Almost everyone needs a bank account in the UK, and it is easy to open one. Several different account types are available, even for recent arrivals.
November 13, 2020 — 6 min read
Many UK residents, both natives and immigrants, do not think they need a bank account. Instead, they rely on postal banking services. Indeed, the UK has one of the most well-developed postal banking services in Europe. A 2015 partnership with the Bank of Ireland enabled Post Office Ltd. to issue current accounts, insurance products, credit cards, mortgages and personal loans.
But these financial services cannot substitute for a bank account, mostly because not all locations offer all these services. For example, the current account program, which is basically like a bank account, largely ended in September 2019. And, the available services are often better than paying cash for everything, but they are not much better than that.
So, whether you are just passing through, permanently relocating to the UK, or are a long-time resident who has relied on postal banking services, you should at least consider opening a bank account in the UK. A bank account is the best way to access perks like contactless payment, which is a nice feature in the coronavirus age, international funds transfers, which is a nice feature in light of Brexit, and FinTech financial services.
To open a bank account in the UK, all people must prove their identity and provide proof of residency.
Generally, a passport, driver’s license, or EU identity card establishes your identity. A few banks, but not very many, accept foreign passports, drivers’ licenses, or other documents. So, you will most likely need to be a UK resident to open a bank account.
Speaking of being a resident, you must also prove residency. All banks usually accept certain documents, including:
Mortgage statement or lease,
Paper credit card statement, utility bill, or bank statement that’s less than three months old, and
Current tax bill.
Generally, recent arrivals do not have any of these things. Fortunately, in recent years, many banks have expanded the list of acceptable documents.
For example, persons studying in the UK might be able to provide a letter from the college or institution which includes a local address. Banks in college towns are especially likely to accept such letters. Additionally, some banks accept Jobcentre Plus letters which include a National Insurance number or a recent (less than three months old) letter from an employer.
Note that we said new arrivals “generally” do not have bank statements or credit card statements. If you change your address before you move, such a document could be waiting for you when you arrive. Then, it will be easier to open a bank account in the UK.
Absolutely. Many financial institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere have correspondent financial relationships with UK banks. Moreover, many UK financial institutions, especially the larger ones, offer international accounts. These applications can be made online. Anyone can apply, but these accounts are specifically designed for will only be in the UK for a few weeks or months.
However, there are some strings attached. Most international accounts have large opening balance requirements and sizable monthly deposit minimums. Furthermore, the account holder might be unable to close the international account and open a local one for several months. Other restrictions often apply as well.
These limitations could be a real problem, especially if you are not working when you first arrive in the UK. In these cases, it might be best to open a local account and forget about the international account option.
Residents have a plethora of options when it comes to choosing a UK bank. This industry is quite competitive, so many banks are anxious to open as many accounts as possible. So much for the plus side. On the minus side, new UK residents have no credit history and only limited proof of identification and residency. These things could limit your options to one of the big UK banks, at least until you get settled.
In terms of specific banks, honorable mention goes to TSB’s Classic Plus account and Santander’s 1,2,3 account.
The RBS Group owns both these institutions. The Royal Bank of Scotland has several hundred branches, and most of them are in Scotland. NatWest, however, has almost 1,500 locations throughout the UK.
Individuals often go with NatWest’s Select Current Account. There are no account fees and all account holders receive a Visa debit card.
Other NatWest accounts are tailored for students and business owners. Perks for students include £2,000 of overdraft protection and a substantial National Express travel discount. NatWest offers several different types of business accounts, many of which include overdraft protection and a free Visa debit card.
This bank has a strong presence in Wales and England. Perhaps more importantly for new arrivals, HSBC operates in over eighty countries. So, if you are an HSBC customer, it’s rather easy to open a bank account in the UK before you arrive.
For individuals, the basic account is a low-fee account which usually includes a Visa debit card. Other perks might be available. The bad news is that the bank usually runs a credit check on these aspiring account holders.
HSBC also has excellent products for business-owners and students. For example, some business accounts include a manager for eighteen months and access to informative videos.
This bank has a New to the UK Account which only requires proof of identity to open. Student and business-owner accounts are available as well. Additionally, Lloyd’s is by far the largest financial institution in the UK.
The final Big Four UK bank allows future residents to apply for local bank accounts online. Accountholders can access their accounts after a brief waiting period expires. Once again, there are many options for students and business-owners as well.
Once you get settled into the UK, if you want an affordable way to send money back home, count on Xe rather than your new bank. We offer competitive exchange rates and never add any hidden charges, allowing you to avoid unfavorable exchange rates and high intermediary fees and ensuring that you’ll be able to send as much home as possible. Log in or sign up to get started with Xe today.