So, your bags are packed and you’re ready to start a new chapter in your life.  You soon realise that studying in the United Kingdom can be a daunting and exciting experience at the same time.  And for some of you, it may be the first time that you will have to manage your finances on your own.   Financial information and services can be overwhelming to you in a new country, so we’ve pulled together some tips to give you a head start.

Bank accounts

Where to begin? As a student you have the advantage of opening one of the many student accounts that UK banks have to offer.

International student bank accounts are designed for students like you, arriving for the first time to begin your tertiary education.  With these accounts, there may be more flexibility than a basic account.

But keep in mind there could be a monthly fee or minimum balance requirement.   Other perks may include free international money transfers or foreign cheque deposits.  Interest-free overdrafts are on the offer, but always check the fine print to see if you qualify for them, as banks typically offer them to local students.

Having a UK bank account will make transactions easier for food, accommodation and other items, plus saves you a ton  of money from fluctuating currency exchanges.

What do you get with a basic bank account

It is a no-brainer, but it is always best to check what you’re entitled to when opening a basic bank account. The British Bank Association says with such an account you can:

  • Have money paid directly into your account.
  • Take your money out at a cash machine.
  • Take your money out and, or pay money in at a Post Office.
  • Pay bills by standing order or direct debit.
  • You may be able to make purchases online or in shops, but do check with the individual bank.

But, you’re not allowed to get credit or an overdraft.

What you need to open an account

After settling in and checking out to see which bank branch is closest to your accommodation, it’s time to open a bank account.  You could also do this online.  Just make sure you have these items with you so that you ensure the process is smooth and efficient.

  • Have your passport with a valid student visa, or your national identification card if you are from an EU country.
  • A letter from your university, college or school to confirm your enrolment and UK study information; or
  • A ‘Letter of Introduction for UK Banking Facilities’ which your university, college or school will complete to show your UK study details.
  • Proof of your address in the UK.
  • Minimum amount to deposit into your account.

And, if you’re looking to bring in money into the UK with you, one of the more convenient methods is to request from your bank in your home country to give you a cheque in sterling (UK pounds) drawn on a London bank.

Or you can transfer money from home after opening the account.  Look out for services like Transferwise that can allow you skip transfer fees by connecting local bank accounts from all over the world.

Other banking tips

Now that you’ve got the bank account sorted, it will be a breeze to manage your finances as you can most likely do everything online.  If you need cash, then head on over to the cash machine, or the more familiar automated teller machine or ATM.

Like in any new country there are quirks to UK cash machines, here are some of them:

  • You’re able to use your own cash machine or withdraw money from other banks. Typically there is no fee if you use a different bank’s cash machine. If there is a fee, you’ll be notified at the start of your transaction, giving you the choice to proceed.
  • Contactless payments are popular now, what more with managing payments at a time of Covid-19, so you are able to sort that facility out with your bank.
  • UK cash machines give out only £10 notes and higher, some machines offer euros but usually in large transport hubs.
  • Most supermarket checkouts function as a cash machine: you can ask for “cash back” when you pay by debit card.

A sneak peek to bank offerings

Banks are always coming up with promotions to attract new international account holders, always do your own research before deciding on your choice bank. Here’s a snippet to some of the perks you can get from UK banks:

  • Santander’s student account offers discounted rail cards, to save you ⅓ off on all train travel in the UK.
  • At Natwest, you could find yourself having a choice of subscribing to a National Express Coachcard, a Tastecard, which is a discount card for restaurants, or an Amazon Prime subscription.
  • Barclays may offer you to send money to more than 30 countries using just a mobile number, and it lets you pay for items with contactless debit card or Apply Pay.
  • Plus, Barclays and Lloyds may offer you cashback when you shop for offers under certain loyalty programmes.
  • HSBC can offer you an overdraft (for local students), student credit card and exclusive deals for students.