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International Students

Top UK bank accounts for international students 2020

Whether you're an international student studying in the UK on a year abroad or for your full degree, this guide will help you choose the best bank account for you.

union jack credit cards

Good news! Compared to many countries, banking in the UK as a foreign student is usually pretty easy and there's a good amount of choice.

That said, finding your ideal bank account depends on your personal circumstances, such as how long you are staying in the UK and whether or not you reside in an EU country.

First, we'll outline the most important things to consider, then list the best bank accounts for international students and suggest potential alternatives.

Why open a British bank account?

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Credit: NBC

Setting up a bank account may be another boring life admin task to deal with, but it's worth investing the time as it could save you a fair amount of cash and headaches.

Managing your finances from your home country account can be impractical and expensive for many reasons:

  1. You'll be charged currency conversion fees each time you use your debit card or withdraw cash in the UK.
  2. Currency exchange rates fluctuate, making it harder to keep to a budget (convert currency using TransferWise for the best rates).
  3. If you're planning on working part-time, employers will want to pay your wages into a UK bank account.
  4. Your accommodation provider will likely prefer payments from a UK account.
  5. Setting up recurring payments (Direct Debits and standing orders) will be tricky or impossible. These are needed for paying mobile phone contracts, gym memberships and monthly rent.
  6. Paying back friends in the UK would be complicated.
  7. In some countries, like France for example, banks require you to send them hand-written letters to set up Direct Debits to foreign accounts. Plus they'll charge you a fee for the transfer!
  8. If you get locked out of your account because you've forgotten your PIN code, it's definitely easier to deal with it locally in a branch as opposed to over the phone to another country.

Things to consider when opening a bank account

Does your current bank operate in the UK?

piggy bank

Many banks are operated by global corporations. Some banks will reduce fees for international money transfers if both accounts are registered with them.

It could also be much easier to open an account abroad. So, if you have an account with a bank that has branches in the UK, you might want to stick with the same one.

How much are international transfer fees?

This is an important one. If you're planning on sending or receiving money from home, make sure you find out exactly how much it costs to transfer money between countries.

Banks often take a commission fee of between four and six per cent for converting to your desired currency, on top of the fee they're already charging you to send your money!

To work out how much you'll be paying in total, compare the exchange rate your bank is offering with an online currency converter and add the difference onto their initial fee. We recommend using TransferWise to make larger conversions to £GBP.

We've got information on the fees for international accounts below.

How much do you value 'freebies'?

Some banks offer free items as incentives for you to trust them with your cash.

We explain the perks of each bank account below, but as an example, NatWest offer a choice of rewards, including an Amazon Prime Student membership.

Lloyds and Barclays also offer cashback when you shop using some of the offers they provide via loyalty programs.

Don't get sucked in by freebies alone – a bank account offering a £15 gift card won't be worth much if your transfer fees are ridiculously high.

Do you need an overdraft?

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Credit: Paramount Pictures

Your account may come with a small overdraft (under £100) but unfortunately, as an international student, you probably won't be able to apply for a big one.

Bank accounts aimed specifically at international students generally do not come with an overdraft as they do not consider you a long-term customer.

If you are planning on staying in the UK for more than a year, it might be worth looking at the overdrafts on offer on other accounts for when you do decide to switch.

Where is the nearest bank branch located?

This might seem like an obvious one, but it's worth picking a bank that has a branch near your accommodation or university campus in case you have to make an emergency trip before or after class.

You can get cash out from any bank's ATM free of charge 24/7, but banks usually shut around 4pm on weekdays and are closed on Sundays.

How do you open a bank account in the UK?

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Credit: WAYHOME studio – Shutterstock

Unless your bank states otherwise, or your bank account is exclusively available online (like the NatWest International Student Account), it's likely that you'll have to pop down to your local branch to set the account up.

What documentation will you need?

  • Current passport
  • Valid visa (for those from outside the European Union)
  • Home bank statement from the past three months
  • Proof of address in the UK or abroad (check with your bank)
  • Student ID or acceptance letter from your university.

Can you open a UK bank account from abroad?

In some cases, you will be able to open a UK bank account from overseas. So, if you're still in your home country while reading this and you're keen to set up an account quickly, have a look for UK banks that will let you start setting up a bank account before you arrive ashore.

