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Whether you’re thinking of moving to the UK or you’ve arrived there already, at some point you’re going to need a bank account.
In the past, opening a bank account in the UK was very difficult if you were new to the country. Thankfully, these days, it’s become slightly easier. You’ll learn everything from which documents you need to open an account to which banks are most welcoming of new accounts.
Also, there are alternatives to a bank account, like the Wise account from Wise, a money services provider. It’s a travel-friendly, international account that lets you send, spend and receive multiple currencies worldwide (including in the UK) all in one place.
To open a UK bank account, you’ll need two documents: one to prove your identity and one to prove your address. This applies both in-branch and online.¹
Proving your identity is simple. You just need your passport, driving licence or identity card (if you’re an EU national).¹
You’ll also have to prove your address by providing another document.
Every bank has its own list of documents that are acceptable as proof of address. Broadly speaking, these include:¹
- a tenancy agreement or mortgage statement;
- a recent electricity or gas bill (less than 3 months old);
- a recent (less than 3 months old) bank or credit card statement that’s not printed off the internet; or
- a current council tax bill
- a letter from the HM Revenue & Customs
Of course, if you’re new to the UK, you might not have all the required documents on these lists.
Luckily, in recent years, banks have become a bit more flexible in terms of what documents they will accept as proof of address.
If you’re in the UK to study, for example, many banks will accept a letter from your University’s admissions office confirming your address.²
Many banks will also accept a letter from Jobcentre Plus confirming your National Insurance number or even a letter from your employer, as long as it’s less than four months old.³
There is also another way.
Before you leave for the UK, go to your bank and ask them to change your correspondence address to your UK address. You may also be able to do this via internet banking.
Once you’ve changed your address, ask your bank to send a bank statement to your new address by post, and you’ll have a document that proves your UK address.
Yes, you can open a bank account before you arrive in the UK.
Your home bank may be able to set up an account for you if it has a correspondent banking relationship with a British bank.
Many major UK banks also have so-called ‘international’ or ‘expat’ accounts, like the HSBC expat bank account. These are designed specifically for non-residents, so they’re a great option if you don’t have the documents to prove your UK address. In fact, you can even apply for an international account online. Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and NatWest all offer international bank accounts.
However, opening a bank account from abroad or an international account may not be the right choice for you.
Very often, you’ll have to make a big initial deposit and commit to paying in a minimum amount of money each month.⁴ Some banks will also charge you a monthly fee in addition to these requirements. This can make your bank account expensive to open and run, especially if you still don’t have a job.
There may also be other restrictions. For instance, you may not be able to close the account and switch to a better deal until a set period of time expires.
|📚 Read more: Best digital banks in the UK|
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question.
The banking industry in the UK is very competitive, and many banks have special products designed to attract specific types of customer.
This is great news. Whether you’re a student, a professional or a business, you’re bound to find something to suit your needs.
That said, you’ll also need to consider your personal circumstances, preferences and what you need to find the best current account in the UK.
Also, because you’re new to the UK, you have a limited credit history and not much documentation. Some banks are strict with their requirements, so opening a bank account with them will be difficult.
It’s usually easier to open an account with one of the UK’s largest banks - Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC or NatWest. These banks have been in business for a long time and are very safe. They also have a lot of experience dealing with foreigners, so they’re a bit more understanding of your situation and flexible with their requirements.
Your nationality will also play an important role. It’s probably easier to open a bank account if you’re an EU national than when you’re from a country outside the EU.
Either way, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a bank’s customer support before you try opening an account. That way, you can get more information and ask questions about any difficulties you may have.
And remember, there are alternatives to a bank account for managing your money in the UK or internationally. Consider checking out the Wise account which allows you to send and receive money in multiple currencies (including in GBP). You can also get a Wise card to spend like a local once you arrive in the UK.
There are more than ten retail banks in the UK, each with their strengths and weaknesses. However, the biggest four UK banks are Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and NatWest.⁵
Let’s have a look at what each of them have to offer.
Barclays is one of the oldest banks in the UK; and has more than 1500 branches around the country.⁶
It’s also probably one of the easiest banks to open an account with if you’re new to the UK. In fact, you can even pre-apply for an account online before you arrive in the UK.
The Barclays Bank Account is free⁷ and comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard. However, you won’t be able to use your account immediately. Once you’re in the UK, you’ll have to visit a branch with your reference number, passport and proof of address in order to activate the account.⁸
Barclays also has special accounts for students and businesses.
The Barclays student account is free and offers cashback from various shops. It includes a free overdraft of up to £1,500 for three years and a contactless debit card. You also get a 12-month subscription to Perlego, which gives you access to academic and non-fiction eBooks.⁹
Barclays also offers a few different business accounts, depending on the yearly turnover rate.
|📚 Read more: How to open a business bank account in the UK|
Lloyds is another large bank in the UK, and has over 500 branches throughout the country.¹⁰
Opening a bank account is very easy, even if you have just arrived in the UK.
