Female student making a payment with bank card

Banking in the UK

If you are planning on staying in the UK for longer than a few months you will need to get a bank account. This will be more secure than carrying large amounts of cash and travellers’ cheques around with you


Opening a bank account in the UK can take up to two or three weeks and it can be quite difficult if you don’t plan ahead. If you already have a bank account in your home country, ask them whether they have any special relationships with banks in the UK. They may be able to set up an account for you before you even arrive in the UK. There are also organisations in some countries that help you set up a bank account in the UK before your departure.

Before you leave, you could also think about adding someone you trust (such as your parents) as a signatory to your bank account – this means that they can do things to your account while you are away, and immediately transfer money in case of an emergency. Ask your bank for more information on this.

Choosing an account

Do your research so that you get the best out of the money you have. If you cannot visit banks in person, check with the welfare or student services department of your institution for advice on the services available to students and the best place to find them.

You have three main options:

  • banks
  • building societies
  • Post Office.

Each of these offers banking services, though those offered at post offices are much more limited. Some of the major banks in the UK are HSBC, NatWest and Barclays.

Pay bills promptly to avoid any ‘late’ charges. You should also ask your utility companies if there is a discount for standing order or direct debit payment of bills – and then make sure you know when payments are due to be taken so you have enough funds in your account to cover the costs. 

Top tips

Spending money

When you open your bank account, whether from abroad or in the UK, you will need your passport and course letter of acceptance and possibly proof of where you live (if abroad this can be changed later when you know your address in the UK). It is a good idea to bring copies of old bank statements from your home country too, as proof of identity.
You will be given a bank account number and a sort code, which is a reference to which particular bank branch you have your account at. UK banks and building societies offer online and telephone banking, which allow you to manage your finances without having to go into your local branch.
Banks in the UK are usually open from 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Some are open on Saturdays, though smaller branches may open just in the morning. If you have a cash card (also called a ‘debit’ card) for your account, you can withdraw money from your account at any time from a cash machine, or use it to pay for goods and services directly.

Image credit: Anna Bizoń