheaper chains such as Mercure, Ibis, or Premiere Inn, through more expensive chains such as Classic British/Belmont (previously the University preferred venue for external examiners), to Victorian boutique style such as Spindle Lodge. Others in the city centre, or along London Road are also pleasant and easy walking to the lab. Note hotels such as Hilton/Marriot are well out of the city and difficult to get to the University either by car or public transport. Parking is difficult in the city centre and around the campus, but easy just outside, eg in the London Road hotels. Information about getting to the lab. is linked here. The University has accommodation too at a refurbished building College Court – it gets excellent reviews but is a 20 min walk from the campus and quite expensive. AirBNB has many good rooms, mostly in shared private houses, either in the city centre or the suburbs 1 mile south are nice areas (and you can use my affiliate link discount coupon code for AirBNB – you get £25 off and I get £15 off!).


For longer term visits for fellows, sabbatical visitors and post-grads, the University has a small amount of accommodation in two large residences 5 minutes walk from our lab: Nixon Court and Opal Court, both only a few years old. [Note there is a different scheme for University of Leicester undergraduate and some PhD students from those not registered as a Leicester student – you may find you get to the wrong part of the accommodation office and amazingly they do not know there is a different part which arranges non-student rooms, some of which are in the same buildings or move between the uses. Also note that there are two, entirely different and independent, EU Erasmus schemes with the same Erasmus name: students (= undergraduate taking part in our BSc course)  and Erasmus work placement where you get the letters from the molecular cytogenetics research group.]

Another excellent choice for longer-term, good value rooms in Leicester is the Sovereign Housing (formerly Spectrum or Western Challenge project) which is suitable for students and some post-docs. It is 15 min walk from the University and lab. To book, you may need a letter (which we can provide) to say that you are on a limited income and doing work experience in our research group. Typically, all these residences – Opal Court, Nixon Court, Western Challenge – have about 6 private locked bedrooms (each with sink) off a locked corridor, usually have WiFi, and have a shared kitchen/eating are & bathrooms, with separate laundry and social facilities, costing about £GBP120 to £150 per week. You can be lucky and share with people with similar interests, or unlucky with noise, odd cooking smells etc!

Many visitors choose to live in privately rented accommodation, either a room in somebody’s house, or shared with other people, usually in a similar position to you in the University. You can get nice expensive rooms close to the University, nice cheap rooms miles away, or nasty expensive rooms anywhere. It is challenging to find nice, cheap and close rooms, but most people manage eventually! Also be careful what is included in the rent: heating in uninsulated British houses can be very expensive (£600/month for heating alone is possible if you want the rooms at 25C), and taxes can also be high. A good option is often to book for two to four weeks in the University accommodation, and then look at University notice boards and ask other people in the lab. about rooms they may know about; there is also a letting agency associated with the University –

Note that a continuing problem is uncertainty about exact arrival date because of visa or travel delay issues. This makes it impossible to book accommodation long in advance – although there is sometimes a catch that you need flight bookings and accommodation before getting a visa but can’t book flights or accommodation until you have a visa. Web hotel bookings (eg ) will allow you to choose refundable options.

Within the Molecular Cytogenetics Research lab, we recognize these difficulties in defining exact arrival times. Funding conditions can actually take up to several years to be approved, and then the agency asks you to start within a few weeks. So do not worry if times move or slip: your place in the lab is still safe and we can fit you. But do keep us informed, since there are times when people are away or otherwise.

For living costs in 2018, £GBP1200 per month would allow you to live reasonably comfortably in Leicester, and £GBP850 per month would cover very basic living costs for a student lifestyle, including accommodation, lighting, heating, food and modest personal expenses. Costs in Leicester are very low* for the UK and low for Europe.

Food in the EU including UK is expensive by international standards. You can expect to pay £10 to £15 per day for food, and meat is particularly expensive.

Travel is expensive: trains can be £1 per minute journey time; cars are cheap to buy but costs are dwarfed by insurance, maintenance, tests and taxes, typically several thousand pounds/year.

