Opening a UK Bank Account – A Guide for International Students
Written by Mark Bennett
There are a range of UK bank accounts suitable for international PhD students, but it's best to prepare and open one in advance.
How do I choose an account?
You should start looking for a UK bank before you leave your home country.
In most UK banks you should be eligible for a 'basic bank account'. A basic bank account will give you a cash machine card and facilities to transfer money in to your account. If you need other services such as a cheque book, debit card or access to credit then you will need a current account or an account specifically designed for international students. Use the internet to shop around for the account which suits you best.
It can sometimes be hard to find the relevant information on many of the banks web sites - don't be afraid to use the banks' "Contact Us" pages to ask what banking facilities each bank can offer you. Your university's international office may also be able to recommend specific banks, including those with branches on or near your campus.
UK banks offering bank accounts for international students
The following are well-known UK high-street banks (banks with lots of branches around the country) offering specific accounts that are suitable for international PhD students.
They aren't the only banks you can open an account with, but they offer services that are designed with international students in mind and will almost certainly have a branch near your university.
Do I need a UK bank account to study a PhD in the UK?
Strictly speaking, you don't necessarily need to have a UK bank account in order to apply for a PhD, or to live and study in the UK.
However, there are lots of things you'll need to do for your PhD that are more difficult without a local account, such as managing fee or studentship instalments. Withdrawing cash or making purchases in the UK may also be more expensive if you're using a foreign account.
All in all, it's a good idea to have one.
How do I open an account?
You should check the exact requirements with whichever bank you're applying for an account with, but they'll normally ask for the following documents:
- Your passport
- A valid visa for your PhD
- Proof of acceptance for PhD study at your university
- Proof of your UK address
Provided you have all of this information, successfully applying for an account shouldn't take long (around two weeks). It's generally a good idea to have set everything up before you begin your degree (you'll need it to organise payments for your PhD fees and, potentially, to receive your funding).
Most banks don't charge for student accounts, but they may set fees for foreign currency transfers and payments. You'll also incur additional costs if you go over any agreed overdraft limit or fail to have sufficient funds in your account to meet direct debits or other payments.
Basic services such as internet banking, debit card use, contactless payment services and most cash withdrawals are also free as standard. Be aware that ATM machines in some locations such may charge a small fee (usually £1-2) for withdrawals.
Will my PhD studentship automatically be paid into my bank account?
One of the reasons you'll need a UK bank account is to receive money from a UKRI studentship, or other PhD scholarship.
This kind of funding is usually paid in instalments during your degree, rather than as a lump sum at the beginning. You'll need an account for it to be paid into and most funders will require this to be held with a UK branch.
What happens to my account after I finish my PhD?
If you're moving home after your PhD, the best thing to do is to close your account. There isn't a fee for this (provided you're in credit and everything else is in order).
If you're staying in the UK on a Graduate Route visa you can keep or upgrade your account. And yes, you can ask them to put 'Dr' on your new bank card.
Should I bring any cash to the UK?
When you first arrive in the UK it is advisable to bring a small amount of money in Sterling (maybe £200). A credit card and/or additional traveller's cheques may also be advisable to tide you over whilst waiting for your bank account to be set up. Euros and US Dollars can be easily exchanged at high street banks and post offices at 0% commission, but are not generally accepted in shops outside of London 's tourist hot spots.
The advice here is meant as an introductory guide to UK banking for international PhD students. Information is correct as of the time of writing, but changes may be made to specific accounts and conditions at any time. Other helpful resources are offered by organisations such as the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).