UK Bank Accounts for International Students

12th January 2022
Graphic showing money, a credit card and an investor

Planning to study in the UK in the near future? Want to get everything ready for your arrival so you can begin enjoying student life right away?

You’re not alone. The British university education system is well known for the quality of its teaching. It attracts many thousands of international students every year, so is geared up to provide everything you need.

One thing you will definitely need while you study in the UK is a bank account. Not much can happen without it.

You’ll need it to pay for your course, your student accommodation, bills, expenses and eating out.

We pay for most things by card, which will require a bank account. Your home bank account may not have a presence in the UK, which is why we recommend getting a UK bank account for international students.

The benefits of a UK bank account for international students

We can appreciate that setting up a bank account isn’t the most interesting task in the world. In fact, it can be quite boring. But that’s no reason not to do it.

It only takes a few minutes and can offer the following benefits:

  • Fewer international transaction charges – Paying for stuff in the UK from a foreign account could mean international transaction charges on everything you spend. The cost of living in the UK is high enough as it is without adding fees to it!
  • Contactless doesn’t always work for international bank accounts – Even before COVID, contactless payments were very popular in the UK. Many contactless systems will work for Visa or Mastercard but you may experience difficulty in prompt authorisation if your account is based abroad.
  • Exchange rate fluctuations – Currency values fluctuate constantly and it’s better to have a single instance of that rate as you load your UK bank account for international students than having to constantly watch the FX rates as you use your card.
  • Many accommodation providers and utility companies will only accept UK bank accounts – Once you move out of halls, you’ll likely find a good number of providers will only accept payments from UK accounts. It’s much easier to manage your regular expenses from a UK bank account.
  • Charges for direct debits or regular payments – Many providers prefer payment by direct debit. Some foreign bank accounts charge to set them up and sometimes require authorisation in writing. UK bank accounts don’t do that.
  • Customer support is more readily available – Some international banks will have local support providers, but not all will. You may have to contend with time zones, international phone numbers and other complications every time you lose your card or forget your PIN.
  • Local branches – You may never need to physically visit your bank, but if you do, it’s useful to know there’s one close by. Many UK banks have closed or are closing theirs, so research carefully.

As you can appreciate, not all international banks will limit you in these ways. Most will levy charges for currency exchange and foreign transactions, though, so it’s better to use a UK bank account for international students, just to be sure.

International banks with a UK presence

Many international banks hold UK banking licences and will have a presence here. Many of the larger international banks will offer local services that you can use as a student.

Or they may offer UK bank accounts that you can open using your existing international account, which makes everything easier.

International transaction fees

Most banks charge for buying things abroad, converting local currency into another currency or sending money to foreign accounts.

These fees can be minimal, less than 1% or as high as 4-5%. This is why we added minimising transaction fees as a benefit to having a UK bank account.

It would be better to have to suffer a single fee for a single transaction than pay fees for every time you use your card or buy something!

UK bank accounts and overdrafts

Another key advantage of UK student bank accounts is the overdraft. It’s the main reason we recommend a student account in the first place, as these overdrafts aren’t available normally.

If you build a positive credit score and apply for an overdraft, having a UK student bank account can give you access to up to £3,000 of overdraft.

You may have extra hurdles to overcome to ensure repayment, but you should be able to find an account that offers such an overdraft.

How to open a UK bank account for international students

Opening a UK bank account is easy. Researching which bank account is best for your needs will take much longer but there are lots of resources around for that.

Once you have chosen a bank, you’ll need a few pieces of paperwork to actually open the account.

You’ll need:

  1. A current passport
  2. A valid student visa
  3. Proof of residence in the UK
  4. Student ID or paperwork from your university showing the course and duration

You may be asked for supplementary paperwork to prove your identity such as a bank statement from your home bank account or official form of ID from your home country.

Some banks will allow you to open a UK bank account for international students from abroad. The bank will tell you on the page or in the paperwork.

These will often let you perform much of the administration before you arrive and then request confirmation once you’re here. Again, the bank should let you know the exact requirements when you apply.

Who offers a UK bank account for international students?

Many banks offer accounts for international students, including some with a large global presence.

Accounts currently include (2021):

  • HSBC Bank Account
  • Lloyds Classic Account
  • NatWest Select Account
  • RBS Select Account
  • Barclays Student Additions Account
  • Santander Essentials Current Account
  • TSB Spend & Save Account

Each of these accounts are widely used by international students but offer different fees, conditions and benefits.

We recommend spending as long as you need to research and make sure the account you sign up to is right for your needs.

Switching international student bank accounts

While we recommend performing research to get the right account, you can switch very easily if your chosen bank doesn’t work out.

Switching bank accounts in the UK is very straightforward and requires minimal administration on your part. All you need to do is sign up to a new account and choose ‘switching accounts’ from the application form.

You’ll be asked to complete a 'Current Account Switch Agreement' form and 'Current Account Switch Service – Account Closure' form but that’s all.

Your old bank and new bank will handle the rest. You’ll be notified when your new account has been set up and your accounts switched over.

While it’s a reliable system, we do recommend checking that any direct debits or regular payments are switched with the account. Everything should work perfectly but it’s always good to check!