Whether you’re an international student studying in the UK on a year abroad or for the long haul, knowing where to bury your treasure is a must!
Good news! Compared to many countries, banking in the UK as a foreign student is usually pretty easy and there’s a good amount of choice.
That said, choosing the best bank account for you depends on your personal circumstances such as how long you are staying in the UK and whether or not you reside in an EU country.
First, we’ll outline the most important things to consider, then list the best bank accounts for international students and suggest potential alternatives. ?
Why open a British bank account?
Setting up a bank account may be another boring life admin task to deal with, but it’s worth investing the time as it could save you a fair amount of cash and headaches!
Managing your finances from your home country account can be impractical and expensive for many reasons:
- You’ll be charged currency conversion fees each time you use your debit card or withdraw cash in the UK
- Currency exchange rates fluctuate making budgeting difficult (convert currency using TransferWise for the best rates)
- If you’re planning on working part-time, employers will want to pay your wages into a UK bank account
- Your accommodation provider will likely prefer payments from a UK account
- Setting up recurring payments (direct debits and standing orders) will be tricky or impossible. These are needed for paying mobile phone contracts, gym memberships and rent
- Paying back friends in the UK would be complicated
- In some countries, like France for example, banks require you to send them hand-written letters to set up Direct Debits to foreign accounts. Plus they’ll charge you a fee for the transfer!
- If you get locked out of your account because you’ve forgotten your PIN code it’s definitely easier to deal with it locally in a branch as opposed to over the phone to another country.
Things to consider when opening a bank account
Does your current bank operate in the UK?
Many banks are operated by global corporations. Some banks will reduce fees for international money transfers if both accounts are registered with them.
It could also be much easier to open an account abroad. So if you have an account with a bank that has branches in the UK, you might want to stick with the same one.
How much are international transfer fees?
This is an important one. If you’re planning on sending or receiving money from home, make sure you find out exactly how much it costs to transfer money between countries.
Banks often take a commission fee of between four and six per cent for converting to your desired currency, on top of the fee they’re already charging you to send your money!
To work out how much you’ll be paying in total, compare the exchange rate your bank is offering with an online currency converter and add the difference onto their initial fee. We recommend using TransferWise to make larger conversions to £GBP.
We’ve got information on the fees for international accounts below.
How much do you value ‘freebies’?
Some banks offer free items as incentives for you to trust them with your cash.
For example, NatWest offer 1/3 off coach fares with National Express for up to four years.
Lloyds and Barclays offer cashback when you shop using select offer they provide via loyalty programs.
Don’t get sucked in by freebies alone – a bank account offering a £15 gift card won’t be worth much if your transfer fees are through the roof.
Do you need an overdraft?
Your account may come with a small overdraft (under £100) but unfortunately, as an international student, you probably won’t be able to apply for a big one.
Bank accounts aimed specifically at international students generally do not come with an overdraft as they do not consider you a long-term customer.
If you are planning on staying in the UK for more than a year, it might be worth looking at the overdrafts on offer on other accounts for when you do decide to switch.
Where is the bank branch located?
This might seem like an obvious one, but you might want to pick a bank that has a branch near your accommodation or university campus in case you have to make an emergency trip before or after class!
You can get cash out from any bank’s ATM free of charge 24/7, but banks usually shut around 4pm on weekdays and are closed on Sundays.
How do you open a bank account in the UK?
Unless your bank states otherwise, or your bank account is exclusively available online (like the NatWest International Student Account), it’s likely that you’ll have to pop down to your local branch to set the account up.
What documentation will you need?
Can you open a UK bank account from abroad?
In some cases. If you’re still in your home country while reading this, some UK banks will let you start setting up a bank account before you arrive ashore.
Get in touch with your current bank and check if they have links to UK banks. This will make the whole process a lot easier for you as you’ll already be on their client database.
Some of the bank accounts in our table are open to EU residents living outside of the UK.
Below are the best international student bank accounts for this year, taking into account the fees and other considerations we’ve covered above.