How to Open a Bank Account in the UK: A Full Guide [2022]

If you’re an expat planning your relocation – or even if you’ve moved to the UK already – you might be wondering how best to get a UK bank account to hold and spend in British pounds (GBP).

While it’s possible to get a British bank account before you get to the UK it can be expensive and complex to get set up with a mainstream bank. This guide runs through the options for GBP accounts for a non-UK resident, including the documents you need and the likely costs. Because traditional banks aren’t always the best option we’ll also introduce some more user friendly solutions, such as Wise or Revolut. Let’s dive right in.

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What documents do I need?

UK banks need to complete KYC (Know Your Customer) verification checks – much like banks all around the world. That means most British banks will ask customers for  the following:

  • Proof of identity – a valid passport, national identity card or driver’s licence for example
  • Proof of UK residential address – a bank or credit card statement, utility bill or tax return in your name

KYC checks are designed to stop fraud, money laundering and illegal account use. However, if you don’t have a UK proof of address yet it can make it harder to get your GBP account set up with a regular British bank.

Some specialist providers and expat services from major UK banks are able to help non-residents to legally get a UK account, by accepting a broader range of documents for verification checks. Expat banking services often target high wealth individuals, and have high minimum balance requirements. Specialist online services may be more flexible – more on that coming right up.

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

UK banks usually require customers to provide a proof of residence document showing a local UK address. That can make it tricky if you’re not a resident yet – or even if you’ve just moved to the country and don’t yet have bills and household paperwork in your name.

Specialist services like Wise or Revolut can help. These alternatives to regular banks have been built with international customers in mind, and can accept a proof of address from the UK or a range of other countries. Verification is done by uploading images of your paperwork online or in the provider app. Just use your proof of address from your country of residence, to open a Wise or Revolut account online, and open up a GBP balance.

Once you’re all set up you can receive, hold, and spend GBP easily before you even arrive in the UK – a perfect solution for expats, non-residents and digital nomads who want to hit the ground running.

Go to WiseGo to Revolut

How to open a bank account in the UK

The standard requirements to open a bank account with a highstreet bank in the UK include:

  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of UK residential address
  • A completed application with all your personal details
  • Opening deposit – there may be a minimum deposit requirement

If you have all of these documents already you’ll find it relatively easy to open a UK bank account. Some banks let you upload your paperwork online, but others prefer you to visit a branch to hand over your documents in person.

The tricky bit often comes if you don’t have a proof of UK address. Opening an account with a proof of address from overseas is perfectly legal, but because it’s harder for the bank to verify, many regular banks just don’t allow it. Instead, major UK banks may refer you to their expat division, which is set up to offer accounts to non-residents. However, the accounts on offer are often packaged as exclusive options for high wealth individuals – and typically come with high fees.

If you’re not getting what you need from a regular UK bank it might be time to look at alternatives – more on that later.

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

To open a bank account in the UK prior to arriving in the country you’ll need to find a provider which will let you use an international proof of address for KYC purposes. That may mean picking:

  • An account from a British highstreet bank’s expat services division
  • Accounts from digital only banks which operate in the UK
  • A specialist provider which offers multi-currency accounts

As we mentioned, expat banking services can be pricey. Digital banks are an option, and some – like Monese – do let you get an account to handle GBP with a non-UK address. However, restrictions can still apply – Monese needs a residential address from the UK or the European Economic Area for example, which isn’t much use if you’re still in Australia.

If you want to get ahead of the game and get your GBP bank account set up before you arrive you’ll probably be better off with a specialist service designed for international use –  like Wise or Revolut.

Which account is best in the UK for foreigners?

Let’s take a look at a few examples, covering financial technology companies Wise and Revolut, and more traditional UK banks Barclays and HSBC:

Service Wise Revolut Barclays International HSBC Expat
Currencies covered 54 currencies including GBP, USD and EUR 30 currencies GBP, USD and EUR
  • Current accounts in GBP, USD and EUR
  • Savings accounts in 19 currencies
Open before you arrive in the UK Yes Yes Yes Yes
Open online Yes Yes Yes Yes
Opening fee £0 £0 Minimum balance: £100,000 Minimum balance: £15,000 – £50,000
Fall below fee £0 £0 £40 £15 – £35
Maintenance fee £0 Up to £12.99/month Waived if minimum balance is maintained Waived if minimum balance is maintained
International transfers Low fee, varies by currency Fee varies by currency and payment value £15 – £35 + third party charges + exchange rate markup Online transfers up to £5 + third party charges + exchange rate markup

As a non-resident or new arrival to the UK  you do have a decent selection of options when it comes to getting a GBP account. Digital providers offering multi-currency functionality are flexible if you travel, send, spend or receive in a range of currencies.

Expat accounts may appeal if you want a more personal service or need to access a fuller suite of options including overdrafts, investments and credit.

Wise

Wise serves 11 million+ customers and offers both low cost international payments, and personal and business multi-currency accounts. The Wise multi-currency account is a good option for non-UK residents and new arrivals looking to manage their money across GBP and 50+ other currencies.

You can get up and running with an international proof of address and manage your account online or in the Wise app. All currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markup, and you’ll be able to get paid like a local from 30+ countries with your own bank details, including a UK bank account number and an Australian account number and BSB code. You can also send payments to 80+ countries and spend using your Wise international debit card all over the world.

Account types: Wise personal multi-currency accounts are free to open, with no minimum balance or monthly fees to pay.

