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Choosing a bank account
While you’re studying in the UK, you may want (or need) to open a UK bank account.
Before you travel, ask your home bank how to transfer your money to the UK, and if your home bank has a special relationship with any UK banks – this could make the process easier.
Before you open a new account, make sure you check its basic features and compare them to other accounts and banks. For example, check whether there is an overdraft, what the interest rates are for repaying the overdraft, and any fees for going over your spending limit.
You might want to consider:
- Student-friendly accounts: Some banks have special ‘student accounts’ with certain benefits, such as an interest-free overdraft and travel discounts. Ask any banks you’re considering whether they have a student account, and what the conditions for opening it are – make sure that as an international student, you’re entitled to all the perks and that there are no extra conditions attached.
Even though you are a student, you can still get a normal current account, so compare the benefits before deciding what’s best for you.
- Savings accounts: Saving money can be hard as a student, but putting a small amount into a savings account every month can create a ‘safety net’ for yourself, in case you suddenly need some extra cash.
There are many savings accounts out there, so do some research and use money-saving advice websites to decide which one is best for you. Check out our budgeting article for more advice on saving money.
- Sharia accounts: ‘Sharia accounts’ have recently been growing in number in the UK – these are accounts that ensure your investment complies with Sharia law. They are not only for Muslims – they also offer an ethical banking alternative for people of different faiths.
To open a bank account, you may need documents such as:
- your passport
- a document confirming that you are a student at your school, college or university
- proof of your address at home and in the UK
- a reference and statements from your home bank.
Transferring money to your UK account
Something else to consider before opening a new account is whether you will be receiving large transfers from abroad, or paying for things back home from a UK bank account. Ask whether the bank charges a fee for receiving or making international transfers, and check the small print. The fees can vary a lot between banks, so choose one that will suit your everyday needs. You might find it easier to use an online service for larger transfers as they offer competitive rates.
It can take time to open a bank account and transfer money – perhaps even two or three weeks. For your first few weeks in the UK, it is advisable to bring travellers’ cheques or cash with you. Change some money into British pounds sterling in advance, so you have some cash that you can use immediately when you arrive.
If you plan to use a credit or debit card from your home country, check with your home bank that your card is compatible with UK bank machines, and if there will be a fee (banks usually charge a commission every time you withdraw cash in another country). You might need to ask for your card to be authorised for international use.
Major currencies can be changed into pounds sterling when you arrive, though it’s best not to change all your money at the first airport exchange counter you see, as you may have to pay a hefty commission fee. If you can, wait until you get to a city or town where there are businesses (such as the Post Office) with a ‘bureau de change’ that doesn't charge any commission.
For more advice, visit the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.
Managing your money
It sounds obvious, but remember that it is important not to overspend on your bank account (you may be so excited and busy settling in that you forget to keep track in your first few weeks!). There can be high fees for going over the limit of your account, even if it's only by a small amount. If you think you will need more money, speak to your bank to see if you can get an overdraft, or extend your overdraft if you already have one.
If you have any financial difficulties in the UK, please visit the UKCISA website for some good advice, or call their telephone advice line. Also, speak to your student welfare office or students’ union office – there will be someone at your school, college or university who can give advice.
Get more tips on budgeting in our Budgeting article.
Accessing your money
- Face-to-face in a branch of your bank. Typically, banks in the UK open from 9am to 4pm or 5pm on weekdays (Monday to Friday), and some open on Saturday mornings.
- Online and telephone. Most banks offer 24-hour online and telephone banking, so you can make payments, review your payment history and manage your money when you like. They also have 24-hour emergency lines if you lose your debit or credit card, or think something is wrong with your account.
- Cash machines (ATMs) are widely available across the UK. You can use a cash machine at any time to withdraw money and check your balance. Most are free of charge if you are withdrawing money from a UK bank account, but some charge a small fee – this will be indicated clearly on the screen.
- A lot of shops allow you to withdraw money from your account too, by asking for 'cash back' when you make a purchase. So if you buy something worth £6.50, for example, you could ask for £10 in cash and they will charge you £16.50 for the purchase.
This video includes tips for students from Greater Manchester police on using cash machines safely.
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