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The basics
STUDY ABROAD : Once you arrive - Must read

Opening a bank account as a study abroad student

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Organising your finances is a major part of the study abroad preparation process. You need to make sure that while you’re in your new study destination, you are able to live and support yourself and have access to your money. This includes being able to pay for things such as rent, groceries, travel, books and daily living costs. To do this without paying exchange fees, it’s a good idea to open a bank account in the country you’ll be living and studying in.


We’re going to run through the benefits of opening a bank account as an international student, the documents you’ll need and how to go about opening an account as a study abroad student.


Should I open a bank account while studying abroad?

The answer to this question really depends on how long you’ve chosen to study abroad for. If you are only planning to be away for a month or two, then it is arguably not worth it. In this case, you can withdraw money from your home bank account before you leave and then if you need to withdraw additional funds, you can pay a one-off fee when using an ATM. However, if you’ve chosen to study abroad for a year or more, then opening a bank account in your study destination is a sensible and practical idea.  


Which bank account do I need?

There are several types of accounts, but the following are the most common for international students:

  • Student account (deals often offered for students)
  • Checking account (a basic account for paying and receiving funds)
  • Savings account (used for saving money. Make sure to look for the best interest rates)


What are the benefits of opening a bank account as an international student?


1. Avoid ATM fees

You really don’t want to be paying additional costs to withdraw your own money, so having a local bank account will allow you to pay for things without wasting money.


2. Manage your finances efficiently

Opening a bank account in your study destination will enable you to easily pay for important things such as rent and bills. If you are working part-time while you study, you will also be able to receive your paychecks into this account in a safe, secure and legal way. You can also use online banking to see all of your incoming and outgoing payments which is a great way to manage your finances.


3. Safely store your money

Keeping cash lying around your student accommodation is not a particularly safe way of storing your money. It’s a better idea to keep it all in an account so that if you see any suspicious activity, you will be able to receive help from your bank. You can also contact the bank if you lose your card. They will be able to send you a new one with relative ease, otherwise you’ll have to contact your bank at home, and it could take a long time for a new card to find its way back to you.


4. Save yourself the stress

Moving to a new country for your studies can be stressful and overwhelming. The first few weeks, or even months can feel like a bit of blur. There will be lots to take in, so worrying about accessing your money could really put a dampener on your experience.


Opening a student bank account will allow you feel more at ease and give you some stability while living in a new and foreign country. If you do find that you are struggling to cope or are worried about your finances, you can refer to our mental health guide for international students.


5. Build your credit history

You may decide to stay in your study destination after graduating which could involve applying for permanent residency or a work visa. Having a local bank account is great for building credit which could help you in situations where you need to prove your eligibility such as when applying for a credit card.


How to open a student bank account in the UK

As an international student in the UK, you have a range of banks to choose from with different account options. Many banks also cater to international student needs, offering free transfers of funds from the UK back to your home country. Other perks might include a free railcard or discounts on certain services. While these can be enticing, make sure you check the terms of these student accounts as some may expect a monthly fee.  To start you off, here is a list of popular UK banks:

  • NatWest
  • HSBC
  • Barclays
  • Santander
  • Nationwide

Some banks offer the option of applying for an account through their website or over the phone while others might require you to visit the branch in person. For either option, you will need to provide certain documentation to be eligible for a UK bank account:

  • Passport
  • Valid visa
  • Bank statements from the last three months (your home branch)
  • Proof of address, UK or abroad
  • University acceptance letter


Exact requirements may vary according to the bank so make sure you check online before you apply for an account. You will then receive a letter confirming your account and your bank card will arrive in the post. This can take anywhere between three days to a couple of weeks, so make sure this is at the top of your to-do list when you first arrive.


Want more finance tips for students in the UK?


How to open a student bank account in Canada

As with the UK, there are a lot of banks to choose from in Canada. Again, some banks will offer freebies such as a one-off cash payment of CAD 60 to CAD 100 and discounts on restaurants or shops. Take a look at the websites of the following banks in Canada for more information:

  • CIBC
  • BMO
  • National Bank
  • RBC
  • Toronto-dominion bank
  • HSBC

Some banks will offer online applications with document uploading systems while others will require you to phone or visit in person. Speaking to someone at the bank might be the best option for understanding your options, avoiding any ambiguity or confusion. The documents you will need to provide:

  • Passport
  • University acceptance letter
  • Study permit
  • Proof of address
  • Social insurance number (not all banks require this)


Make sure you check with the specific bank for the required documents, as these can differ. According to HSBC, it can take up to 30 days to set up your new account, so make sure you can have access to money in the meantime.


So, now you know how to open a foreign bank account. That’s an important step! For more advice, check out our other guides on student finances.  

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