Lloyds has a Classic Account which you can normally open with just your passport or identity card (if you’re an EU citizen) and your UK address. The account is free and comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard.¹¹
HSBC has more than 300 branches around the UK, but this number is declining as more and more people use digital banking products.¹³
HSBC’s biggest advantage is that it operates in about 62 countries around the world.¹⁴ If you bank with HSBC in your home country, they can help you set up an account in the UK before you get here.
Opening an account with HSBC is pretty straightforward. The HSBC Basic Bank Account is ideal for the essential day-to-day banking when you are just arriving to the UK. It has no monthly fees and it comes with a contactless Visa debit card. However, it’s important to note that the basic account doesn’t offer an arranged overdraft.¹⁵
The HSBC student account offers a free overdraft of £1000 in the first year, which you can request to increase to £3,000 by the third year. HSBC also offers helpful student guides that can help you manage finances more efficiently.¹⁶
You can also look into opening an HSBC business account with a range of accounts to choose from. Most of them are free from a monthly fee for the first 12 months.¹⁷
NatWest has a large network of branches in the UK, but similar to other banks, NatWest is also closing more and more branches every year due to customers adopting digital banking products.¹⁸
NatWest has a Select account as the free-fee basic everyday current account. It comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard and you may use a short-term overdraft feature (if you’re eligible).¹⁹
NatWest also offers a student account with a fee-free overdraft of up to £2,000 from year one. Other features include a no monthly fee, a contactless debit card, and a Housemate app for managing household bills between several people.²⁰
You can also open a business bank account with NatWest with up to 2 years of free everyday business banking on select accounts.
|📚 Read more: The best UK bank accounts for international students|
While Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and NatWest are the four biggest banks in the UK, you can also check out the following banks and their everyday banking, student account, and business banking offers:
- Royal Bank of Scotland
- Santander UK
- First Direct
- Metro Bank
Of course, it’s always best to look at what different banks and providers have to offer and see who has the best deal. Don’t commit to a product without at least having a look at what else is out there.
If you want a truly international account that works pretty much anywhere, check out Wise. Wise is a money services provider, offering a multi-currency account, international money transfer services and a debit card.
Open a Wise account online and you can manage your money in multiple major currencies, including GBP, EUR, USD and many more. When sending money internationally or converting currency, you’ll only pay a low, transparent fee while also getting the mid-market exchange rate every time.
And, you can spend just like a local in multiple countries worldwide with your Wise card. It automatically converts currency whenever you spend, so there’s no need to change money or carry cash around with you.
You can get a basic current account at no monthly cost from most high street banks as displayed above. This should be more than enough for your everyday banking needs.
Most banks also have premium accounts that offer additional benefits such as cashback on household bills, in-credit interest, insurance, and more. However, these accounts will often have monthly fees and minimum eligibility requirements; and you may not qualify if you’re new to the UK.
You’ll also need to be careful to stay in credit. Unless you have a planned overdraft facility, your bank may charge large fees if you withdraw more money than you have in your account. It’s always a good idea to read through your bank’s terms and conditions. That way, you’ll avoid any nasty surprises.
Withdrawing money from an ATM is free if you use one of your bank’s ATMs. Many banks also offer free cash withdrawals even if you’re not a customer.
However, some ATMs in the UK aren’t free; and independently operated machines can charge you between £3 and £5 per transaction.
If you’re not using one of your bank’s ATMs, check the machine first. Many ATM machines will state that they are free. Similarly, some paid machines will warn you about charges before you can complete the transaction.
Using an ATM outside the UK is almost never free; apart from some special cases when using the same-branch ATMs or having the local currency on the card already.
Many banks will charge a non-sterling transaction fee, which can be as high as 2.99% per transaction. Some banks will also charge a cash withdrawal fee in addition to the non-sterling transaction fee.
More importantly, if a foreign ATM asks you which currency it should charge you in, always choose to be charged in the local currency. If you don’t, you’ll get an unfavourable exchange rate plus the fees charged by your UK bank.
That’s it. By now, you should have all the information you need to open a bank account in the UK. Since having an account where you can manage your everyday money is pretty important when travelling or moving to another country, it’s best to start sorting it out before arriving in the UK.
It’s also important to compare the fees, features, and coverage of different banks to get a better understanding of which is the best match for your banking needs. And remember, there are alternative ways to manage your money in the UK, back home, or while travelling, like with Wise
- Barclays - What do I need to open a bank account
- University College London - When you first arrive
- HSBC - Help us identify you
- HSBC - Not eligible criteria
- Alf Insight - Banking of the big four
- ScrapeHero - Barclays UK
- Barclays - Barclays Bank Account fee information
- Barclays - Account opening form
- Barclays - Student account
- Lloyds - About us
- Lloyds - Classic account
- Lloyds - Student account
- HSBC - HSBC UK announces branch network plans for 2023
- HSBC - About us
- HSBC - Basic Bank Account
- HSBC - Student account
- HSBC - Business bank accounts
- Which? - NatWest Group to close 142 bank branches in 2023
- NatWest - Select account
- NatWest - Student account
Sources last checked on date: 22-Sep-2023
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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