Whether you’re preparing to move or study in the UK or have just arrived, opening a bank account is probably on your list of things to do. It’ll help make it easier for you to settle into your new surroundings — in most cases you’ll need a current account to set up your home internet or mobile phone contract.
While it was difficult in the past to open a bank account in the UK, it’s become much easier. At Remitly, we understand it can still feel overwhelming to start banking in a new country. So we’ve put together a guide that walks you through the process.
Documents Required to Open a Bank Account in the UK
While there aren’t many restrictions in terms of your legal status in the UK, you do need to prove that you live legally in the country. The two types of documents you need to open a bank account are ones to prove your identity and your address in the UK.
To prove your identity, non-residents and residents alike must provide a current photo ID. This includes a driving licence, an identity card if you’re an EU national, passport, or a biometric residence permit.
In addition, you must show another document which counts as a proof of address.
Each bank will have their own list of requirements of acceptable documents. However, in most cases the following documents can count as a proof of address:
- Bank or credit card statement within the last three months (needs to be an original, not printed off the internet);
- Recent council tax bill;
- Letter from your university confirming your UK address;
- Recent mortgage statement;
- Letter from Jobcentre Plus confirming your National Insurance number;
- Letter from your employer; or
- Recent household utility bill (mobile phone bills won’t count).
You may be able to use a tenancy agreement, but many banks won’t accept a letter from a private landlord as proof. However, you may be able to use a letter from a registered housing association or the local council.
All documents you provide need to be issued within the last three months, the original (aka no photocopies or printed off the internet), and show your UK address and full name.
If you’re new to the country or don’t have any access to documents, a bank may let you prove a non-UK address in order to open a UK bank account.
Before applying for a bank account, call ahead to see which forms are acceptable. This will save you time.
Choosing the Right Bank For Your Needs
Finding the right type of account will depend on what your needs are. In most cases, larger banks will offer both in-person and online access, whereas online banks may not, but offer savings (in the form of lower fees) in return.
The four biggest banks in the U.K. are sometimes called the “high street banks.” They include:
- Lloyds Banking Group; and.
- NatWest Group.
Other well-known banks in the United Kingdom include Santander, TSB, and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
These banks are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom, which means they’re quite safe. As the UK government describes on its main site, the role of the FCA is: “protecting consumers, keeping the industry stable, and promoting healthy competition between financial service providers.”
Any of these traditional banks will offer standard accounts with a debit card, a cheque book, and a way to set up direct debit payments. They should also come with an ATM network, an online banking option, and options for savings accounts.
However, the most basic bank accounts may not offer cheque books, direct debit, or overdraft features. They’re unlikely to offer much of an interest rate, either.
More sophisticated accounts will offer extra services such as travel insurance, but it generally comes at the expense of higher monthly fees. A business bank account may offer more perks as well as banking services related to currency exchange.
Some banks may offer products aimed at international workers or students, with features such as UK relocation advice and a free mobile phone SIM.
All this to say, whether you’re living in the UK as an expat, an international student, or a temporary worker, you’ll most likely find a British bank account that will suit your needs.
How to Open a Bank Account in the UK
Each bank’s process to open a bank account may vary, so it’s a good idea to check in ahead of time to see what you must do.
Keep in mind that when opening an account online, you’ll need to have electronic versions of your documents to upload. When opening an account in person, it’s best to make an appointment first. Depending on where you live and the bank you select, it can take a few days or more to get the appointment.
You can expect to follow these steps when opening an account with most banks in the U.K.:
- Complete an application form;
- Provide identification and proof of address; and
- Make an initial deposit.
After setting your PIN in person, you will typically receive your bank card, or debit card, in the mail within a few working days. Some banks, such as Barclays, offer a temporary debit card in the interim.
What about fees? Before you open your new account, be sure that you’re clear on what you’ll be charged for out-of-network ATMs, wiring money to your home country, and any other transaction fees.
We understand that there are plenty of choices to consider when opening a bank account in the UK. Sure, it can feel intimidating, but the research will be well worth it. You can start by doing research on the biggest banks in the UK, then looking at alternatives.
Lastly, to locate SWIFT codes for major banks, go here. (Note that in the UK, sort codes are used to identify banks within England and Ireland, for making domestic transfers.)
Remitly makes international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable.
Our reliable and easy-to-use mobile app is trusted by over 3 million people around the world.