How do I open a UK bank account?

Updated on 30 December 2020


If you have moved to the UK to work, then you will need to open a bank account so that you can get paid, deposit cash and pay bills. In this section, we walk you through the process.

Image of UK debit card showing Union Jack flag
(c) Shutterstock / Novikov Aleksey

People often think that opening a bank account in the UK is difficult because you need lots of documentation – for example, to prove your identity and address.

As such, you may pay an agency to help you get a bank account, on the understanding that they have a ‘special arrangement’ with a high street bank and can bypass some of the requirements. But the reality is that most of the banks can be flexible with new arrivals who need to open accounts. You should not have to pay anyone else to get involved – it is just a question of talking to the bank and explaining your circumstances.

⚠️ This is meant as an informal guide to opening a UK bank account. We are not in a position to recommend one brand or service over another.

What are the main types of bank in the UK?

There is a varied banking sector in the UK. You can choose between major high street banks, banks owned by retail groups, independent specialist banks and local banks. The UK also has building societies which offer banking and related financial services, especially mortgage lending.

Many banks belong to the British Bankers’ Association (BBA), which has three main priorities, including helping customers and raising standards. Their members are published in a list. The activities of the BBA are now carried out by the organisation UK Finance. There is also a list of members on UK Finance’s website.

Many building societies are members of the Building Societies Association (BSA). As building societies are mutual societies, they are concerned with benefiting their members and customers. There is a list of members on the BSA website.

The BBA and BSA member lists may help you become more familiar with some of the banks and building societies in the UK.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates banks and building societies in the UK. The FCA is a conduct regulator with the aim of protecting consumers, ensuring the financial services industry remains stable and promoting competition in the market.

You can find more information from the FCA. The FCA also maintains a public list of regulated institutions in its Financial Services Register.

When choosing a bank or building society, we recommend that you check that it is regulated by the FCA.

How do I open an account?

It is usually easiest to walk into a branch, make an enquiry about opening a bank account and take it from there. It may take a few days to set things up, so you may need to think about keeping your home country bank account open and using your ATM (cash machine) card until your UK account is up and running.

What documents do I need?

Before a bank can let you have an account, they need to be confident that you are who you say you are. Banks usually accept as proof of your identity, things like:

  • Passport

Or if you are from a country in the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA):

  • National identity card
  • Residence permit issued by the Home Office to EU nationals
  • National driving licence

Ideally, you will also be able to provide a document which establishes your UK address, such as a council tax or utility bill.

Although most banks and building societies expect you to have a UK address before you can open a bank account, proving your address in the UK may be more difficult if you do not have any documents, such as council tax or utility bills. But there are other documents banks may accept that can verify your UK address and the following may be options, such as:

  • Tenancy agreement (if you have just started to rent a place in the UK but do not have any utility bills)
  • A letter or payslip from your employer in the UK confirming your UK address
  • If you are staying in a hostel you may be able to use their address as a c/o (care of) address

Remember that banks will normally only accept original documents, not copies.

What if I cannot prove a UK address?

Banks know that because you are new to this country you may not have access to any documents whatsoever. However, a bank may be able to offer you a bank account on the basis that you can prove a non-UK address.

Some banks, however, may not need a proof of address at all, if you are new to the UK, as long as you have a suitable main form of identification, such as a passport.

Because banks’ requirements vary, it is not possible to be definitive about what documents they will accept. The documents that can be accepted may differ from bank to bank. It is best not to overthink it – you should just go into a branch and talk to the staff there and see what they require.

Can I open a UK bank account before I arrive in the UK?

You may be lucky enough to have a UK bank branch near where you live at home. For example, some of the major high street banks can be found all over the world. If you are close to a local branch in your home country of a bank that is also in the UK, you can walk in and ask about opening a UK bank account. This may be easiest, if you are an existing customer of the bank in question.

It should be possible to open a UK account online too, before your arrival.

What can I expect from a UK bank account?

This will depend on the type of account. There are lots of different types of current account on the market, from ones that offer basic banking benefits to more sophisticated accounts.

A standard current account will usually provide:

  • a debit card;
  • an overdraft facility (subject to approval by the account provider);
  • a cheque book (this may need to be specifically requested as payment by cheque is becoming less common);
  • the facility to set up payments by Direct Debit and standing order.

You can normally open a standard current account for free and there are not usually any monthly charges.

The simplest bank accounts are usually called ‘basic bank accounts’. These typically offer a cash card, Direct Debit and standing order facilities, but no overdraft, cheque book or other features. Basic bank accounts will usually be the easiest to open without a UK proof of address.

If you want more from your bank account than the standard range of features and services and you are willing to pay for it, it might be worth looking at current accounts called ‘packaged bank accounts’. These accounts offer extra services which sometimes come with a monthly or annual fee. They might include things like travel insurance or vehicle breakdown cover.

On the face of it, the offer can seem to be quite a good deal, but it makes sense to add the fees up to see if you could get the benefits cheaper elsewhere. In addition, it is worth considering whether you will use all the benefits or additional features, or if you already have them.

You should be aware that there are specialist products aimed at international workers too, but there are often fees involved due to their ‘features’ (such an account might offer a free mobile phone SIM and UK relocation advice for example).

You should shop around to find what you need – comparison sites like MoneySupermarket or ComparetheMarket give basic facts about accounts as well as showing customer service or satisfaction ratings.

Is there anything else I should know?

You may find that banking in the UK is different from the way you bank in your home country.

Here are some examples of potential differences:

  • Most current accounts in the UK do not pay very much interest, if any. To see what interest you could earn over a year if you keep your account in credit look at the Annual Equivalent Rate (AER);
  • Many personal bank accounts offer free banking, provided you do not go into overdraft;
  • If you sometimes need to borrow money for short periods, you may want to look closely at the overdraft facility your bank account offers. Arranged overdrafts are those agreed with your account provider in advance. If you go overdrawn without permission, you should be aware that you can incur very large fees;
  • Some banks and building societies offer accounts that can only be accessed by phone or online. This may not suit you if you want to be able to visit a branch. You will need to check what access you will have to your money;
  • Most deposits and savings put into UK banks are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) and will be protected up to £85,000.

Where can I go for more information?

The Money Advice Service is an independent, unbiased money advice service available to everyone. They have a useful guide on bank accounts.

You can find out more information about personal banking from the BBA.

The BBA publishes a practical leaflet which answers in an easy-to-understand format, some of the questions people who are new or newly returned to the UK have about opening accounts.

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