Banks and Bank Accounts

Page last updated 03.08.21

When you reach the UK, one of the first things you will want to do is open a bank account. Managing your finances from home is possible but it is impractical in the long term and can get very expensive for several reasons:

  • Every time you make a purchase or withdraw cash in the UK your home bank may charge you currency conversion fees
  • The exchange rate will fluctuate - this can make it difficult to stick to your planned budget or to plan future spending
  • Setting up Direct Debits or monthly transfers for service such as accommodation payments, phone bills or utility bills may not be possible as most companies will prefer payments from a UK account.
  • Most UK employers will want to make payment to a UK account for any wages you earn
  • If you lose your cards or pin number or get locked out of your account, it is quite often impossible to get this sorted out from the UK, meaning expensive and time-consuming trips home to sort this out.

It's normally best to open a bank account with a branch of the bank close to the campus where you are studying.  Not only does this mean you can set up the account locally with friendly student banking specialists, it means that if you have any issues, you are close to the home branch for your account.


The University cannot recommend a specific bank or bank account to you, but we can help you to make your own choice.

There are lots of different bank accounts you can choose from in the UK - not all will be suitable for your needs, for example, not all will allow Direct Debits and some have a notice period before you can withdraw or spend money.  It is important that you check with the bank, before you open the account, if there are any restrictions on the account you plan to open.

In general students can open the following accounts:

  • Standard Current Accounts - you can deposit and withdraw money whenever you like. Most accounts will give you a debit card and, in some cases, a chequebook.
  • Standard Savings Accounts - you would normally deposit money here for a longer-term investment. These are great if you want to save money for travel or emergencies.
  • Student Accounts - a type of current account which can come with a number of bank specific perks.

Normally you will need to be in the UK to be able to open these, but some banks will open the account from overseas and then verify your identity when you arrive in the UK.

If you need a Sharia-compliant savings account please see the Money Advice Service Information for further guidance.

There are a number of banks close to the University, and you may wish to go and speak to the banks before deciding which account to open.  As a guide, the following are close to our Campus's:

  • Barclays
  • Halifax
  • HSBC
  • Lloyds
  • Nationwide
  • Natwest
  • Principality
  • Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)
  • Santander
  • TSB

Other banks are available, and you need to research which bank is best for you and your situation.

  • The banks near to the University are used to dealing with our students, so these are probably a good place to start researching your new account.
  • You will receive a lot of paperwork or electronic documents showing the terms and conditions of your new account - always ask a staff member in the bank to go through these with you, especially if English is not your first language. There may be important information in these documents you need to know.
  • Consider where your bank is - if your bank is in Cardiff and you live in Pontypridd, without a local bank, you may need to travel to Cardiff to sort out any problems.  While this might not be an issue for everyone, its something to think about.
  • There is generally a set time between opening the bank account and receiving a bank card. You need to make sure you have enough cash to cover your first 2 weeks in the UK (or longer if you are required to self-isolate) in case there is a delay in accessing your new bank account.
  • Setting up online banking has a similar delay time as you will have to wait to receive an activation code through the post.
  • Most banks have small charges on transactions, including international bank transfers, currency conversions, and these could become expensive over time. Check with the bank before opening the account to ensure you know what charges you will need to pay.
  • You must always update your bank with changes of personal details. This includes your address and contact details. If you do not update your details, someone else will get any postal correspondence from the bank intended for you.
  • Not everyone is going to be happy with their choice of bank. You will spend a good amount of time during your studies using your bank account, so it's important to find one you are happy with. If you are not happy, speak to your bank and then if you cannot resolve the issues, you might want to think about switching banks.
  • Your bank details should always be handled with care, especially when shopping online - check for a padlock icon beside the URL in your browser, or make sure any website you use is marked as secure.


Different banks will require different forms of evidence from you before you can open a bank account. 

Each bank will provide you with a list of documents required, but we know that all banks will need:

  • Passport
  • Vignette (visa sticker in passport)
  • BRP
  • University Bank Letter - can be requested online
  • For some accounts you may also need additional documents for proof of address - this can be your tenancy agreement or a utility bill.

Most banks will provide staff to assist you through the process, but if you encounter any difficulties, please contact us.

 

Different banks will want different forms of evidence from you before you can open a bank account.  Each bank will provide you with a list of documents required, but we know that all banks will need:

  • Passport or National ID Card or Photo Driving Licence
  • University Bank Letter - can be requested online
  • You may also need proof of address - this can be your tenancy agreement or a utility bill.
  • You may need to show your Pre-Settled or Settled Status documents to the bank in addition to those listed above

For most EU students the process should be straight forward, but if you encounter any difficulties, please contact us.

The Money Advice Service have created a Beginner's guide to online banking.  We recommend you read the guide, as it has some great information and tips for managing your money if you are away from home for the first time.

You will find a list of useful banking terms here:

ATM - Automated Teller Machine - ATMs are the machines, normally found in the sides of buildings, which allow you to withdraw cash from your accounts.

Bankers Draft - Similar to a Cheque, it allows you to make payment to a specific person. The bank takes the funds directly from your account to 'guarantee' the payment.

Bank Statement - Your bank will send you these monthly or quarterly. They show the transactions for your account.  You can decide to receive these by post or online. You can also print ad hoc statements in most branches.

Contactless Payment - Some bank cards now allow you to pay by tapping your card on the card machine. The current limit is £45 per transaction.  Some phones now support contactless payments as well, and you can search online to find out how to set this up

Current Account - A standard UK bank account which allows immediate access to your funds. Most student accounts are a form of current account

Direct Debit - This is a way of paying bills and charges from your UK account.  Once set up the payments will continue until stopped. Direct Debits normally happen on the same date of the month and the payment amounts will vary with your spending.

Overdraft - This allows you to borrow money from the bank in an emergency if you don't quite have the funds for a large bill. Most student accounts do not have an overdraft. Be warned - overdrafts are very expensive and if you are having money problems you should seek help from our Student Money Advice Team.

PIN - Personal Identification Number - Your PIN is a 4 digit code used when paying by card or taking money from an ATM. Never share your PIN number, and if you think someone knows your PIN, go to the bank and change it.

Payee - Someone who receives a payment

Payer - A person who makes a payment