How to Open a Bank Account in the UK

Back in 2017 this was a nightmare.
Nowadays it’s as easy as downloading an app.

Setting up a bank account in the UK has always been a real headache for most new comers. The big banks (Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, NatWest) have so many hoops to jump through that it can take weeks or months to get an account open – not really a good option when you’ve got wages that need to come in and bills that need to be paid…

Most of the stuff you’ll need to provide to open an account is pretty straight forward: name, date of birth, passport details, visa/BRP details, and National Insurance Number (find out about getting one of these here).

The real hassle comes in providing two documents as proof of your permanent address in the UK. Think tenancy agreement, bank statement, electricity bill, or tax bill – something with your name and address printed at the top.

If you’ve just arrived in the UK, you’re probably unlikely to have these sorts of documents for quite a while (or if you’re like me and planning on being a little more nomadic, you may never have them!).

You can see how this easily becomes a fairly frustrating situation when you don’t have a bank account and can’t be paid, and therefore can’t sign a lease, and therefore can’t provide a permanent address, and therefore can’t open a bank account…

So what does everyone do?

Let me fill you in on your options:


1. Use a friend or family member’s address

If you’re lucky enough to have some contacts in the UK already, absolutely use them to your advantage.

You’ll need to either get your name added to the gas/water/electricity bill, have them sign a letter/tenancy agreement with your name on it, or have your National Insurance Number (NIN) letter posted to their address.

Disclaimer: it will be at the bank/bank manager’s discretion what documents they will accept for your application, so it’s be best to speak to them directly to confirm what they will allow before signing up to pay your mates electricity bill!


2. Write a letter

Again, it will be at the bank/bank manager’s discretion what they accept, but they may be satisfied with a letter signed by your landlord, employer, university of educational institution that confirms your residential address in the UK. Check whether this is ok with the individual bank branch you’re applying at.


3. Open an account in your home country

There are a few financial institutions (like HSBC, ING etc.) that have branches all over the world. You may find that you could open an account with one of these banks before arriving in the UK, then change your address and contact details after arriving. Be warned that I’m not speaking from experience here – I’ve heard of a friend who has done this (I think successfully) – but it could be worth a shot!


4. Open an account with an app-based bank

Bear with me, this isn’t as dodgy as it seems. I’m actually a massive fan of my little bank!

When I initially had to resort to this I must admit I was a little nervous – could I really trust some random app with my money?

Turns out you can!

And not only are they trustworthy (well, as trustworthy as any financial institution can be…), they have brilliant customer service, the seamless features you expect of modern banking (instant notifications when you spend, ability to freeze/unfreeze cards through the app) and debit cards without fees that are perfect for travelling with (way better than what some of the old school high street banks are offering).

There are a few of these mobile-only challenger banks sprouting up in the UK that have been established purely for the reasons I’ve whinged about above – not everyone has proof of a permanent address to open a mainstream bank account when they first arrive in the UK. So some clever entrepreneurs have jumped at the opportunity to help their fellow expats out.

The most widely known ones are:


Using just your passport and visa details you can open a bank account on their app in a matter of minutes, and all of that pent up anxiety about becoming broke and homeless on the streets of London suddenly fades away…

The major drawback is that these relatively new companies can be a little less secure than having your cash invested in an FSCA approved institution with all their guarantees and insurances.

But to date, my experience has only been positive with my mobile bank, which I won’t name so as not to influence your decision (I’m not paid to talk about any one bank in particular, and I’d like you to make your own informed decision about who you choose to go with if you do take this path!), but I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop if anything drastic happens.


Picking a bank

When you do finally get down to thinking about which institution you are going to go with, these are some of the important features you may want to consider when picking your account: 

  • Current account: As a minimum this is what you’ll need. It’s the name of a normal daily transaction account that you can have your wages paid into, transfer money to other accounts with, and link a debit card to.
  • Savings account: an optional separate account that may pay a (very) small amount of interest on your savings if you meet their (very particular) conditions.
  • Fees: how much are they going to charge you for each month/ transaction/ withdrawal/ service they provide?
  • Interest rate: do you get anything for your savings? (Interest rates are super low in the UK at the moment, so it’s not likely to make that much of a difference to your bottom line anyway…)
  • Debit card: does this come with the account or do you need to pay for one? Can you use it abroad or just in the UK? What fees are associated with using the card e.g. ATM withdrawal fees, foreign transaction/exchange fees?


Well that’s the nuts and bolts of my banking experience in the UK. Unfortunately for me it was fairly stressful in the beginning as I ran around different bank branches in London and downloaded different banking apps trying to figure out if they were scams or not (don’t worry, the ones I’ve listed here are definitely not scams – I’ve used most of them). I hope I’ve saved you at least a little of the hassle I went through with this article.

Happy spending!


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