Opening a UK bank account
Opening a UK bank account is by far the safest and most effective way of managing your money as an international student. However, the process can often be quite long and complicated so it is important that you are patient and prepared.
Keep the following points in mind prior to setting up a bank account:
- Certain banks will allow you to begin the process of setting up a UK bank account from your home country before you arrive. We strongly advise you to look into links your current bank may have with UK banks, as this will make the process easier if it is an option for you.
- If you are on a programme of 6 months or less, it may not be possible to open a bank account in the UK.
- Banks in the UK follow their own rules and identity checks which are completely separate from UCL. In order to keep your money safe, banks are very restricted in the ways they communicate with customers and in terms of their processes. This means that you need to attend a bank in person, meet with one of their advisors and sometimes complete a paper application form in order to open a bank account.
- You may need to visit the bank more than once to set up your account, and once you have set up the account, you may have to wait around 10 days for your bank card to arrive.
- UCL has no influence over the types of accounts banks offer to students, the documentation they require or any other of their processes. We don’t recommend any specific banks and it is up to you to decide which bank you would like to open an account with.
- Please note: a Statement of Student Status (or a specific Bank Account Letter if required) can only be issued to a student once they have completed in person enrolment.
Covering initial costs
Opening a UK bank account can be a lengthy process. With this in mind, it is important that you bring sufficient funds to cover initial expenses for your first month in the UK. For safety reasons, it is not a good idea to bring large sums of cash, and there may be restrictions on the amount of cash you can bring with you to the UK - you can read more about these restrictions on the gov.uk website. You may want to consider alternative options such as using Travellers Cheques or pre-paid cash cards and paying tuition fees online.
Which are the main banks in the UK?
Some of the main banks in the UK are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest, Santander and TSB. These banks normally open accounts for international students if the appropriate documentation is provided and meets their requirements.
UCL does not endorse any particular bank but if you wish to
consider opening a bank account with one of the banks mentioned, we have done
some research about the types of
accounts offered by banks around the main campus and what their
requirements are for opening an account.
The information provided is correct to the best of our knowledge but may be subject to change. Please note account opening procedures and requirements can vary depending on the branch you visit.
IMPORTANT: You must update your term time address to your UK address on Portico as soon as possible so that the information will already be correct when you receive your Statement of Student Status at enrolment or request a bank letter. You can find an instructional video on how to do this in the right-hand sidebar of this page.
- Who is this information for?
This information is for all non-UK students coming to UCL, including students from the European Union and overseas. We encourage you to read the information below very carefully and decide which bank to open an account with before you arrive in the UK where possible.
Please note, if you are on a programme of 6 months or less (as is the case for many affiliate students), it is unlikely that you will be able to open a bank account in the UK.
- My programme of study is for 6 months or less – can I open a bank account?
Not all banks work with students who are in the UK for a short period of time. Santander will consider your application but cannot guarantee that they will be able to open an account for you.
Instead, you may wish to look into obtaining a pre-paid cash card instead. This allows you to load money on to it and you use it in a similar way to a debit card. Some cards may charge you – so make sure you check on this to ensure you know if there are any fees. You should also check the limits on the card as some have minimum/maximum load limits – so do some research to find the most suitable card for you.
- Why open a UK bank account?
You may need to use your overseas bank card initially but you should try to open a UK bank account as soon as possible. This is because withdrawing money and using and operating your finances entirely from an overseas account is not really practical for a number of reasons:
- Using an overseas card to withdraw money is likely to incur a charge each time
- You will not be able to set up direct debits from an overseas account (often essential when setting up a phone contract or gym membership)
- Should you wish to seek part time employment during your studies, employers will pay your wages directly into a UK bank account
- How long will it take?
The process can sometimes be complicated and is likely to take several weeks. So please be patient and bring sufficient funds to cover initial expenses for your first month in the UK. For safety reasons, it is not a good idea to bring large sums of cash; look for alternative options such as using Travellers Cheques or pre-paid cash cards and paying tuition fees online.
You may need to visit the bank more than once to set up your bank account, and once you have set up your account, you may need to wait around 10 further days before your bank card arrives in the post.
- How do I decide which bank to open an account with?
Unless you have a preferred bank already, you don’t need to worry too much about which bank to choose. This is because all banks will normally offer you a basic current account to begin with and may offer you further services after you have banked with them for some time. The basic current accounts will allow you free cash withdrawals form most ATMs, you will usually have online and telephone banking included, you will be able to opt in and out of receiving a printed bank statement and will be able to set up a direct debit. It would be helpful for you to opt to receive paper copies of your bank statements as you may need to use them for proof of address during your time in the UK.
