Best student bank accounts for international students

Learn more about opening a student current account as an international student and if you need one or not.

It might not be a task that excites you, but if you’re studying in the UK then setting up a British bank account will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Why open a British bank account?

Here are the main reasons why you should set up a British bank account as an international student:

  • Currency conversion fees. Most bank accounts charge currency conversion fees whenever you withdraw cash or spend money on your debit card outside of your home country. These conversion fees fluctuate over time, making it harder to budget if you’re now living in the UK. There might be other foreign loading fees charged on top of these too, depending on your bank.
  • Fees for withdrawing cash. Some bank accounts may charge a one-off fee for withdrawing cash at a foreign cashpoint (which in this scenario, would be ATMs in the UK).
  • Employers may not be able to pay you. If you’re planning on getting a part-time job during your studies, you may need a UK account in order to receive your wages. Most UK employers will want to pay directly into a UK bank account.
  • Setting up recurring payments. Some companies won’t allow you to set up direct debits or standing orders from an overseas account. This could make it more difficult to pay your rent or utility bills.
  • You might have to pay fees to transfer money to a UK account. This could make it more complicated to pay back friends in the UK, for example.
  • You can easily do your banking in-branch with a UK account. This might be more convenient than having to make international phone calls to communicate with banking staff in your home country.

How to open an account

International students can typically apply for a UK bank account in-branch or via a bank’s website.

You’ll have to provide various personal details, financial details and information about your course.

On top of that, you may be asked to provide copies of your passport, bank statements from your home country, a university acceptance letter and a valid visa (if you’re from outside the European Union).

You’ll usually have to wait until you’ve received an unconditional offer for a place on your university course before you apply for a bank account. You can expect the account to take at least 7-14 days to get set up, so it could be worthwhile applying before you move to the UK to start your course.

Which banks are best for international students?

International students are likely to gravitate towards the same perks that UK students do. Money can be tight when you’re studying full-time, which is why many students choose bank accounts with an interest-free overdraft, freebies or retail discounts.

However, there are some other considerations for international students. They might want an account which charges no fees for them to send money back home. They may also be looking to avoid monthly account fees, which apply to some bank accounts that are specifically for international residents.

Also bear in mind that international students or non-UK residents may not qualify for the maximum interest-free overdraft limits that can be applied for with dedicated student bank accounts.

Here are some of the UK bank accounts that international students can apply for:

  • Barclays. With a Barclays Student Additions account, there are no monthly account fees and you could be eligible for an interest-free overdraft. The account comes with a free 12-month subscription to the Perlego online academic library.
  • Lloyds. The Lloyds Classic Account can be applied for when you arrive in the UK – you’ll need to have a UK address and be an EU national, or have the right to stay in the UK for at least 12 months. There are no monthly account fees and it’s free to send and receive money transfers in euros. You may be eligible for an overdraft depending on your financial situation, but this won’t be interest-free.

Alternatives to opening a UK student bank account

These alternatives aren’t necessarily as convenient or beneficial as a UK student bank account, so you might want to consider these options as a Plan B.

  • Basic bank accounts. Most UK banks have a basic bank account, which international students may be able to apply for. These typically come with no perks or overdraft facilities, but at least you’ll be able to pay people, set up recurring payments and get paid without any fuss.
  • Prepaid cards. You can transfer money onto these cards without paying any fees. Then, use the card to make payments or withdraw cash. Some of these cards allow you to set up direct debits and standing orders too. Just make sure there’s enough money loaded on to it on the day that these automated payments are due to be made.
  • Challenger bank accounts. These digital-only accounts can often be set up in minutes via an app and don’t always require you to have a proof of UK address. They don’t come with student-specific features or perks but usually have sophisticated spending analysis and saving tools to help you budget for student life.
  • Use a bank account from your own country. If you do this, make sure to choose an account with low fees on foreign transactions for when you’re living in the UK.
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