Get in touch with your current bank and check if they have links to UK banks. This will make the whole process a lot easier for you as you'll already be on their customer database.

Some of the bank accounts in our table are also open to EU residents living outside of the UK.

Be aware that 'international accounts' offered by UK banks are different to 'international student accounts' and often have more requirements. 

Below are the best international student bank accounts for this year, taking into account the fees and other considerations we've covered above.

The fees below relate to currency transfers and apply to online banking only. Subject to change. Please check their websites for full information.

International student bank accounts 2020

BankBest forSend fees (EU/int.)Receive fees (EU/int.)Review
Natwest international student account
NatWest international student
Freebies
Free / Free Free / Up to £7
More »
Barclays student additions
Barclays student additions
Free transfers
Free / Free Free / Up to £6
More »
HSBC basic
HSBC basic
Low fees
Free / £4 Free / Up to £8 More »
lloyds classic account
Lloyds classic
Overdraft
Free / £9.50 Free / Up to £7 More »
Santander basic
Santander basic
Mobile banking
Free / £25 Free / Free More »
TSB classic
TSB cash account
Saving money
Free / Up to £17.50 Free / Up to £7
More »
Nationwide Student
Nationwide flexbasic
Receiving fees
Free / £20 Free / Free More »
coop cashminder
Co-op cashminder
Young customers
£8 / £20 Free / Up to £6
More »
al rayan current
Al Rayan current
Sharia compliant
Around £35 / £12 Free / Free More »
For each of the accounts below, we go through the fees for sending and receiving money from abroad. But please note – there might be fees on top of these (called correspondent bank fees) when the account you’re sending money to or from is with a different bank.

International student account reviews

NatWest International Student Account

natwest logo

As the name suggests, this account is aimed specifically at international students.

With the account, you’ll get to choose between one of the following three options:

  1. One-year Amazon Prime Student membership and £10 Amazon gift card
  2. National Express Coachcard giving you 1/3 off coach travel (four years)
  3. 50% off food in UK restaurants, cinemas and hostels with a tastecard (four years).

While these freebies are great, it’s worth noting that the account comes with a £10 monthly fee and is only available online (you won’t be able to sign up for this account at your local bank branch). Also, an overdraft is not included with this account.

You could alternatively open a free NatWest Select account but you won’t get a freebie and must be living in the UK already.

It might be worth opting for Natwest if you’re planning on sending money back home regularly as they do a pretty good deal on international transfer fees.

How much are NatWest’s international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: £1 to receive under £100 and £7 for amounts over £100.

Eligibility criteria

You must have lived in the UK for under three years, and you must be doing one of the following types of courses:

  • A full-time undergraduate course that lasts for two years or more
  • A full-time postgraduate course
  • Nurse training course at a university or higher education college in the UK.

Our review

This account is good for international students planning to study in the UK, particularly as you don’t need to physically go to NatWest to open an account (i.e. you could open this one before you actually arrive in the UK).

It does come with some fun freebies but the main drawback here is the monthly fee. Also, if you’re just in the UK as an undergraduate student for a year or less, you won’t be eligible for this account.

However, it might be worth it if you’re on a postgraduate course or you’re doing an undergraduate course that lasts at least two years. It’s a great choice if you’re planning on sending money to your home country often as the international transfer fees are virtually non-existent.

Visit NatWest »

↑ Comparison table

 

Barclays Student Additions Account (international)

barclays logo

Through the international student version of its UK student account, Barclays also offers a product targeting students from overseas. The sending and receiving fees for this account are among the best on this list.

How much are Barclays international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: free to receive under £100 and £6 for amounts over £100.

Eligibility criteria

  • You must be over 18 and living in the UK
  • You need to do a full-time undergraduate degree that lasts at least two years or a postgraduate degree that lasts at least one year
  • You should plan to use the account as your main bank account.

Our review

Pretty good! This account has free outgoing money transfers and fairly low recipient fees. Plus, there isn’t a monthly account fee to maintain it.

But, like with the NatWest account above, this Barclays account isn’t meant for international students that are only here for a year, unless they’re enrolled on a master’s degree.

This one is aimed at international students who are planning on staying for a couple of years at least. Not for you? Read on.

