Help opening a student bank account in the UK
September 26, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I'll be a student in the UK for at least one year. While there are many threads dedicated to unanimously deciding the process is a long, painstakingly near-impossible one, I've yet to see someone recommend a specific type of account and/or bank. (Especially since newer regulations have been implemented). If anyone knows of a FREE way of opening a UK bank account without an established residency, please share details. Thanks.
posted by Steve073190 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just do it through your uni. They'll have a relationship with a bank.
posted by k8t at 10:14 AM on September 26, 2010

K8t's advice is good for any university that isn't Cambridge or Oxford.

If you're heading to Oxbridge, you'll need to work with the Domestic Bursar at your college (i.e. not the university, but the college) and will need proof of residency from him/her. You will also need a letter from your department, indicating the duration and dates of your degree program.

You almost certainly won't be able to do this without a UK address, so just arrange to have the documentation in advance and go prepared.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:34 AM on September 26, 2010

Yes, what k8t said. Speaking personally, I found the people at Lloyd's TSB to be very kind and accommodating a) in general and b) when I came to open an account. You will need a letter from your school verifying that you're a student, and there are minimal hoops to jump through to, essentially, prove that you're not there just to launder money. You will need a UK address, but if I recall correctly, you don't need to produce any official paperwork with that address on it or anything. I remember being surprised that everything was done and dusted within a few hours.

One thing to note -- my Lloyds account is relatively limited, with no overdraft and nothing particularly fancy, beyond online banking. Everything takes a little bit longer than usual when you have no credit history in a country (ask me about renting a flat! But first, let me down these shots.), but it can get done.
posted by kalimac at 11:42 AM on September 26, 2010

Congrats! I am going to england too for my masters in birmingham. Having lived in england before, this is my advice: get a step account as a way to transfer funds then get a prepaid visa card from the bank as your primary spend tool. I recommend getting three cards: travel, weekly costs, and emergency.
posted by parmanparman at 12:18 PM on September 26, 2010

Barclay's is the equivalent of Bank of America in the UK, so they don't charge fees for withdrawals from your BoA account. That's what I did for the duration of my semester abroad.
posted by lhall at 12:18 PM on September 26, 2010

Since 2008 (or early 2009?), bank regulations were considerably tightened for international students. You NEED these three things in order to open an bank account, ignore anyone who tells you otherwise:

1) Proof that you are living in a UK address. This can be a electric or gas bill, or more commonly for international students, a letter from the university stating you are in X residential hall.

2) Proof that you are studying in a university. Again, a letter from university.

3) Proof of ID (passport).

Additionally, even though you may meet all three requirements needed above, in all probability, only the bank that has a relationship with your university would let you open an account with them (and only a very basic one at that). Note that these are for free bank accounts. If you are paying a monthly fee for a bank account, it is likely that the requirements might be more relaxed (but only very slightly).

So, unless you open a special offshore bank account (with a highly monthly fee), you cannot open an account before you get to the UK, and expect to wait another 3-4 weeks when you are in the UK before your application is processed. Bring enough cash or withdraw with your US debit card until you get a bank account.
posted by moiraine at 12:38 PM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice. I think my best bet for the time being is setting up a free simple cash account with HSBC. I've heard this takes only five business days and requires no official documentation other than a currently valid UK address. And, while ATM withdraws are limited (£200 per day), online transfers (both out of and into the account have no cap). Meaning tuition, flat, and mobile fees can be transfered with relative ease. I've heard from fellow uni students k8t is correct. NatWest has an agreement with the LSE and is marginally easier than other banks to start an actual check/savings account. Very marginally, as I'm sure moiraine would agree.

Fairly new to metafilter and not sure if I'm suppose to narrate my findings/solution...but uh, hope it helps anyone else. Thanks again for your time, guys.
posted by Steve073190 at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2010

During your first week of term (now?) there should be a few bankers set up around your student union, and their representatives will almost certainly know how to help you out.

I never really needed to do this, because my Bank of America account let me access ATMs for something like a 1 or 2% surcharge above the interbank rate (which is pretty much the cheapest you'll see *anywhere*), and my AmEx card worked in a surprising number of places, and also had almost no surcharge.

(Also, if you're using HSBC or Barclay's, make sure they have branches near your Uni. They tend to be concentrated in the cities, and there are virtually none in Scotland, if that happens to be where you're going)
posted by schmod at 5:40 PM on September 26, 2010

If you're living in the dorms and not planning on getting a job (direct deposit is the norm) and don't have to pay utilities/rent (or have them in your name), you'd be fine with an American bank card with a low rate.

- American MA student in UK 2005, didn't live in dorms but saw others use American banks successfully.
posted by k8t at 9:28 PM on September 26, 2010

Your school might have suggestions. I just started my MA in England and at orientation they gave us a packet of all the banks in the area, and the relevant accounts they offer. I got an International Student account at Santander - I just needed my passport and a letter from my school, and it was minimal hassle. It does have a monthly fee, but it also allows you one free deposit of a foreign check a month, as well as a debit card.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:02 AM on September 28, 2010

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