Some banks may require you to pay a monthly subscription fee, which is something you will need to consider when making a decision.
- What documents do I need in order to open an account?
The documentation you will need to provide varies depending on which bank you select to open an account with. However, as a general rule, you will need to ensure you have the following in place:
- Your passport and valid visa (including your BRP) if you are an overseas student
- Your passport or National ID card (if you are from the European Union)
- Proof of student status and proof of address in the UK
and in your home country (this can only be issued once you have completed in person enrolment)
- UCL Student ID card (only required to open an account with Santander)
- I have just arrived in the UK and don’t have proof of my address here?
It is essential that you update your term time address to your UK address on your Portico account before you attend your in-person enrolment appointment at UCL. Your home address should remain as your overseas address. This is because during enrolment we will be able to provide you with a UCL letter confirming both your address in the UK and back home. This letter will be considered by the banks as valid proof of your address. If you are staying in UCL Halls of Residence your address will be automatically updated.
- I am staying in a UCL Halls of Residence...
This information is ONLY for students who are staying in UCL managed accommodation. If you have a room in a University of London hall or anywhere else the arrangements below are not in place for you.
After you check in, you can request a letter from your hall confirming your address. You can use this letter to open a bank account with some banks - check our page here for details of which banks will accept this letter. To obtain this letter you need to do the following:
- Make a decision which bank you would like to open an account with before requesting a letter. This is because the name of your chosen bank may be stated on the letter.
- Request a letter as soon as you check in. You can request this letter before attending your in-person enrolment appointment at UCL.
- Be patient, the Residence Team will endeavour to produce this letter for you as soon as possible but it may take up to 48 hours for you to receive the letter.
- Please do not ask residence staff for advice on which bank to choose. They will be unable to help you as they are not aware which banks offer accounts to international students and what accounts they offer.
- I am staying in private accommodation or in Hall of Residence which is not managed by UCL...
You will need to enrol in person before we can issue a letter to support opening a bank account for you. Remember to ensure your term time address is updated to your UK address and your home address remains as your overseas address on your Portico account before you attend your in-person enrolment appointment. PO box numbers will not be accepted by any bank.
If you wish to open a bank account with Barclays, HSBC, TSB or Santander, please use the Statement of Student Status issued to you at the time of enrolment. These banks do not require that the letter be addressed to them.
If you choose to open an account with Lloyds or NatWest or any other bank not mentioned here, please request a bank account letter addressed to them directly from the UCL Student Centre. The Student Centre is located on the ground floor of the Chadwick Building on the Gower Street Campus.
If you choose a bank that requires the letter to be addressed to them directly, make sure it is addressed to correct bank – they will not accept it if it is addressed to the wrong bank!
- I have just arrived in the UK and I am currently staying in a hotel/hostel and I don’t have a permanent address at the moment...
You will need to find a permanent place to stay before you can open a bank account. This is because the bank will need to send you your bank card and pin code to your address in the UK and will not agree to send these to a hotel or hostel. You will also not be able to have these sent to UCL.
When you find permanent accommodation, you will need to update your new address on your Portico account and then request a letter in support of opening a bank account from the UCL Student Centre. The Student Centre is located on the ground floor of the Chadwick Building on the Gower Street Campus.
- Which bank accounts are available to me?
Take a look at the following page for details on bank account options. The information is not exhaustive and may not cover the full range of products and services that may be available to you. To ensure you make an informed decision about which bank to open an account with, please check the information on the different bank websites.
When you attend the banks in branch you may be offered different/or further services which may depend on the amount of money you will deposit/transfer and/or how you plan to use your account.
All banks perform a credit check in order to open an account so offering you a bank account is not always guaranteed.
Please ensure your term time address is updated to your UK address prior to your enrolment appointment.
- Useful tips
- Update your term time address to your UK address on Portico as soon as possible so that the information will already be correct when you receive your Statement of Student Status at enrolment or request a bank letter.
- If you are expecting to receive money from overseas ask about processing times and any charges that may apply.
- When opening an account opt for printed statements, rather than online, as the UKVI will request these if you apply to extend your student visa.
- Banking terminology
- Cash Card – allows you to access your money 24 hours a day using a cash-point
- Debit Card – allows you to withdraw cash from your account as well as use your card to pay in shops, restaurants and online
- Overdraft – an agreed extension of credit when your account reaches zero
- Direct Debit – regular automatic monthly payments of different amounts each month (e.g. phone bills, gas, water etc.)
- Standing Order – Regular automatic payments of the same amount each month (e.g. rent)