How to Open a Bank Account in the UK - Your Full Guide 2022

Relocating to the UK and looking for a good way to manage your money in pounds while you’re there? Whether you've just landed in the UK or you're planning everything ahead of your arrival, opening a bank account in the UK as a newcomer can be a little tricky. Most highstreet banks only offer standard accounts to UK residents who can prove their address - challenging for people still in the planning stage, and those who’re too new to have all the paperwork in order.

Luckily there are options - typically specialist expat banking services, UK based neobanks, or online multi-currency account platforms such as Wise or Revolut. More on that later, let’s get right into the details. 

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What documents do I need?

Laws in the UK and around the world require banks and other financial service providers to verify customers before they transact. This is to prevent fraudulent or illegal account use. In the UK, most traditional banks - the ones you’ll find with brick and mortar branches in all larger towns and cities - ask 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 

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Monzo

Getting a UK proof of address can be a challenge if you’ve not arrived yet, or if you’re simply too new to have bills in your name. In this case, alternative providers or neobanks may be a better bet. 

Neobanks like Monzo will usually still require you to be a UK resident - but tend to have a more flexible onboarding process which doesn’t always need the proof of address document. 

Alternatively, specialist online providers like Wise will allow you to register with a proof of address from Canada even before you travel or know where you’ll live in the UK. You’ll still get GBP bank details and a low cost way to manage your money across currencies. We’ll look at these providers - and a few more - later.

Open a Wise account online

How to open a bank account in the UK

If you’re already in the UK you’ll be able to open a bank account in person by visiting a branch - or in some cases, online or in the provider app. The exact options available to you will depend on your personal situation, the bank you choose, and the type of account.

Whether you open your account online, in an app, or in a bank branch, the process will be similar:

  1. Choose the right account for your needs

  2. Check your eligibility and gather all the documents needed

  3. Complete an application digitally or in a branch in hard copy

  4. Get verified by showing or uploading your documents

  5. Once your details have been checked, your account will be activated and you’re ready to transact

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

If you’re not yet a resident of the UK you’ll probably struggle to open a standard bank account with a traditional bank. Some banks will let you start your application online up to 90 days before moving to the UK - but you’ll still need to visit a branch on arrival to get verified and activate your account. 

You can apply  as a non-resident for a specialist international account if you’d prefer, through the expat banking arms of UK banks. However, these tend to focus on high wealth customers and have restrictive minimum balance requirements. 

A better alternative for many people is to look for an online specialist service like Wise which lets you open an account from Canada but still access GBP account details, to receive, hold and spend a GBP balance. As a bonus you’ll also be able to receive CAD to your Wise account, alongside a range of other global currencies, and hold and exchange 50+. More on that in a minute.

Which account is best in the UK for foreigners? 

If you’re resident in the UK already and have a full set of paperwork including a proof of address, you’ll be able to open a bank account at more or less any UK highstreet bank. However, if you’re not in the UK yet, or if you’ve just arrived and don’t have a proof of UK address yet, you’ll probably need another option - typically:

  • A specialist online multi-currency account

  • A UK based neobank with more flexible application processes

  • An international account from the expat arm of a traditional bank

Let’s compare some key features across several such options - there’s more detail on each of these banks and specialist accounts coming right up.

ServiceWiseRevolutMonzoHSBC Expat
Currencies covered50+ currencies including CAD, GBP, USD and EUR30 currenciesGBP

Current accounts in GBP, USD and EUR


Savings accounts in 19 currencies

Open before you arrive in the UKYesNo NoYes
Open onlineYesYesYesYes
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/monthUp to £15/monthWaived if minimum balance is maintained
International transfersLow fee, varies by currencyFee varies by currency and payment valuePowered by Wise with low fees which vary by currencyOnline transfers up to £5 + third party charges + exchange rate markup

Wise

The Wise multi-currency account is free to open, and offers GBP bank details alongside CAD details to pay and get paid in both currencies. In fact, your Wise account can receive fee free payments from 30+ countries, and send money to 80+ countries.

