This article explores the perceived role of UK international education as foreign cultural capital, obtained outside the UK, in facilitating middle-class social mobility. Drawing on interviews with students in Malaysia, it extends Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital to explain understandings of the rewards and limitations of undertaking UK education externally. I argue that foreign cultural capital has positive exchange value and an under-researched negative value. I discuss how accumulating local cultural capital is a strategic response to the shortcomings of western knowledge, skills and dispositions. Age, ethnicity, gender and nationality add complexities to the conversion of cultural capital into economic and social advantages. I conclude by arguing for more visibility of external modes of UK international education and the positional possibilities they represent to foreign students seeking distinction within the rapidly expanding global academic marketplace.