Disclaimer: Everything here comes solely from my research and shouldn’t be construed as actual financial advice or complete or even, frankly, correct. I have been known to be wrong before. This is for your guidance if you’re going through this process and if you aren’t, it’s for you to feel better about your stress levels. Mine are ridiculous.
My goals when I started out were to find someone who wouldn’t charge me for moving money from a US account (like, say, my parents) to a UK account and to have the account started before I moved (that didn’t quite work out).
A note on terminology: what we might call a debit account or a checking account in the US is known as a current account in the UK.
Here are the banks I looked into:
They offer a variety of accounts – however, international students are ineligible for their student account and they suggest you look into their Classic account. This offers balance alerts via text, a debit card, and a service called “Everyday Offers” which is a certain percentage cash back on certain purchases if you meet their criteria. Interestingly, they also give you a sort of grace period wherein if you overdraft, you have until 3:30 PM UK time that day to add money or arrange a planned overdraft.
You must appear in person with two or more options from a list of documents within 14 days of your application in order to open an account. This is pretty appealing to me as an international student because it means I can begin the application process from home and appear a few days later, after arriving in the UK, to finish opening the account.
Lloyds also offers a helpful checklist for moving to the UK; my school also has one, but I think you can never have too many checklists to cross-reference. They have an international account service specifically for people moving to the UK, but you have to make £100,000 a year. Since I qualify for that only in my wildest dreams, I was a little disappointed. However, they do say that even if you don’t qualify, they’d be happy to meet with you and do what they can to help.
Royal Bank of Scotland
RBS offers international students the same account they offer domestic students with the exception of arranged overdrafts. This means that the international student account includes a debit card, cash withdrawals, 1/3 off coach travel if you use internet banking (I have a lot of questions but I’ll take it), digital banking, and a mobile app. The app has a service called Get Cash which allows you to make ATM withdrawals using your phone. They also do a cash back program and text alerts. RBS also has a program that allows you to pay your friends using only their cell phone number.
Once again, I am too poor for an international account, although Barclays only wants me to be able to deposit a quarter of what Lloyds wanted. However, they have an account specifically for international students. They have an “award-winning” mobile banking app, as well as a similar cash back program. I did notice that the names Barclays gives cash back with are places I think I’d be shopping more often. Barclays also has a similar program called Pingit that allows mobile money exchange. Along with the standard eligibility requirements, Barclays stipulates you’ll need to pay your “main source of funding” into this account. You can apply online and then confirm your identity in person. Unless I’m reading wrong, it seems like I don’t get a debit card? I definitely don’t get text alerts or e-statements. Those things are really what disqualified it for me. I rely on that kind of notification.
It looks like I’d be applying for their Basic Bank Account, which is Lloyds Classic Account but a £200 lower threshold for ATM withdrawals in a single day. HSBC makes a point of saying they allow direct debit (like for paying recurring bills) but I honestly don’t think anyone else doesn’t allow that, so much as they don’t advertise it as an advantage of their account. Stay tuned to see if I’m wrong. HSBC also lacks the cash back and savings programs that I liked about Lloyds.
To help me narrow down further, I took a look at which banks were near my flat – there is an HSBC branch, a Lloyds branch, Barclays, and a Santander branch. So not actually narrowing anything down any further. After consulting my mom to confirm my decision, I’ve chosen to start a current account with Lloyds. I’ll let you know how that actual process goes around Sept. 13th. I can begin the application online, but I’ll have to appear in person as well. Let me know if you have any advice or questions about the bank account process.
Until next time!