One of the most important tasks for those arriving to live and work is the UK is opening a British bank account. Without a bank account, many necessary things in life such as getting paid and making purchases, are substantially more difficult, if not impossible.
Opening a bank account is not impossible, but the rules governing banks are fairly rigid and banks have little or no flexibility in the process.
Like many of the tasks necessary when moving to a new place, spending a bit of time preparing beforehand can save hours of frustration.
- Choosing a bank
Bigger is not always better. However when it comes to banks, choosing one of the larger ones has advantages for those customers new to the country who are opening their first account. The larger banks usually offer a broader range of services, have more locations and usually have experience in dealing with foreign transactions, if that is a service that is needed.
It is best to choose a bank that offers more than just a basic account. Online banking and an ATM card, in most cases, are necessities. Bank fees should be reasonable. Make sure that the type of account chosen has the services you need, but try to avoid paying for unneeded ones.
The largest banks in the UK are Barclays, Natwest, HSBC, Santander, and Lloyds, and are likely to have experienced personnel who can help open an account. A visit to the individual banks website can help determine which offers the best type of account for your personal needs.
Having the current documentation is the absolute key to opening an account. UK banking and anti-money laundering regulations are strict, and deviating from the proscribed documents lists can result in a delay.
A good rule of thumb is to bring original documents only. Many banks will not accept statements printed from an online site.
The documents required fall into two categories; proof of identity and proof of residency. One document rarely, if ever, fulfils both requirements.
- Identity Documents
The following documents can be used to establish your identity.
- Full and valid UK or foreign passport. (Make sure that it has a Machine Readable Zone (MRZ))
- Photocard national identity card, which has MRZ.
- Full UK paper driving licence
- A full UK or foreign photocard driving licence
- Benefit entitlement letter that is less than a year old and which confirms the benefit payable at time of issue.
- Blue disabled driver’s pass
- Student ID card is acceptable for youth and student accounts
Proof of residence documents
The following items can be used to show proof of residence.
- Full UK paper driving licence unless it has been used to verify identity.
- UK or foreign bank or credit card statement. Most banks require an original document that is less than 90 days old.
- An original UK mortgage statement that is less than a year old.
- Council Tax bill, payment book or exemption certificate that is less than a year old.
- Council/Housing Association tenancy agreement. Private tenancy agreements are generally not accepted
- Council rent book or card which show a payment within the past year,
- Jobcentre Plus letter confirming National Insurance number that is less than 3 months old.
- A utility bill or letter confirming you receive service from the company that is an original document and not printed from online site. The letter or bill must be dated within the last 3 months. Mobile phone bills are not valid proof of residence.
- TV Licence letter or Direct Debit schedule which is less than 12 months old. The document needs to detail your name and address and confirm the existence of a TV Licence.
Alternative account setup options
One way to avoid the hassle of setting up your account at the bank is to purchase a bank account setup package before leaving your home country or when you first arrive in the UK. For a nominal fee, these third party companies will help you set up a fully functional bank account with debit card, online banking and phone services. The companies usually include several perks such as like NI number assistance, job assistance and an included UK SIM card. This service is particularly advantageous for those who do not yet have letters of employment or utility bills in their name. Usually an account can be set up with a valid passport and a valid working visa.