Setting up a UK bank account
Whether you’re thinking of moving to the UK or you have already arrived, at some point you’re going to need a UK bank account.
In the past, opening a bank account was very difficult if you were new to the UK. Thankfully, these days, it has become slightly easier. Here’s how to go about it.
What Documents Do I Need?
To open a UK bank account, you will need two documents: one to prove your identity and one to prove your address. This applies both in branch and online. To prove your identity just need your passport, driving licence or identity card (if you’re an EU national).
Every bank has its own list of what documents are acceptable as proof of address. Broadly speaking, however, these include:
a tenancy agreement or mortgage statement;
a recent electricity or gas bill (less than 3 months old);
a recent (less than 3 months old) bank or credit card statement that’s not printed off the internet; or
a current council tax bill.
Of course, if you’re new to the UK, you probably don’t have any of the documents on this list. However, most banks now accept a letter from your employer as proof of address (please ensure the letter is within three months old).
Can I Open A Bank Account Before I Arrive In The UK?
Yes, you can. Your home bank may be able to set up an account for you if it has a correspondent banking relationship with a British bank. Many major UK banks also have so-called ‘international’ accounts. These are designed specifically for non-residents, so they’re a great option if you don’t have the documents to prove your UK address. In fact, you can even apply for an international account online. Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, and NatWest all offer international bank accounts.
However, opening a bank account from abroad or an international account may not be the right choice for you. Very often, you will have to make a big initial deposit and commit to paying in a minimum amount of money each month. Some banks will also charge you a monthly fee in addition to these requirements. This can make your bank account expensive to open and run, especially if you still don’t have a job. Other restrictions could also apply, which includes not being able to close the account and switch to a better deal until a set period of time expires.
Which Bank Is Best For My Needs?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. The banking industry in the UK is very competitive, and many banks have special products designed to attract a specific type of customer.
Things To Consider When Choosing a Bank
Because you’re new to the UK, you have a limited credit history and not much documentation. Some banks are strict with their requirements, so opening a bank account with them will be difficult.
It’s usually easier to open an account with one of the UK’s largest banks - Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC or RBS/NatWest. These banks have been in business for a long time and are very financially strong. They also have a lot of experience dealing with international customers, so they are a bit more understanding of your situation and flexible with their requirements.
The Big Four UK Banks
There are more than ten retail banks in the UK, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, the biggest four UK banks are Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS/NatWest.
Barclays is one of the oldest banks in the UK, and has more than 1500 branches around the country. It’s also probably one of the easiest banks to open an account with if you’re new to the UK. In fact, you can even pre-apply for an account online before you arrive in the UK.
The account is free and comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard. However, you won’t be able to use your account immediately. Once you’re in the UK, you have to visit a branch with your reference number, passport, and proof of address in order to activate the account.
Lloyds is the largest provider of current accounts in the UK and has about 1300 branches throughout the country. Opening a bank account is very easy, even if you have just arrived in the UK.
In fact, Lloyds has a special new to the UK account which you can normally open with just your passport or identity card (if you’re an EU citizen). The account is free and comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard.
HSBC has more than 1100 branches around England and Wales, but a lower number in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of course, HSBC’s biggest advantage is that it operates in more than 80 countries around the world. If you bank with HSBC in your home country, they can help you set up an account in the UK before you get here.
The basic current account includes free telephone and internet banking and comes with a visa debit card. However, whether you get a contactless card will depend on your individual circumstances. You may also have to undergo a credit check before opening your account.
Please note that BDI Resourcing has a personal contact at HSBC who supports IMG’s setting up a UK bank account – so please email us at email@example.com for those details.
The RBS Group owns the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. Because they’re part of the same group, both the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have broadly similar products. However, most of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s 700 branches are located in Scotland, whilst NatWest has over 1,400 branches all over the UK. NatWest’s Select current account is free to use and comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard. You’ll also get access to an emergency cash service, so you can withdraw money from your account using just a security code if your card is lost or stolen.
While Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS/NatWest are the four biggest banks in the UK, there are also other banks you can check. TSB is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best banks in the UK. It’s quite easy to open an account, even if you’re new to the UK; and the Classic Plus account has some great perks. These include 5% interest each month on the first £2,000 in your account and 5% cashback each month on your first £100 contactless payments.
Santander is very popular because of its 1|2|3| Account. This offers up to 3% cashback on household bills and 3% interest on balances between £3,000 and £20,000. Unfortunately, you’ll need to undergo a credit check when you apply for this account, so if you’re new to the UK you probably won’t qualify. However, once you’ve been in the UK for a while (perhaps a year or so), it’s a good idea to look at it.
Of course, it’s always best to look at what different banks have to offer and see who has the best deal. Don’t commit to a product without at least having a look at what else is out there.
What Are The Costs?
You can get a basic current account at no monthly cost from most high street banks. This should be more than enough for your everyday banking needs.
Most banks also have premium accounts that offer additional benefits such as cashback on household bills, in-credit interest, and insurance. However, these accounts will often have monthly fees and minimum eligibility requirements; and you may not qualify if you’re new to the UK. You’ll also need to be careful to stay in credit. Unless you have a planned overdraft facility, your bank may charge large fees if you withdraw more money than you have in your account. It’s always a good idea to read through your bank’s terms and conditions. That way, you’ll avoid any nasty surprises.
Withdrawing money from an ATM is free if you use one of your bank’s ATM machines. Many banks also offer free cash withdrawals even if you’re not a customer.
However, some ATM machines aren’t free; and can charge you between £1.50 and £3 per transaction. If you’re not using one of your bank’s ATM machines, check the machine first. Many free ATM machines will state that they are free. Similarly, some paid machines will warn you about charges before you can complete the transaction.
Getting a mobile phone
UK mobile companies operate using the Global System for Mobile (GSM) standard so if your mobile phone is compatible with GSM, all you need to do is exchange your current SIM for a UK SIM. However, not all international mobile phones will work with British mobile phone service providers so this will mean that you will need to get your phone unlocked prior to travelling to the UK or buy a UK mobile phone when you arrive in the UK.
Furthermore, the UK has thousands of WiFi points and excellent 4G mobile coverage so you will never be without the internet.
How do I get a UK SIM card?
To get a UK SIM card you can apply online or visit a high street shop. There are two options available which are contract or pay-as-you-go.
The most popular UK Mobile Companies:
Advantages of getting a contract SIM/Phone
A brand-new smartphone, with often no upfront cost
The option of an upgrade to a newer phone when your contract is about to end
No need to top up as the contract with come with a monthly allowance of calls, texts, and data. This means you do not have to monitor your credit and be at the disadvantage of going to top up.
Advantages of getting a pay-as-you-go SIM
Cheaper monthly cost because the price does not include the cost of a new phone
Greater flexibility from the choice of different terms. You can commit to a 12-month plan, 30-day rolling plan or just pay for what you use
Freedom to switch network providers for a better deal at any time
How to unlock your phone in the UK
Most UK mobile phone providers only allow you to unlock your phone if you have had it for 12-months or longer. You should ask your mobile phone provider their price for unlocking your existing phone.
What UK mobile plan should I choose?
If you opt for a contract phone it is important to shop around for the best deals as the UK mobile phone market is competitive. The cost of your UK mobile phone is typically factored into the monthly charges but some providers offer the handset for free.
Before agreeing to a contract, it is important to remember how often you use your mobile, what you use it for and then consider that when choosing a deal.
Although anyone can buy a UK mobile phone, you must note that not everyone is entitled to a UK mobile contract due to credit history and if you do not have enough credit history in the UK you can be refused. Therefore, you might have to purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM then change to a contract deal once you have built up your credit rating.
What is a National Insurance Number?
