How to open a bank account in the UK

Looking to open a bank account in the UK? Whether you've just landed in the UK or you're planning everything ahead of your arrival, opening a bank account in the UK can be a complex process. 

This article guides you through how to open an account as a non-UK resident, or when planning your relocation to the UK. We’ll cover the documents you need, the options available and the likely costs. We’ll also compare non-resident accounts from traditional banks against some more user friendly solutions, such as Wise or Revolut. But more on that later. Let’s dive right in. 

What documents do I need?

To open a bank account with a traditional UK bank you’ll need to provide proof of identity and proof of address. This usually means you’ll need 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 

Choosing these documents is often the easiest way for the bank to comply with UK legislation designed to stop fraud, money laundering and illegal account use. It helps keep accounts and customers safe - but it’s not always easy to provide this paperwork as a non-resident or new arrival in the UK. 

Luckily some specialist providers and expat services are more flexible in the ways they check customer identity - which can make it far easier for non-residents to legally get a UK account. More on that, next.

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

All financial services companies in the UK need to verify customers’ identity and address details to comply with legislation and provide a safe service for everyone. However, while UK banks usually require customers to provide address details showing a UK residence, some specialist services, like Wise or Revolut, can accept an international proof of address which may be more convenient for expats, non-residents and digital nomads.

If you’re not yet in the UK, you’ll be able to use your proof of address from your country of residence, to open a Wise or Revolut account, and set up a GBP balance. That means you can get your account set up before you even move, to receive, hold, and spend GBP easily once you arrive in the UK.

With modern alternative providers like Wise and Revolut, verification is typically done online by uploading images of your paperwork, and - often -  a selfie to show your identity documents match your image. This is quick, convenient, and can be done from home whenever you have time. 

How to open a bank account in the UK

There’s no legal restriction on non-residents or foreigners opening a bank account in the UK. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Traditional banks tend to be wary of offering accounts to non-UK residents because it makes it harder to complete legally required verification checks.

That’s why if you’d like to open a bank account with a traditional institution in the UK you’ll usually need to provide proof of residence and a UK based address. It’s just easier for the bank to verify addresses using UK issued documents they’re familiar with. However, that can make it tricky for non-residents and new arrivals to get their UK accounts up and running. 

If you have your proof of ID and residence documents prepared already, you’ll have no problem opening a bank account with a major UK highstreet bank. In many cases you’ll be able to get started online - but some banks will ask you to visit a branch to present your original paperwork. Generally all you need is:

  • Proof of identity

  • Proof of address

  • A completed application with all your personal details

  • Opening deposit - there may be a minimum deposit requirement

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

It’s tricky to open a bank account in the UK prior to arriving in the country. That’s because most traditional banks need you to be able to show a UK issued proof of address. 

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 like Wise or Monzo. If you’re based in Europe already, Monese may also be an option. More on the best GBP account options for non-residents coming up in a moment.

Which account is best in the UK for foreigners? 

UK accounts for non-residents tend to fall into a couple of different categories:

  • Multi-currency accounts from online specialists

  • Expat accounts from major high street banks

Specialist services include financial technology companies which are not banks but which are regulated in a similar way to banks - which means that for the services they offer they’re just as safe. These options tend to be cheaper and more flexible. Expat accounts from highstreet banks are usually aimed at high wealth individuals looking for a personal banking service. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Service

Wise

Revolut

Monese

HSBC Expat

Currencies covered

54 currencies including GBP, USD and EUR

30 currencies

GBP, EUR and RON

Current accounts in GBP, USD and EUR


Savings accounts in 19 currencies

Open before you arrive in the UK

Yes

Yes

Available for residents of the EEA and UK

Yes

Open online

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Opening fee

£0 

£0

£0

Minimum balance: £15,000 - £50,000

Fall below fee

£0 

£0

£0

£15 - £35

Maintenance fee

£0 

Up to £12.99/month

Up to £14.95/month

Waived if minimum balance is maintained

International transfers

Low fee, varies by currency

Fee varies by currency and payment value

Up to 2.5% of transfer value

Online transfers up to £5 + third party charges + exchange rate markup

Non-residents and foreigners in the UK can choose between a range of account types depending on their preferences and priorities. Multi-currency accounts allow for flexibility if you travel, send, spend or receive in a range of currencies, while expat accounts from traditional banks offer a more personal service for high wealth individuals.

