Opening a UK Bank Account
If you want to live in the UK, or if you just recently moved to the UK, a big step you’re going to want to take is to open a bank account. As much as we may not like some of the costs or restrictions of banks, they’re a critical part of our everyday life and an important thing to have. Years ago it was a tough process for new residents to the UK to open up a bank account, but nowadays it’s a lot easier. That said, it may still be tricky, confusing or even daunting to do, but that’s why this guide is here to help!
What Documents Do I Need?
The first thing to consider when looking to open your bank account the required documents you need. Today most banks allow you to open an account online or in-branch, and for both options, you’ll need the same two key documents; one that proves your identity and one that proves your address. Typically, the one that proves your identity would be a passport, driver’s license or government issued identification card. Providing your address will be slightly different, requiring an additional document to prove your address.
From bank to bank you may find different documents they’ll accept, but overall you can usually bring your lease or mortgage statement, a utility bill like gas, electricity or hydro, an original credit card statement or a council tax bill. For the utility bills or credit card statements, they must be within the last couple of months to ensure the most accurate and up to date representation of your address.
If you already live in the UK, this should be easy, as you probably some history with at least one of these documents, but if you’re new to the UK or haven’t moved yet, you wouldn’t have anything. Banks generally account for this and have alternative options for those who don’t yet have an established history of residency in the UK.
If you moved (or are moving) to the UK for school, then a transcript or letter from your university that shows your address will typically be acceptable. If you’re not in school, a document provided by your employer or another reputable job centre or government institution that includes your address (and is dated within the last 3 months) should be acceptable as well. Additionally, if you’re still at home (in Canada or another country), but have a residence lined up already, you can ask your bank to change at home to change your address and use a recent (original) statement or document from them to prove your identity.
If you’re unsure if any of the documents you have will suffice, you can always call the bank you’re interested in signing up with, and they should be able to confirm if they accept your document, and if not give you potential alternatives for what may or may not work.
Can I Open A Bank Account Before I Arrive?
If you want to open an account before you get to the UK to make sure you’re ready the moment you get off the plane, you definitely can. Many banks have relationships with other banks around the world, allowing them to help you in opening a bank account in another country. Another method possible is to open an international account with a major British bank, which all four the major banks in the UK offer.
Depending on your situation this may not work for you, especially when costs start to add up. Many accounts will include a large initial deposit and have a monthly fee involved. If you’re a student or don’t have a job lined up yet, there may be fees that you don’t want to deal with. Another thing to consider is how you transfer money to that account and the high fees and exchange rates that may come with that transfer.
Luckily, for Canadians looking to move to the UK, there is an alternative to opening a bank account, that can get you some cash in pounds for flexibility upon arrival while providing you with the best exchange rates. You can use Knightsbridge Foreign Exchange, where we provide fast exchange services and the best exchange rates. Additionally, we can make payments for you, letting you buy property or make other large transactions (without a UK bank account), and keeping track of everything for you easily.
Which Bank Is Best For Me?
Without knowing you directly, there is no direct answer to say, “This is the best bank” or “This bank is for you.” There are a plethora of banks available, and while most of them are largely similar, there are small differences to consider when deciding which one may or may not be for you.
However, while it may be confusing or difficult to find the right one, that variety means there is a bank for you. You just have to find it. Whether you’re in the UK for school, a job or to start a business; there’s a bank that will fit your needs.
Things To Consider When Choosing A Bank
When you’re new to the country, the easiest choice would be to look at the four major UK banks; Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC or NatWest. Because your history in the UK is new, and documents may be limited, these banks are your best bet. They have the experience, size, and infrastructure to get you set up, and are most likely to have a relationship with your current bank which could make the process even easier. If you’re from the EU, but not the UK, the process is even easier but not a requirement. If you’re Canadian, you’ll still be able to get set up and have the bank account you need.
It’s wise to start looking at the various accounts for each online and seeing what may work for you. If you’ve found one you’re interested in, you should contact them and describe your situation to see if they can accommodate you. If you’re not in the UK yet, you can give them a call or contact online to find out if that bank can work with your situation and get you set up. If you are already in the UK, you can still call or contact them online, but it may be best just to head to your nearest branch and talk to a bank teller in-person to get started.
However, before all that, we’ll tell you about each and let you know which one you might want to start with.
If Barclays sounds familiar, it should, because not only is it one of the most established, old and well-known banks in the UK, but it sponsored the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, a relatively new arena where the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA and the New York Islanders of the NHL play. A major reason they’ve been so successful for so long is that they’re easy to use for well-established citizens of the UK, and anyone new to the country. In fact, this may be the best option for you, as you can pre-apply for your account online and finalize the setup when you get to the UK.
They have a free account option, with a contactless visa debit card, which is convenient and enticing for all situations. The important thing to note is you can’t just use the account once you’ve stepped on the plane, as you will need to go to a branch and speak with a representative to verify your information and finalize the account setup.
However, there are additional benefits to Barclays, as they have student accounts (including international student accounts), cashback options, overdraft and more! They have a free business account option as well and various credit card options. You’ll find to contact them and look deeper at their accounts to see more, but Barclays could be the right option for you.
While Barclays is easy and may be enticing as an option for you, Barclays is simple and easy too, and they are the most widespread bank account provider in the UK with well over 1,000 branches in the country. In fact, they have a bank account specially designed for new citizens to be able to easily get a bank account, often with as little as a passport or government-issued identification.
They also have accounts for students and “free” business bank account as well, providing additional bonuses and tools at your disposal. With free account options and an incredibly easy setup process, Lloyds may be the best option for you to open a bank account as a new UK resident.
HSBC is another major bank, with over 1000 branches across the UK as well. However, a major advantage to HSBC for you may be that they have banks in over 80 countries, meaning there’s a good chance HSBC is in your home country already. If that’s the case, that can be an easy way for you to get set up, especially if you already bank with them as you know and trust them.
They have a basic account, student options and business accounts with limited-time free monthly fees. With a variety of benefits and the potential to have an easy setup with an HSBC in your home country, they may be the best option for you.
RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) and NatWest are both owned by The RBS Group, meaning there are many similarities to their products and services, but they have differences as well. However, similar to the other 3 major UK banks, they have beneficial and generally easy to set up accounts for professionals, students and businesses. Exploring their options may find something that works for you and your needs, giving you additional perks and benefits you may be able to take advantage of.
All four of the major banks have their pros and cons, with a lot of similar products and services. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide the best option for you and what is going to be the easiest and most convenient for you.
While the major banks may be convenient and easy, they aren’t the only option and may not necessarily be the only option available (or even the easiest). Banks like TSB and Santander are two smaller banks with easy ways to sign up and may work for you. There are too many banks to name in the UK, meaning there is definitely an option that is best for you!
For Canadians, the easiest option for making a move to the UK and opening your bank account is with us at Knightsbridge Foreign Exchange. We have exchange services that allow you to get the best exchange rates for cash, but also make payments internationally or send money between your bank accounts.
If you’re a student, we can handle your tuition payments for you. You send us the funds in Canadian dollars; we’ll provide you with the best exchange rate and make the payment to your university on your behalf. We keep full records of all payments, providing you with the easiest way to make your tuition payments.
If you’re a business that does business in both Canada and the UK, we can make it easy to transfer between countries and make the currency exchanges you need. With exchange rates that average 2% savings over the banks, you could save thousands of dollars by exchanging and transferring with us instead of using wire transfers through the banks.
With no transfer fees and the best exchange rates, the benefits are plenty for choosing Knightsbridge Foreign Exchange for your currency exchange and international money transfer needs.