Considering a move to the UK? Whether you are moving as a student to attend university, for a new job or to look for work, you may want a local bank account in order to get yourself set up. And in case you heard horror stories about setting up a UK bank account, don’t worry too much.
It used to be notoriously tough to get an account, but it’s recently become more straightforward. Plus, if you are a digital nomad without a fixed address, just want an international bank account or struggle to prove that you are a UK resident because you’re lacking specific documentation, there are now a number of alternatives. Or if the mere thought of relocation admin makes you cringe, don’t fret: There are also a few resources (for a fee, of course!) that will help you with the process of opening a bank account in the UK.
Major traditional banks in the UK or Online Banks?
The biggest traditional banks in the UK are HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland (often referred to as simply RBS), Barclays, NatWest, Santander and Nationwide. By traditional, we mean banks with actual physical branches across the country (versus, say, online banks which provide a UK bank account with a UK account).
Online bank accounts are great if you simply need to have an account in Pound Sterling with a UK account number and sort code, and many, like TransferWise’s Borderless Account, also offer debit cards. But if you want or need a bank where you can actually walk into a branch, then you’ll want to consider a traditional bank.
Types of UK accounts
There are numerous types of accounts in the UK, but a standard current bank account is what most people want to for basic everyday use such as paying bills and receiving a salary. These accounts generally come with a debit card, a check book and overdraft protection. Savings accounts yield a higher interest rate and are meant for what their name implies—saving money.
There are also basic accounts, which are generally on offer for people with a poor credit history.
Documents you need to open a UK bank account
In order to open a UK bank account, you generally need two things:
- Proof of your identity. This can take the form of a passport, drivers licence or national identity card. In general, if you are a foreign national your best bet is to use your passport — EU national identity cards are usually accepted (though how this works after Brexit takes effect is anyone’s guess), but if you are from, say, Australia, your home drivers license may not be accepted.
- Proof of address. This is generally a recent utility bill, rental contract, council tax bill. Mobile phone bills are generally not accepted.
How to open a UK account without proof of residency
The proof of address detail is often where people moving to the UK from abroad often hit a wall. It’s also tough if you’ve landed in the UK and are living with relatives and don’t have any bills in your name nor a rental contract.
If you want to open a UK bank account without proof of address, Monese and Monzo are a few online banks that will set up a UK account without proof of residency. Revolut, a digital banking alternative, is another option that offers current accounts. All offer UK account numbers and sort codes as well as debits cards you can use in retailers or to pay for items online. Keep in mind that local withdrawals may come with limitations or costs. However, if you want more flexibility, Monese offers the option to upgrade to fee-based accounts. If you’re having trouble deciding which is best for you, Monzo versus Monese, here’s a round-up of what each offers. Note that even though you don’t have to submit a proof of address, you’ll still need to supply a UK address–this is also where your debit card will be delivered.
If you want to open a UK bank account without proof of address, Monese and Monzo are a few online banks that will set up a UK account without proof of residency. Revolut, a digital banking alternative, is another option that offers current accounts.
Monese is an entirely mobile bank, enabling you to do everything from the Monese app. You can also transfer money into 10 different currencies (including Euros and US Dollars) at the standard mid-market exchange rate. It’s is a handy feature if you need to send money overseas or pay bills (say a mortgage) abroad. They offer three types of current accounts:
- Starter: If you want to limit the up-front costs, go for the Starter account. It’s a full UK current account with no monthly costs and includes a free debit card, but they charge £1 per withdrawal from UK ATMs and a 2% fee on foreign currency exchange transfers.
- Plus: Plus accounts cost £4.95 per month and allow up to 6 free UK ATM withdrawals per month, after that they cost £1 each until the end of the month. Foreign currency exchange transfers incur a 0.5% fee. As with the Starter account, it’s a full UK account with a free debit card.
- Premium: Premium accounts cost £14.95 per month and unlimited UK ATM withdrawals per month and free foreign currency exchange transfers. Again, it’s a full UK account with a free debit card.
Monzo is also a mobile bank that includes a full UK current account and debit card, with everything controlled via their app. They allows up to £200 per month in free withdrawals in both the UK and abroad–after that you’ll be slapped with a 3% fee for each withdrawal you make until the end of the month. Paying with your debit card is free though, including when you are abroad, which is a great perk. Unlike Monese, Monzo only offers one type of account.
Revolut is a digital banking alternative that enables opening a UK current account without proof of residency plus a debit card. You can also transfer at the standard mid-market exchange rate and hold money in over 20 currencies. They offer several types of accounts:
- Standard: With zero up-front costs, the Standard option offers a full UK current (plus an IBAN) account with no monthly costs and includes a free debit card, but they charge no fee UK ATM withdrawals up to £200 per month, after that it costs 2% of value of the ATM withdrawal.
- Premium: Premium accounts cost £6.99 per month including a debit card and they charge no fee UK ATM withdrawals up to £400 per month, after that it costs 2% of value of the ATM withdrawal.
- Metal: Metal accounts cost £12.99 per month including a debit card and they charge no fee UK ATM withdrawals up to £600 per month, after that it costs 2% of value of the ATM withdrawal.
Pay someone to sort out all the details
If merely thinking about all of the above options makes you lose your marbles, check out 1st Contact. The company has relationships with several traditional banks including Lloyds and HSBC and facilitates an introduction to the banks, enabling you to open a UK bank account without the usual proof of residency documents like a utility bill.
1stContact offers several packages which includes:
- UK bank account only: If you just want to open a UK bank account, you can pay £25 and get a UK bank account without proof of residency. You just have to provide a valid passport, proof of permission to live and work in the UK, a residential address where you can receive post (this can be a friend or relative you are staying with, you don’t need a utility bill), be 18 or older and able to attend an appointment in London with one of their banking affiliates.
- Kickstart Classic UK package: if you would like UK bank account plus, various bells and whistles, go for the Kickstart package for £35. It includes a bank account, a UK mobile phone SIM, guides to living and working in the UK, a DIY help guide that may provide assistance obtaining a National Insurance (NI) number, help creating a CV, and a free international money transfer, a 5 day gym membership, accommodation assistance and tour discount vouchers.
- Tier5 Visa Kickstart package: If you want all of the above (including a UK bank account) PLUS help applying for a Tier 5 youth mobility scheme Visa (which replaced the previous UK working holvisa programme), go for this one, which according to 1stContact “allows people between the ages of 18 and 30, from participating countries, to live and work in the UK for two years.” It’s only available to citizens of certain countries (including Australia, New Zealand and Canada).