Visit Barclays »

↑ Comparison table

 

HSBC Basic Account

hsbc logo

This bank account isn’t designed specifically for international students, but you’re required to have an address in an EU country to set one up. This means you can open the account before you arrive in the UK if you’re currently living elsewhere in the EU.

There’s no overdraft with this one.

How much are HSBC’s international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad to HSBC accounts: free
  • Sending money abroad to non-HSBC accounts in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad to non-HSBC accounts in all other currencies: £4
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: free to receive under £100 and £8 to receive £100 or more.

Eligibility criteria

  • You’ll need to be 16 or older
  • You must have a residential address in the UK or an EU country
  • If you have any other bank accounts with UK providers, you’ll need to close them to open this one.

Our review

This is a very basic account, but it doesn’t come with monthly account fees. And, at just £4, HSBC has some of the lowest fees to transfer money in foreign currencies, compared to the other accounts on our list.

Again there’s no overdraft, but if you’re thinking about staying in the UK for a while, you could always consider applying for a regular current account a year or so down the line.

And, if you live in the EU, you could open it before you even arrive in the UK.

Visit HSBC »

↑ Comparison table

 

Lloyds Classic Account

lloyds

Hoping for an overdraft with your UK bank account? It isn’t completely off the cards here, and you may be eligible for one after an assessment of your situation.

This overdraft is free to set up, but it does come with a daily fee if and when you use it.

How much are Lloyds international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: £9.50
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: £2 to receive under £100 and £7 for amounts over £100.

Eligibility criteria

  • You need to be 18 or older
  • You must have a UK address
  • You need to be an EU national, or have the right to stay in the UK for at least a year.

Our review

You won’t be able to open this one until you’re actually living in the UK but again, there are no fees attached which is a definite bonus.

The potential overdraft is another good perk.

This is quite a simple account with some good aspects, but it’s worth thinking about whether you’ll be receiving much money from abroad while living in the UK – if so, an account with lower receiving fees might be better.

Visit Lloyds »

↑ Comparison table

 

Santander Basic Current Account

santander logo

Here’s another bank account that is open to UK and EU residents so, if you’re currently living in the EU, you could actually open this one before you even arrive.

How much are Santander’s international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: £25
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: free.

Eligibility criteria

  • You must be 16 or older
  • You need to live in the UK
  • You can’t already have a Basic Current Account with Santander, or more than one other Santander account.

Our review

Santander’s transfer fees are among the highest fees listed for sending money abroad in non-euro currencies. Also, you’ll need a UK address to open this account.

But, with this account, it’s free to receive money in any foreign currency, as long as the transfer’s made electronically rather than by cheque deposit (there would be a £10 fee to receive money in foreign currency by cheque deposit).

Although there’s unfortunately not an overdraft option with this account, there’s the option of 15% cashback when you use your Santander debit card at major UK retailers. Find out more about cashback in our guide.

Because of the cashback and lack of receive fees, it’s definitely worth considering this account, as long as you’re not planning to spend much money abroad in non-euro foreign currency.

Visit Santander »

↑ Comparison table

 

TSB Cash Account

TSB bank logo

The TSB Cash Account is open to non-UK EU residents aged 18 or over, and comes with a Visa debit card.

This account comes with a Save the Pennies option which allows you to automatically save money every time you use your debit card. It works by rounding up payments to the nearest pound, and putting away those extra pennies into a TSB savings account (which you’ll need for this feature).

You can keep track of the money in your account with internet, mobile and telephone banking and pay money into the account at the Post Office in the UK (although not every Post Office offers this service, so check if the ones nearest where you’ll live in the UK do before opening the account).

How much are TBS’s international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: £10 to send less than £5,000 and £17.50 to send over £5,000.
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: £2 to receive under £100 and £7 for amounts over £100.

Eligibility criteria

  • You need to be 18 or older
  • You must be a non-UK EU resident
  • You can’t currently have another account with TSB or any other UK bank.

Our review

The main perk of this account is the Save the Pennies option, which is an easy way to save money during your studies in the UK.

However, if you’re planning to send or receive money from abroad in non-euro foreign currency, remember that there are other accounts with lower fees in our list.

If you’re worried about missing out on the money-saving option, why not do something similar yourself, like the 1p savings challenge? Or, you could always download an app that helps you save money just as easily as this TSB account.

