International students often ask: How do I open a student bank account in the UK? In this post, we’ll look at whether you need a UK bank account, how you can apply for one and what documents you will need.
Before we start: Do you really need a UK bank account?
The short answer to that question is: Yes, you do.
Here are some of the reasons why you’d want to apply for a UK bank account if you’re staying here for more than 6 months:
Ok, these are some of the reasons – now the choice is yours.
The thing about opening a UK bank account is….it can take time
Many international students arrive in the UK and think they’re going to be able to open a bank account on the same day. Unfortunately, they often have to wait at least a few days – and sometimes even a couple of weeks.
The reason for this is the paperwork you have to provide (see next point). To get the right paperwork, you first have to officially register with your university. And then you have to get a letter from the university saying that you’re registered. Sometimes it can take a university a few days – or even longer – to give you that letter, especially at the start of the academic year when everyone is asking for the same thing.
You will need to provide a few documents…and they may be different for each bank
Any bank you may apply to for a student account will ask you for some documents. By law banks can only open accounts for their clients after they’ve done some checks (mainly to do with money-laundering and other crime / security issues).
One thing to make sure is that any documents you provide show the same name and UK address for you as you’ve put in your application to the bank.
When you apply for an account, the bank will need from you:
Different banks can ask for slightly different documents, but usually it’s some (not all) of the following:
Is there no faster way? Actually, sometimes there may be….
Because they are legal requirements, banks can’t skip any of the checks they have to make . The only way to speed up your application is by you asking your university in advance how and when you can you can get from them the documents that you need.
Also, universities usually work closely with at least one bank. They might have a special agreement about the type of documents the bank will accept. This often can make things much faster.
Another way: If you already have a bank account abroad, you could check whether they have a branch in the UK. Or perhaps they could offer you an international bank account to use like a normal bank account while you’re here. This may be a good solution for a few weeks, though remember to check their charges and fees.
So what to do about money while waiting for your UK bank account?
Obviously, bring some cash…
Assume you won’t have a bank account for a couple of weeks – work out how much money you’ll need during this time and bring it with you in cash.
I would suggest though not carrying more than £300 – £400 in cash with you. If your money gets lost or stolen, there is no way you could get it back. You may think that won’t happen but just remember that especially in the first days when you get here you’re going to be running from one place to the next. The best condition for losing things.
Pay your tuition fees in advance
When I used to work at the university, from time to time some international students would turn up with £12,000 in cash to pay their tuition fees. The staff would nearly have a heart attack – what if the student had lost that much money?
Take this advice: Never carry that much cash with you. Pay your tuition fees – and your accommodation fees if you’re living in a student hall – by bank transfer or credit card before you get here.
Use an international credit card
Here’s my favourite method of payment: An international credit card. If you have one, it will be your best friend until your UK bank account is opened and ready for you to use.
In the UK, you can pay by credit card for almost everything, even for a cup of coffee. Some smaller shops might have a minimum amount you must spend, like £10, but all the big shops and chains usually accept card payment for any amount.
You can also withdraw cash from an ATM using your credit card. Although it’s expensive to do this because of the charges, but I think it’s ok as a short-term or emergency solution.
Use international cash transfers
Another safe and quick way to get cash when you arrive in the UK is with an international money transfer service. You’d have to pay a commission for it but from what I’ve seen it’s not that huge. Same-day transfers are often possible, but they cost more.
For the big providers like Western Union or MoneyGram (operated by the UK Post Office), you’ll be able to get your cash in many places near your university – like in one of their branches, or in money exchange offices, shops or supermarkets. Before choosing which provider to use though, make sure to check how convenient the collection point is for you, as well as how good their rates are.
Also, the cash transferred to you each time shouldn’t be too big. Some providers have a limit, and in any case, you’ll just end up again with the problem of having too much cash to carry around.
By the way, once you have a bank account in the UK, TransferWise is a cheaper option for international transfers, as recommended by our student Blogger Marta.
Travellers’ Cheques….Do they still exist?
Many websites will recommend Travellers’ Cheques to students – but to be honest I just don’t know who uses them these days.
In case you’ve never heard of them, Travellers’ Cheques are pre-printed cheques for a specific amount of money, for example £100. They used to be a popular payment method, as you could use them instead of cash when travelling, and if they got lost or stolen, you would get a refund.
However, as more and more people now use international credit or debit cards, Traveller’s Cheques are being used less and less in the UK. In fact, many shops and even banks have stopped accepting them.
When choosing the right bank account, what should you look out for?
Don’t worry about having to find a bank that will give you a student account – banks in the UK compete with each other to get students as customers. A few banks offer ‘welcome’ gifts or freebies to make you sign up with them, like £50 paid into your account, free music streaming or travel insurance. That’s all fine but what I always recommend is that you choose your bank based mainly on two C’s:
I will cover these and other tips in much more detail in my next post on student bank accounts.
I always joke that it’s easier to start a business in the UK than to open a bank account. In reality, it’s not hard as a student – but you will need a few documents and some patience as it can take a few days or even a couple of weeks.
The biggest tip I can give you for avoiding delays is: Start looking for bank accounts before you get here. Look at what’s on offer by the bank, what their requirements are and ask your university when and how you can get any of the supporting documents.
As you arrive in the UK, make sure you have some cash to pay for things in the first two weeks but pay any large bills – like your tuition fees and accommodation – in advance. If you have an international credit card, you’ll be pleased to hear that the UK is a very friendly place for paying with plastic.
In my next post I’ll share with you some tips on how to choose the right bank account for you. If you have any comments, questions or doubts in the meantime, leave them below or join me on Facebook.