We’ll take a look at these options in a little more detail now.

Wise

Wise is a financial technology company which serves 11 million+ customers around the world with low cost international payments, as well as personal and business accounts. The Wise multi-currency account is free to open, and available to non-UK residents and new arrivals. The account can be managed online or in the Wise app, and allows customers to hold 50+ currencies and exchange between them using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. 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.

Revolut

Revolut describes itself as a financial super app, and has some 18 million customers in the regions it serves.

Revolut offers a broad range of account services including multi-currency functionality for 30 fiat currencies, budgeting and saving tools, and opportunities to invest. You can choose between several different account types for yourself or your business, from a free standard plan to a fee paid account which unlocks more features the more you’re willing to pay per month. Even the free standard accounts come with some great features like a linked debit card and some fee free currency exchange which uses the mid-market exchange rate. Paid account plans may also come with other perks like higher fee free transaction limits, lounge passes and travel 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.

Monese

British company Monese is a mobile only service providing accounts and money transfer services to people resident in the UK or the EEA. That means that if you’re a non-UK resident but live in Europe, you may be able to get a Monese account.

You can choose the account plan that suits your needs, based on the features you’ll use, with paid plans unlocking more options and coming with VIP level customer service. This account doesn’t have as many currency options as those we’ve explored so far - you’ll be able to hold GBP, EUR and RON onliy - but you can get a linked physical or virtual card to spend around the world if you’d like to.

Account types: Accounts plans are available from free Starter accounts up to £14.99/month Premium accounts.

Eligibility: Resident in the UK or EEA, personal, joint and business accounts available.

Is it safe? Monese is fully FCA regulated in the UK.

HSBC Expat

HSBC is a global banking giant and has a long history of cross border services. You can open a non-resident account  through the HSBC Expat division which is based offshore, and aimed at high wealth individuals and people who live and work internationally. To qualify for an account you’ll need to meet some fairly strict criteria, including maintaining a minimum balance amount to avoid a fall-below fee. For an HSBC Premier account you’ll need a balance of £50,000 - or you have to pay in a salary of £100,000+ a year. The HSBC Advance account is slightly more accessible but still has a £15,000 minimum balance to avoid a fall below fee every month.

HSBC Expat current accounts are offered in GBP. USD and EUR, but you can also open savings account products in 19 currencies. HSBC has a service to help customers set up local bank accounts when they move to new countries - so you could open a HSBC UK account upon arrival more easily if you choose to.

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?

In many cases you can open a non-resident UK account for free, especially if you pick a specialist online provider. Traditional banks may require you to deposit your salary or a hefty minimum deposit amount to get your account.

Once your account is up and running you’ll pay transaction fees for the services you use, and may incur monthly charges too - the costs to look out for can include:

  • 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 

  • Chequebook and cheque cashing fees 

  • Account dormancy or early closure fees

Tips for transferring money

If you’re sending a payment overseas it’s good to know that you don’t necessarily need to rely on your bank to process the transfer. You could choose a specialist service and 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

Compare the overall costs of sending your payment with your regular bank against a specialist service like Wise to see if you can save. Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markup, and low, transparent fees. This can work out 6x cheaper than using a regular bank for your international payment. 

Conclusion

There’s no legal barrier to non-residents and new arrivals in the UK opening a bank account. However, non-resident accounts with traditional banks tend to be tricky to open, expensive and inflexible. 

For many customers, choosing a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut will offer a better overall deal, including a more straightforward verification process, lower fees and better exchange rates.

FAQs

Can a foreigner open an account in the UK?

Yes. You can open a UK account as a foreigner or non-resident. However, non-UK residents will find it harder to open an account with a traditional bank, and may find it easier to get set up with a specialist online provider.

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

You can often open a bank account for free in the UK, although some traditional banks do ask for a minimum deposit amount to start with. Compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

Can I open a UK bank account online?

Yes. You can open a UK bank account online with traditional banks if you have proof of a UK address. If you don’t have this, you may be better off with a specialist online provider which allows you to open your account on your laptop or mobile device, with a more flexible verification process.

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

If you’re not in the UK yet you might find it hard to open a traditional bank account. However, you can get a smart and flexible GBP account from an online specialist service like Wise or Revout instead.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated 10 March 2022