Open your Wise account before leaving Canada - or when you arrive in the UK - and manage your money online or in the Wise app, with the mid-market exchange rate every time you switch from one currency to another. Canadian Wise accounts can also get a free Wise international debit card to spend all over the world - if you apply for your card from the UK there’s a small fee to pay.

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

Eligibility: Available to Canadian residents as well as non-UK residents living in many geographic regions, and new arrivals in the UK. 

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

Go to site

Revolut

Revolut is a very popular financial app, with a presence in many countries including the UK. Unfortunately, Revolut hasn’t arrived in Canada yet, so you won’t be able to apply for this one before you travel. However, it can still be a handy option when you’re living an international lifestyle, with multi-currency functionality for 30 fiat currencies, a linked debit card, as well as budgeting and saving tools. 

Choose a free standard plan or unlock more features with a fee paid account. All accounts have some great features like fee free currency exchange to a plan limit, and a linked card. 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.

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.

Monzo

Monzo is a UK digital bank which offers online and mobile GBP account services. Although you’ll need to be a resident in the UK to apply, you don’t usually need a proof of address document to support your application, which is entirely completed online or in the Monzo app. 

Accounts operate in GBP, with a range of account plans from free standard accounts to fee paid plans which unlock more benefits like free international ATM withdrawals and interest on savings. Other options include savings products, plus buy now, pay later plans for consumer credit. You may also have the option to link other bank accounts and cards to the Monzo app, to get a full overview of your finances from your phone.

Account types: Monzo, Monzo Plus or Monzo Premium - free or  fee paid plans, depending on your preferences

Eligibility: You must be a legal UK resident to apply

Is it safe? Yes. Monzo is a licensed UK neobank, regulated like any other UK bank.

Go to site

HSBC Expat

Many UK banks will point you to their international services division if you want an account and aren’t a UK resident. HSBC is a good option if you want this type of offshore account, thanks to its huge global presence.

It’s worth knowing that this type of account can have some fairly strict criteria. 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.

One benefit of expat accounts like this is that you may get multi-currency access - 

HSBC for example has GBP, USD and EUR current accounts , plus savings account products in 19 currencies. 

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.

Go to site

What are the costs?

Opening a UK bank account is usually free - but as we’ve seen there may be other costs to consider including monthly charges or a fall below fee if you don’t maintain the account’s minimum balance level. These can be fairly steep. 

You’ll also need to watch out for transaction fees, including:

  • Out of network and international ATM charges

  • International payment fees

  • Foreign transaction fees

  • Credit card charges, including interest, cash advances and penalties

  • Overdraft costs

Tips for transferring money

If you’re moving to another country the chances are you’ll need to send international transfers from time to time. Unfortunately this can be very expensive with a regular bank. Here are some tips on what to look out for:

  • Banks often use an exchange rate markup of around 3%. Compare the exchange rate you’re offered against the mid-market rate, to see the markup

  • Online transfers are usually cheaper than transacting by phone or in a bank branch - check your account terms and conditions carefully

  • 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 far cheaper than using a regular bank for your international payment

Conclusion

If you’re planning your move to the UK it’s natural to want to get ahead and open your GBP account as soon as possible. However, traditional UK banks don’t tend to offer standard accounts to non-residents - instead pointing customers to expensive expat products.

A smart alternative to cut costs and still hit the ground running in the UK would be to open an online specialist account with a provider like Wise, to get GBP bank details you can use even before you travel, plus low fees and the real exchange rate every time.

Open a free Wise account online

FAQ

Can a foreigner open an account in the UK?

Yes. You can open a UK account as a foreigner or non-resident. Online specialists and neobanks tend to offer the most flexible range of options for non-residents and new arrivals.

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

Normal bank accounts in the UK are usually free to open. Premium and expat accounts can often come with high minimum balance requirements to avoid fall below fees, though.

Can I open a UK bank account online?

If you’re a UK resident you’ll have a good choice of accounts you can open online from highstreet banks. If you’re not a resident yet, check out online specialist services as a more flexible option which you can set up online or in an app.

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

Before you arrive in the UK you’ll probably be best off looking for a specialist account from a provider like Wise which offers GBP details alongside CAD and other currencies, to let you manage your money as you transition to your new home.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated August 22, 2022