*For undergraduates, a 2014 survey from Moneywise places the University of Leicester as the cheapest place for undergraduates to live, at £169 per week including food and rent for a room in a shared student house. This compares with £353 per week in London! The same low cost of Leicester was confirmed in 2015:  and in 2018, a bank placed Leicester as the third cheapest place to live in the UK for students: so it may seem expensive from overseas, but not by Western Europe costs!

Cash machines are widely available on campus and elsewhere. Money exchange can be expensive: typically, banks charge 10 to 20%. To avoid these charges, in our lab, we will usually be happy to exchange a few hundred US dollars/Euro/CNY Yuan and sometimes other currencies as cash in either direction at the Google exchange rate, assuming we end up in rough balance overall (people from the lab can then use the $/€ to change to other currencies, thus only paying the banks once).

For European Union citizens, you should get and bring the E111 European Health Insurance Card which is free to help you get free emergency healthcare. Other visitors should have appropriate health and travel insurance.

As an international University environment, there are a lot of viruses and bacterial infections, and temperatures are rarely more than 20C inside the labs and may be much colder and damp. Unfortunately we find that many people succumb to colds, flu etc.  so it is good advice to be careful with infection and clothing. There are few opportunities ever to only wear a T-shirt in the UK! Remember also that in winter, although there are few days below freezing, it is damp and cool, there may be no sun, and the days are only 7hr30min long.

[update Aug 2013 – another case where the left side of the University office told somebody they need a student number etc before anything can be done – instead of referring the person to the next desk over!]

[update Aug 2014 – accommodation costs are a bit higher, but Leicester is still the cheapest place in the UK for undergraduate students to live.]


Update 14 July 2019

Visa rules change rapidly and need to be checked very carefully. See comments below. Ten years ago, I would have said ‘never use an agent’ but in many cases it may be worthwhile now if you can find one who understands the current rules. gives information at July 2019. Basically, if you need a visa as an academic visitor, you now will need a “Standard Visitor visa”. Check if you need one of these. “You can apply for a Standard Visitor visa if you want to visit the UK for business-related activities, for example:

  • you’re coming to the UK for a conference, meeting or training …
  • are an academic and are doing research …These will be 6 months or 12 months (6 months usual … “You might be able to stay for longer if:
    • you’re an academic on sabbatical and coming to the UK for research – you, your spouse or civil partner may be able to stay for up to 12 months (£190 fee)

    If you’re staying in the UK as an academic …  for longer than 6 months, you must apply for a biometric residence permit.

    Another useful PDF is at

As above, you need to be very careful with words: you are not ‘working’ in the sense of being paid. A new comment since c. 2019 is that, in some cases, “An academic can carry out research for their own purposes such as for a book or for their employment overseas but the research should not be for commercial gain.” (p26 of 66 Published for Home Office staff on 5 April 2019) and ‘collaborative research’ is not necessarily the requirement.

“Academics who are applying for a 12 month visit visa, or an extension to complete
12 months as an academic carrying out visitor activities, must be highly qualified
within their field of expertise and working in that area before entering the UK. This
will generally be people with PhDs or higher. If the applicant does not provide
evidence of this, you can usually find a biography on the relevant university website.”

Update 18/Nov/2014: Visa rules change rapidly and should be checked carefully. Currently, you can hardly even visit the lab with a visitor visa. This changed by 2019 – see above A useful website defining academic visitors is given by Oxford University: 

Food added more, prices and Sovereign Housing updated August 2018

Update 1/10/2018 When applying for some types of visas, you will need to provide bank statements. It is likely these will be scrutinized carefully. Make sure they are up-to-date, names/addresses agree, they clearly give salary or other deposits at the correct times, and you need to explain any significant deposits/withdrawals (eg travel expenses refund or buying a car on your bank statement: it probably helps to include extra documentation).

Update Jan 2019: While a year ago I would have said using a visa agent was a waste of money, in 2019 I would say to consider using one, but only one that comes with strong recommendations/reviews and who you ‘interview’ by phone or meeting to check what they do. Agents need to work for their money, in particularly checking in detail everything in your application, from your photograph, through whether you have the correct English language test, to your invitation documentation and accommodation or travel plans; they also should know exactly what the latest changes are in application procedures, timelines etc.


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