Visit TSB »

↑ Comparison table

 

Nationwide FlexBasic Current Account

Nationwide logoNationwide’s FlexBasic account is open to people from a country outside of the UK but in the EU or EEA. You can use the account both within and outside of the UK.

It does not, unfortunately, come with an overdraft or a chequebook but you will be able to make payments using Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay. Plus, you’ll get a contactless debit card.

How much are Nationwide’s international transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: £20
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: free.

Eligibility criteria

  • You must be over 18
  • You’ll need to be currently living outside of the UK but in a country that’s part of the EU or EEA.

Our review

While it’s expensive to send money outside of the UK in non-euro foreign currency, this account’s great for having no fees for receiving money from abroad.

It’s a very basic account, but could be good if you’re planning to be in the UK for a relatively short period of time.

Visit Nationwide »

↑ Comparison table

 

The Co-operative Bank Cashminder Account

co-op bank logo

Another EU resident-friendly account! You’ll need to be living in the UK or the EU when applying for this account and be aged 16 or over.

But, again, there’s no chequebook or overdraft here we’re afraid.

How much are the Co-operative Bank’s international money transfer fees?

  • Sending money abroad in euros: free
  • Sending money abroad in US dollars: £8
  • Sending money abroad in all other currencies: £20
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros and Swedish krona: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: free to receive less than £100 of any currency, £6 to receive over £100.

Eligibility criteria

  • You need to be 16 or older
  • You must be an EU resident
  • You can’t open this account if you have another Co-operative Bank or Smile account.

Our review

This account is good for flexibility if you want to open the account from another country in Europe and mostly intend on receiving small-ish amounts of money. But again, outgoing transfer fees aren’t the cheapest.

Visit The Co-operative Bank »

↑ Comparison table

 

Al Rayan Current Account

al rayan bank logo

For those looking for a Sharia-compliant current account, you’ve come to the right place.

This account does require some financial investment. You must commit to paying your salary into this account (which as a student you probably don’t have yet) or make an initial deposit of £500.

How much are Al Rayan’s international transfer fees?

You must be transferring at least £100 to gain access to Al Rayan’s international money transfer services.

  • Sending money abroad in pounds (from a £ account): £25
  • Sending money abroad in euros (from a € account): around £35
  • Sending money abroad in US dollars (from a $ account): around £30
  • Sending money abroad in all other foreign currencies: £12 for amounts under £10,000, free for amounts over £10,000.
  • Receiving money from abroad in euros: free
  • Receiving money from abroad in all other currencies: free.

Eligibility criteria

  • You must be 16 or older
  • You’ll need to pay your salary into this account or make an initial deposit of £500.

Our review

If you’re looking for a Sharia-compliant current account, this one’s for you. Al Rayan also does Sharia-compliant savings accounts too if you’re thinking about staying in the UK on a long-term basis.

Just remember that opening an account at Al Rayan does require some financial commitment and the fees for sending money abroad are pretty sizeable.

Visit Al Rayan »

↑ Comparison table

 

If you’re planning on staying in the UK for the long-haul, you may be eligible for a UK student account. See the best bank accounts for students before deciding which one to go for!

Alternatives to setting up a UK bank account

one pound in hand

Credit: Ann in the uk – Shutterstock

With the recent surge of digital app-based banks launching in the UK, there is even more choice than before.

Not all of these bank accounts are suitable for international students, nor are they regulated as strictly as mainstream banks.

However, there are plenty of benefits on offer, especially when it comes to making cheap international transfers and speed of account setup.

The best banks in this category for international students are Revolut and Monese.

Using your overseas account

Of course, you could always stick with your bank account in your home country.

You might decide that all of the above is too much hassle after all, especially if you’re only in Britain for a couple of months.

But do make sure you doublecheck how much it’ll cost you to withdraw money and pay with your debit card in the UK.

If you do decide to go with this option, we highly recommend you combine it with one of the two app-based accounts mentioned above to avoid extortionate transfer fees.

Lastly, make sure you let your bank know that you’re coming to the UK or else they might think your card has been stolen and block your account on the grounds of suspicious activity. They’re not mind-readers after all!

Now you’ve got your bank account sorted, why not have a look at the funding available for international students to fill it with?

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