As an international student one of the most important things you will need to sort out is opening a UK bank account. This can sometimes be a lengthy and complicated process so here are the things you will need to understand to get this off your “to do list” fast!

Why should I open a UK bank account?

There are many benefits to opening a UK bank account, including:

  • You won't be charged currency conversion fees every time you withdraw money
  • You'll be issued with a debit card, which you can use everywhere instead of cash
  • You can withdraw money 24/7 from any ATM machine in the UK
  • You'll be able to set up direct debits and standing orders
  • You can register for telephone and internet banking
  • If you need help - for example, if you forget your PIN - it will be far easier to sort things out with a local bank
  • If you work part-time your employer will probably want to pay your wages into a UK bank account
  • A bank statement is commonly accepted as proof of address, which you often need in order to start a job

What are the major UK banks?

The biggest four UK banks are Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and NatWest. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses and you should make your choice based on what feels right for you. You should also consider smaller banks such as Santander, TSB or Al Rayan.

It is usually easier for international students to open accounts with big banks like Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and NatWest. These banks are financially strong and are accustomed to working with overseas customers, so they will have procedures in places to help you open an account faster.

Can I continue using the bank from my country?

Ask whether your current bank operates in the UK and whether you can open a  UK bank account with them, or they may have a partnership with a UK bank.

Do UK banks offer accounts specifically for international students?

Yes, some banks do offer accounts especially designed for the needs of international students, but these normally come with a monthly operating fee. However, if you can wait until you arrive in the UK you can open a bank account aimed at students which normally come with perks such as discounts.

Can I receive money from home into my UK account?

Yes, you can but you need to be aware of a couple of things. Firstly, it can take several days to get money into your account and secondly you will be charged a fee at both ends of the transaction which can often be high and much higher than using a money transfer service.

Therefore, when choosing a bank account find out specifically what the charges are to send and receive money internationally.

What alternatives are there to banks?

If you do not wish to use a traditional brick-and-mortar bank whilst in the UK, you may wish to consider a banking service that allows you to have a pre-paid debit card. The main advantages of this are:

  • You can open the account in minutes before you arrive in the UK
  • You will be issued with a contactless debit card within five days of your arrival in the UK and it will be posted to you
  • The account is a simple current account that allows you to deposit money, use ATMs and make purchases with the debit card that you are issued.

However, be aware that these accounts normally come with a monthly charge.

How do I open a UK bank account?

Remember, the exact documents required may vary from bank to bank so look on their website or read anything you have been sent before you visit the branch to open the account.

However, normally you will need the following paperwork and its worth taking duplicate copies.

  • Your passport
  • Your student visa
  • Proof of address. A letter from your university’s admissions office confirming your address, or your tenancy agreement are the best things to take.
  • A letter from your university/college/school called 'Letter of Introduction for UK Banking Facilities' to show your UK study details.

Do any UK banks observe Sharia law?

Many banks in the UK have recognised that some of their Muslim customers want to bank according to Sharia principles. Check your preferred bank's website to find out if they offer this service.

What can you do via online and telephone banking?

All UK banks allow you to set up telephone and online banking which will allow you to check your balance, print off bank statements, transfer money, set-up direct debits and standing, report you card lost or stolen and get your questions answered.

Click here to understand some UK banking jargon.