how to open a uk bank account
The GB Mag team suspects opening a bank account in the UK is at the top of your priority list! But we know the UK banking system is all very new to you, and you'll probably have loads of questions like 'How do I open a bank account?' and 'What bank account is best for me?'
We've tried to answer the all-important questions to make life a little easier for you, but if after reading this you're still unsure we recommend you visit the local branch of the bank of your choice or Student Services at your university for further help.
Banking terms explained
Automated credit transfer
This is a direct payment made to your account from another UK account or from a bank account abroad. Normally the money will be in your account on the same day if the payment is from a UK bank account, but can take up to five days if the payment is being made from another country.
A direct debit (often referred to as D/D) is a payment from your bank account to an organisation or company to pay a regular bill such as a mobile phone bill. Normally the D/D is set up when you enter into a contract with a service provider and the amount taken from your account can vary each month depending on your bill that month.
A standing order or banker's order, as it's sometimes called, is when the account holder instructs their bank to pay a fixed amount of money at regular intervals into another account. It's popular for paying things like rent.
This is short for 'identity', referring to something like a passport. You will need to take some form of identity along with you when you go to open an account. Check with your chosen bank what form of ID they require, to safe yourself a wasted journey!
For details on what forms of ID you may need to bring see our 'How to open a bank account in the UK' section.
A debit card or bank card as it's sometimes called is a shiny plastic card which gives you access to your bank account(s). It's different from a credit card because you can only spend what you have and the amount is deducted from your account straight away, rather than allowing you to pay it back at a later date.
ATM/cash point/cash machine
The Brits sometimes refer to an ATM as 'a hole in the wall', which you'll conveniently find everywhere, so you can have access to your money, check your balance and even deposit money 24/7.
Most cash points are free to use but keep an eye open for those that charge, although they clearly say they're going to charge you.
Also remember to keep your PIN number confidential and don't have it written down. Try to memorise it, as anyone could take money out of your account if they get hold of your debit card and know your PIN.
What's the best way to bring money into the UK?
A really convenient way to bring money into the UK with you is to ask your bank at home to give you a cheque in pounds sterling (£) drawn on a UK bank. Do remember that cheques take approximately 3-5 working days to clear.
Why open a UK bank account?
There are many benefits to opening a UK bank account, including:
- You will 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 will be able to set up direct debits and standing orders
- You can register for telephone and internet banking
- If you work part-time your employer will most likely want to pay your wages into a UK bank account
How do I open a bank account in the UK?
Opening a bank account in the UK is usually quite simple. All you have to do is visit the local branch of your chosen bank with some ID proving who you are. It's always better to stay on the safe side and ask your bank what details you need to take with you as it varies from bank to bank, but it usually includes:
- Your passport with student visa (if that's necessary) or your national photo ID card if you're from an EU country
- A letter from your university/college/school called 'Letter of Introduction for UK Banking Facilities' to show your UK study details
- A letter with your home address on it
How do I choose what bank account is best for me?
The UK is home to loads of banks and some of them have a specific account for overseas students, such as the Santander's International Student Account and the Unizest Aspire international student bank account - which is the only account that you can set-up and start using before arriving in the UK and has an easy online application process.
Services available with UK bank accounts
Every bank in the UK should be able to offer you a ‘basic bank account', which should allow you to do the following:
- Have money paid directly into your account
- Take your money out at ATMs (cash points)
- Take your money out at a Post Office cash point
- Pay bills by standing order or direct debit
- Shop online using a debit card
- Check your account online or over the telephone
Can my family or employer pay money into this account from abroad?
You will first need your bank to give you the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and the Bank Identifier Code (BIC), which is also sometimes called a SWIFT code. Once you have this information you can receive payments from anywhere in the world.
The Unizest Aspire international student bank account has an integrated foreign exchange service in the account that allows you to receive money conveniently and safely directly into your account.
Can I bank according to Sharia principles? (Islamic banking)
Many banks in the UK have recognised that some of their Muslim customers want to bank according to Sharia principles, so you should check the website or visit your preferred bank to see if they offer this service.
Managing your money
We know you've probably got thousands of things to think about, but managing your money can be done really easily in a couple of different ways. Most banks allow you to set up telephone and online banking, so you can do your banking 24/7. Your bank will also send you statements regularly, either by post or email. You can even use cash machines to check your balance and in most cases get a print out of your most recent transactions.
In case of an emergency
Help is always at hand, as most banks have a 24-hour helpline or a customer service line, which you can ring if you've lost your card or had it stolen. There's also a number at the back of most debit cards if you have any serious questions.