Also referred to as an ‘NI’ number, a National Insurance number is the unique code (made of numbers and letters) given to every UK citizen who is eligible to pay tax contributions. Residents automatically receive one just before their 16th birthday, and your NI number remains the same for life, even if you marry, change names or move abroad. The National Insurance number records your personal National Insurance contributions and taxes, for every job you have during your lifetime. It also allows you access to NHS services, benefits, and to register to vote in the UK elections.
How do I get one?
Typically, your National Insurance (NI) number is printed on the back of your biometric residence permit (BRP) and you will not need to apply for an NI number if you already have one.
However, if your NI number is not printed on your card then you must apply for one and your application can only be made once you are in the UK.
Please note that you will be able to start work before your NI number arrives and you should tell the hospital that you have applied for one and then provide it to them once you have it.
National Insurance Interview
The Job Centre Plus could write and ask you to come to an interview where you will be asked about your personal circumstance and why you need an NI number.
The letter will ask you to bring certain documentation to prove your identity, such as your passport, BRP, birth certificate or driving licence. At the interview, you will be told how long it will take to receive your NI number.
You will receive a biometric residence permit (BRP) if you apply to come to the UK for longer than 6 months and apply to settle in the UK. Your BRP card will include your name, date of birth, and place of birth, your fingerprints, a photo of your face and your immigration status. You will not need to apply for a BRP on top of your Visa application as it will automatically be issued to you.
When you arrive in the UK you will need to collect your BRP. You must collect your card within a certain number of days of arriving in the UK, and that date will be stated on your Visa acceptance letter. You can collect your card from either a named Post Office branch or your Sponsor (hospital) if you chose this option when you applied.
Visiting the Police Station
Often people will need to register with the police after they arrive in the UK with their Visa. To check if you need to register with the UK police you will need to check your Visa vignette (the sticker in your passport). If you do need to register it will have ‘police registration’ or ‘register with police within 7 days of entry’.
Please note that if you fail to register your permission to stay in the UK will be shortened and you will have to leave and you can also be stopped from getting a UK Visa in the future.
In addition, please be consider that you may be required to bring relevant documentation with you and this documentation will need to be in a hard-copy, electronic copies will not be accepted.
After you have registered with the police you will receive a registration certificate. Keep this certificate safe to prove you have registered with the police, return to the UK after travel and apply to stay in the UK for a longer period.
Registering with a GP / Dentist
Anyone in the UK can register and consult with a GP without charge. UK GP’s are self-employed and have contracts with the NHS. An application to join a practice may only be refused if the practice has reasonable grounds for doing so.
To find GP services in your area please follow this link. Once you have your chosen practice you should visit it in person to register. They will ask you to complete a GMS1 form as part of your application to register. GP practices are not required to request proof of identity or immigration status, however, they could ask to see proof of name and date of birth. Documents that they would accept are your passport, driving licence or home office letter. They may also ask for proof of address, which can be proved by a recent utility bill or a council tax bill.
You will not need to register with a dentist in the same way as with a GP because you are not bound to a catchment area. You can simply find a dentist that is suitable for you which can be done so via this link. When you have found a dentist, you should go into the practice or call them to ask if you can register as an NHS patient. Please note that not all dentists provide NHS treatments. If you are accepted then you will be asked your name and address, ask you to sign a form to register and arrange for you to have a dental check-up (typically this is free).
Registering your utility bills
When you have found a property to move into you will need to set up the household bills. First, you should contact the current supplier at your new property to tell them you have moved in and if you do not know who the current supplier is then follow this link for some advice. Second, read the meters the day you move in to ensure you receive an accurate first bill.
You will automatically be put onto a ‘deemed’ contract with the current supplier of the property which is typically one of the most expensive tariffs so you should look for a better deal with the current supplier or a new one as soon as you move in. Please note that switching suppliers usually takes about 21 days so you will have to pay at least one bill with the current supplier.
If you are an IMG who is interested in relocating to the UK and working for the NHS then send your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org – and one of our specialist team would be happy to advise you.