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Advice and Counselling Service

Banking in the UK

This page is for international students who are new to the UK and who need to open a bank account here. Following Brexit, this includes EU/EEA and Swiss nationals who are new to the UK and who hold Student Immigration permission. 

What documents will I need to open a UK bank account?

Most banks will need you to have photographic proof of ID, such as a passport, or if you are an EEA national, a national identity card.  

Banks and building societies must make a status check on all new applicants for a current account. If you require immigration permission, you will need to show this to the bank. This will usually be your Biometric Residence Permit, or if you are here for six months or less it will be the sticker in your passport. This is because they cannot open a current account for a person who requires immigration permission to be in the UK but who does not have it, i.e., someone who is in the UK as an overstayer. 

Banks must also check existing account holders' status and if a person no longer holds valid immigration permission, they must report this to the Home Office and the Home Office will decided on further action.   

The bank will also need proof of your UK address and your address in your home country, such as an electronic student status letter from Queen Mary. You must be fully enrolled to get this. Once enrolled, most students can download an electronic student status letterfrom their Queen Mary Gradintelligence account. Make sure you have updated your address either at pre-enrolment or re-enrolment or through the 'My Details' page in MySIS, so it is correct on the letter.   

Other documents may be required by a bank, depending on which bank you are applying to, and what type of account you are applying for. Individual banks will be able to let you know of any other documents they need you to provide. 

Can I open a bank account from outside the UK?

Most banks will normally only open a bank account once a person is resident in the UK and can prove they have a UK address. Some banks allow applications to be started online but often you will need to visit a local branch to complete the application. 

Banks that are fully online and App based may only ask for a UK address to be provided. However these banks may not hold a UK banking licence so do not offer the same potection if you encounter difficulties or are affected by fraudulent activity.

You can also check if your home bank can set up an account for you if it has a corresponding relationship with a UK bank. Always check if charges apply to the account as it may not be the best option for you. 

Each individual bank will have its own application process. Save the Student has compiled a useful table of some of the UK banks offering international student accounts. This includes the eligibility criteria. However, there are many other banks you can also consider including entirely app-based banks that may not require any in person appointment to set-up an account. 

Setting up a bank account can take time so it’s important to make sure that you have access to funds until your UK bank account is active. 

Choosing a bank

It is your decision which bank you choose to look after your money. You might like to consider some of the following factors when choosing: 

  • what type of account(s) can the bank offer you? 
  • will the account pay interest? 
  • how do you want to bank - is it important to you to be able to visit the bank, or would you prefer to bank online or by phone? 
  • does the account offer any incentives? 
  • is there a fee to pay for running the account? 
  • is it easy to transfer money to or from your home country via this account? 

There are comparison websites which have information about different UK banks and accounts, for example, Money Saving Expert , Compare the Market and Money Supermarket and Save the Student.  Student Bank accounts and interest free overdrafts are often mentioned in these sites although these may not be available to international students. 

Types of bank accounts

The features of the two main types of bank account are explained on the Money Helper website: 

As well as a current or basic account for easy access to your money for everyday spending, you might consider opening a savings account. These may offer slightly higher interest, but some will restrict how often you can withdraw money, or they might require you to give a fixed period of notice before you can make a withdrawal. If you have a lot of money in the UK, and if you can find a savings account that pays a higher interest rate than your basic or current account, you could consider putting most of your money into a savings account, and then transferring the money you need into your basic or current account each month. This can also be a useful way of helping you to manage your money and avoid overspending. 

If you require Shariah compliant banking, some high street banks now offer Shariah compliant accounts, and there are also specialist Shariah compliant banks.  

How long does it take to open an account?

This will depend on the bank, but accounts can take at least one or two weeks to open, and often significantly longer. During this time you might not be able to use the account, so you should bring enough money with you to the UK to pay for your living costs to cover the first few weeks of your stay.  

Will I have to pay a charge to run a bank account?

Banks in the UK offer a range of accounts. Most current accounts do not charge a monthly fee, but some do. If there is a fee, the bank account may give you other advantages such as holiday insurance or preferential interest rates. If you are considering a bank account that charges you a monthly fee, check exactly what the additional benefits are, so you can decide whether it is worth paying the monthly fee. A basic bank account does not normally require you to pay any fee for running the account.  

Most banks charge a high fee if you try to withdraw more money than you have in your account without an arranged overdraft facility, or if you exceed any agreed overdraft limit. Also, a charge may be made if a direct debit does not go through because there is not enough money in your account to cover these payments. It is therefore important to manage your account carefully, and check that you have enough money in it to cover your spending. Online banking can help you to check your account regularly. There is useful information on our websiteabout how to plan a budget and manage your money. 

Banking Safety

You can find out about using online banking safely, and be aware of common fraud issues from the Financial Fraud Action website. 

The Money Advice Service also has information about banking fraud and about identity theft, and how to get your money back. 

Banks will not normally call you or text you and ask you to transfer money to a new account or ask you to provide personal information. If you receive a call or text like this, it may be fraudulent so always end the call and contact your bank directly to check authenticity. 

Always keep your address up to date and if you will be absent from the UK for some time, such as the summer vacation, let your bank know in case they consider it to be dormant, no longer in use and close the account. 

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