If you’ve decided to make the UK your new home and you’re looking to open a bank account, read our comprehensive guide to help you through the process.
June 8, 2021 — 8 min read
Moving to a new country is an exciting experience. While opening a local bank account may not sound as exciting, it’s a crucial part of the process—and one that you should take care of as early as possible. If you’ve recently moved to the UK (or if you’re planning an upcoming move), opening a bank account will help you to keep your money safe and manage your finances.
There are 315 banks across the UK, and settling for a single one can be a challenge. The country is among the world’s top financial centers with expertise in housing financing, corporate banking, and investment banking. The Financial Conduct Authority regulates the UK’s banking sector.
Whether you’re in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, this guide will help you to identify the best banks and bank accounts.
You’re not legally required to have a UK bank account, but it can help you make financial transactions or apply for a mortgage. While it’s possible to manage your finances with an overseas account—using a credit or debit card—it’s very costly. Currency exchange rates keep fluctuating and cards often have high transaction fees.
Some UK banks allow non-residents to open international accounts from their home countries, and you can do so before moving. But it’s worth mentioning that some of the accounts attract monthly fees and can be costly to maintain. If your bank has a relationship with a UK bank, you can easily open a UK bank account.
On average, it takes 1 to 2 days to open a bank account in the UK because many banks have tight security measures. You can open the account at a local branch or online. If you bank with an international bank with UK coverage, you won't need a UK address to apply for an account.
After you fill out the account opening form, the bank may run a credit check, unless you’re opening a basic account. You’ll also need to prove your identity and address before the account is approved.
These are the documents you’ll need to provide:
A recent bank or credit card statement
Your passport or valid photo ID
Proof of employment
A recent council tax bill or utility bill (less than three months old)
Basic accounts are ideal for people with poor credit or those who don’t qualify for a current account. They offer direct debit payment options and users get Electron debit cards. However, you don’t have access to loans, credit cards, or overdrafts. You can upgrade from a basic account to a current account when you pass credit check requirements.
A current account is used for shopping, paying bills, and receiving a salary. Regular current accounts are free or have minimal fees, while premium accounts attract higher fees. With a current account, you can get a debit card, a credit card, and an overdraft.
Many big UK banks have international accounts designed specifically for non-residents. They are a great option for people who don't have the documents to prove their UK address. You can open an international account online and operate it from overseas.
Savings accounts attract a higher interest rate but require a minimum deposit. Building societies, banks, and online savings providers all have different savings accounts. Depending on the account type, there may be stipulations on how long the money should remain in the account.
Offshore accounts offer expats a great way to manage their money. They are available in Euro, Pound Sterling, and US Dollar. But to open one, you need a larger deposit than with a standard bank account. With an offshore account, you can get paid in foreign currencies and earn more interest on your money.
The bank account you open in the UK will depend on your needs and circumstances. However, we recommend looking at these 3 factors:
Product and service portfolio. When exploring banks, look at their products and services. Examine account-related services, such as credit, and financial services like investments, mortgages, and insurance. Also, find out whether the bank offers multi-currency or international accounts.
Costs and incentives. While many UK accounts don’t attract monthly fees, some do. Those that have no monthly fees may have additional charges for services or provide fewer services. Also, shop around to see what incentives banks offer. For example, the HSBC Advance account offers £125 to new users and a £20 Uber Eats voucher.
Flexibility. With advanced technology comes agility. If you want an account with online banking, around the clock phone banking, mobile banking, or other services, you may have to pay a little more for it.
These three are the major banks in the UK. They have an impressive portfolio of accounts, branches in many countries worldwide, and accounts specifically designed for expats.
Barclays is one of the largest banks in the UK and offers a wide range of financial services. You can choose an account depending on what your primary goal is: saving or day-to-day use.
The Barclays foreign currency account is available in 12 foreign currencies and is ideal for expats. The international bank account (also known as the Premier World Account) is free, but you need to maintain a minimum balance of £25,000. The bank will charge you a £40 monthly fee if your balance falls below £25,000 for 2 consecutive months.
Banking with Barclays means flexibility. The bank offers great mobile and online banking services. And for a small fee, you can customize your online account and select travel and tech packs.
HSBC is one of the four largest multinational banks in the UK and has branches in over 80 countries. It’s a popular bank with expats because of its global reach and wide variety of financial products. You can even open a bank account before you leave your home country.
The bank’s tax-free cash ISA, overseas non-resident account, and free foreign currency account are great choices for expats. The foreign currency account is available in 14 currencies, while the non-resident account is available in 37 countries.
HSBC’s Expat Premier Account is another great option for expats. You can operate it in Pounds, Euros, or US Dollars. It comes with a Foreign Exchange app, a debit card, and complimentary travel security. You can easily access the account online, via a mobile banking app, or through a dedicated relationship manager.
But to qualify for the account, you must hold a HSBC Premier account in your home country, deposit £50,000, or earn £100,000.
Lloyds is the UK’s largest retail bank and has an impressive account portfolio which includes 8 current standard accounts, 4 multi-currency international savings accounts, and 12 local savings accounts. For only £19 a month, you can get the bank’s platinum account with insurance benefits and credit interest offerings.
Lloyds also provides 2 international accounts: Premier International Account and International Current Account. These are perfect for expats or those who need to access overseas markets. The international accounts allow you to bank in Euros, Pounds, or US Dollars and you can hold multiple currencies within the same account. You can bank online or over the phone.
You need to deposit £25,000 or earn a £50,000 annual salary to access free international money transfers with the International current account. The Premier international account has no monthly fee, but the International current account attracts £7.50 (€8 or $10 USD) a month. To qualify for the Premier international account, you must save with Lloyds for 6 months or deposit £100,000. If you earn £100,000 annually or can maintain a £100,000 balance for 12 months, you also qualify.
When choosing a bank, don’t let the huge number of banks confuse you: think of your needs and preferences. You can opt for one of the major banks or go for a small bank with less restrictions. Whatever you do, choose wisely depending on what would suit you best.
And after you open a bank account, you can easily send money back home or into your new account with Xe. It takes just a few minutes to open an account, and then you’ll be ready to start sending money.
Can you use your new UK bank to make money transfers? Yes. But will you be hit with numerous additional transaction fees, and be more likely to get an unfavourable exchange rate? Again, yes.
If you choose to send money with Xe, on the other hand, you can count on competitive exchange rates, no third-party fees, and a quick and easy transfer process to over 130 countries. And no need to work within bank hours either—you can initiate a transfer 24/7, 365 days a year on Xe.com or in the app.
Here’s how to send money with Xe:
Enter the currencies you’d like to exchange and the amount to get your quote.
Provide your recipient information—name, address, bank name, bank account number, bank code, and BIC/SWIFT code. (If you’re transferring to your own account, select that option and put your own details in here.)
Select your payment method and enter those details—you can use a bank transfer, card payment, or direct debit.
Double-check that you’re satisfied with everything and confirm your transfer—we’ll handle the rest.