The basics
THE UK: Once you arrive

Opening a Bank Account in the UK

Find out how to open a bank account in the UK

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If you are going to be in the UK for more than a few months, opening a bank account is a wise decision. You can use your account to pay bills, make purchases, write cheques and withdraw cash. Above all, it keeps your money safe. You should apply for an account as soon as you arrive since it can take three weeks or more to set up.

 

 

Choosing a bank

You should be able to open a ‘basic bank account’ with a number of different banks. A ‘basic bank account’ provides easy access to banking facilities for adults in the UK. Additionally, some banks offer a bank account tailored specifically for your needs as an international student. Most banks don’t ask you to pay in any money to open a basic account. You should look around to see which bank and account suit you best and then visit the local branch of the bank you have chosen.

 

Some of the biggest banking providers in the UK include NatWest, Lloyds, HSBC and Santander though some of the smaller banks might offer accounts which suit your needs too. The bigger banks will try to woo you with incentives. For example, NatWest offer their customers a 16-25 railcard which gives you a 1/3rd off rail fares. Meanwhile HSBC might be a more convenient as they have branches all over the world. You should always read the terms of the accounts rather than be distracted by the added extras which come with an account.

 

If you’re studying in a large city or town, you’ll have more options open to you; whereas if you’re studying in a smaller area, you may have fewer options.

 

 

Which account is best for me?

A basic bank account is an account offering basic banking services. You can use it to pay in and take out money using a debit card at a cash machine (otherwise known as ‘ATM machines’), but you cannot automatically get credit or access an ‘overdraft’ (an overdraft is where you are technically using money you don’t have and you pay it back with a small amount of interest depending on how long you are in your overdraft). If you need access to these options you should speak to a bank about opening a ‘current account’ or find out what else may be made available to you. There may be different application procedures for opening current accounts. There are also other types of account where the bank asks you to keep a minimum balance. This allows the bank to offer you a wider range of products and services. Some banks also offer student accounts. Speak to the bank for more information.

 

 

Opening an account and documents you need

 You will need to visit the local branch of the bank you have chosen and take with you documents that show who you are. Please check with your chosen bank what they require, but usually you need to provide the following as a minimum:

  • Your passport with student visa, if that is appropriate

OR • your national photo ID card, if you are from an EU country.

  • The letter from your university/college/school confirming your UK study details

OR a ‘Letter of Introduction for UK Banking Facilities’ which your university/college/school will complete to show your UK study details.

 

  • You may also need to provide bank statements from your home country account

 

 If you want to open an online or a telephone account, the bank may need to see more documents to prove your ID. Bank staff will be able to tell you what documents they accept in these circumstances. Once you have opened a bank account in the UK, always let your bank know in writing and as soon as possible if you change your address.

 

 

Chip & Pin

Chip & pin is widely used in shops, bars and restaurants around the country. This is where you insert your card and enter your 4-digit code to pay for goods and services. Contactless payment is also spreading fast where you simply tap your debit card on a contactless point or teller (you can even pay for your tube ticket on-the-go this way).

 

 

Additional tips for international students

  • Ask your bank to send you printed monthly bank statements as these can be helpful if you need to make an application to extend your student visa.  
  •  Some banks may charge international students an initial or monthly fee.  The additional services provided will vary between each bank. Some banks will also offer a free, but more basic account.
  • If you are expecting to receive money from overseas, you should ask what charges may apply and how long it will take to make the money available in your account.
  • If you will be cashing cheques issued in other countries into your UK account (for example, US Loan Cheques), then be sure to check that this will not trigger your bank's anti-fraud procedures, which can result in your account being frozen for extended periods during an investigation.
  • If you plan on using a credit or debit card from your home country while you are in the UK, check before you leave home that your card is compatible with UK bank machines, or if there will be any additional charges. Let the bank know that you will be using it overseas too so it isn’t blocked.
  • Overseas students must typically be on a programme of study which runs a minimum of six months duration in order to qualify for an account.

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About Author

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Alyson Blech recently graduated with degrees in Public Relations and Media Studies, along with minors in Journalism and Art History from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Alyson has lived in Iowa her entire life, but decided to cross the pond to gain internship experience in London, England. In her spare time she obsesses over dogs, pizza and zumba.

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