Eligibility: Available to non-UK residents and new arrivals in the UK. Not all services and features are available in all locations – full details by location available on the Wise website.

Is it safe? Wise is fully FCA regulated in the UK and overseen by global bodies around the world.

Go to Wise

Revolut

Revolut accounts have multi-currency functionality for 30 fiat currencies including GBP, a linked debit card for spending and withdrawals, and extra perks like budgeting and saving tools. Revolut customers can provide a proof of address from Australia, the UK or any of the other regions they operate in – making this a provider to look at if you want to set up your account before you head off to Britain.

Standard Revolut plans come with no monthly fees and an array of features including some fee free currency exchange. Or you can upgrade to a different account tier, where you’ll pay a monthly fee to get higher levels of fee free transactions and extra benefits.

Account types: Personal and business accounts available. Standard plans are free for both personal and business customers. Or you can upgrade to a paid plan for up to £12.99/month as a personal customer or £100/month as a business customer.

Eligibility: Available to new UK arrivals and non-UK residents with addresses in the EEA, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, and the US[9].

Is it safe? In the UK Revolut is authorised by the FCA for all its activities. It also holds a European banking licence for the EU.

Go to Revolut

Barclays International

Barclays International offers accounts to people who need to manage their money across GBP, USD and EUR. You’ll be able to get a linked debit card and access to a range of other services including overdrafts, mortgages and personal financial advice. These accounts are aimed at high wealth individuals who have a balance of £100,000+ within eligible Barclays accounts. If you don’t hold this balance you might pay a monthly fee of £40.

Customers can make payments to 90 countries in up to 60 currencies, with services available online or by phone for convenience.

Account types: GBP, USD and EUR accounts available

Eligibility: To avoid fall below fees you must hold a balance of £100,000+ within eligible Barclays accounts

Is it safe? Barclays is a global banking group, which is well established and fully FCA regulated in the UK.

HSBC Expat

The HSBC Expat division is based offshore, and offers accounts and services for high wealth individuals and people who live and work internationally.

HSBC Expat current accounts are offered in GBP. USD and EUR, with savings accounts available in 19 currencies. However, fairly high minimum balance requirements apply which can be a barrier. To qualify for an HSBC Expat account you’ll need to maintain a minimum balance of £50,000 for an HSBC Premier account or £15,000 for the HSBC Advance.

It’s usually fairly easy to open an HSBC UK account upon arrival if you already have a relationship with the HSBC Expat service.

Account types: Current accounts can hold GBP, EUR and USD, but savings accounts are available in 19 global currencies.

Eligibility: Accounts come with minimum balance requirements of £15,000 to £50,000.

Is it safe? HSBC is one of the largest banks in the UK and a major global brand, fully regulated in the UK and around the world.

What are the costs?

As we’ve seen, specialist providers may offer accounts with low costs and no minimum deposit requirements, but the expat options available from traditional UK banks usually need a hefty minimum deposit amount to get your account.

UK accounts will incur a range of transaction fees, and some also have monthly charges. Keep an eye out for the following costs when selecting the GBP account for you:

  • Monthly maintenance fees – or fall below fees
  • International payment fees
  • Foreign transaction fees when spending or withdrawing with your card
  • Overdraft fees
  • Credit card costs including cash advances and interest
  • Cheque book and cheque cashing fees
  • Account dormancy or early closure fees

Tips for transferring money

Using your normal bank isn’t always the cheapest, fastest or most convenient option to send international payments. Instead, a specialist service may help you save money on both the fees and the exchange rate markups applied. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Compare the exchange rate you’re offered against the mid-market exchange rate to see if a markup is being used
  • Check the fees for different transfer types – arranging your transfer online is usually cheaper than doing so in a bank branch
  • Ask about third party charges which can push up the overall costs significantly

Before you send money overseas, compare your own bank with a few specialist services to see if you can save.

Conclusion

If you’re already in the UK with a local address – and the paperwork to prove it – opening your bank account should be a breeze. Unfortunately though non-resident accounts with traditional UK banks tend to be tricky to open, expensive and inflexible.

If you want a GBP account because you’re a frequent visitor to the UK, a non-resident sending and receiving GBP payments, or a digital nomad getting paid from the UK,  a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut may well be a better bet. Specialist alternatives will usually offer a better overall deal compared to non-resident accounts from big UK banks, including a more straightforward verification process, lower fees and better exchange rates.

FAQ

  1. Can a foreigner open an account in the UK?

You can open a UK account as a foreigner – but the process is much easier if you’re a resident of the UK with a valid proof of address. If you don’t have this paperwork available you may find it easier to get an account with a specialist online provider instead of a regular UK highstreet bank.

  1. How much do I need to open a bank account in the UK?

Many UK banks allow customers to open accounts for free, but non-resident accounts from expat banking services will often have a minimum deposit requirement you’ll need to know about. Compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

  1. Can I open a UK bank account online?

If you have proof of a UK address you’ll probably be able to get your GBP account online through a traditional bank. If not you may be better off with a specialist online provider which allows you to open your account on your laptop or mobile device, with an international proof of address.

  1. Can I open a bank account in the UK before landing?

If you want to get all set up before you even arrive in the UK you can easily open an online GBP account from a specialist service like Wise or Revolut, to hold and manage multiple currencies all in one account.

By Ileana Ionescu Updated March 29th, 2022