How to Open a Bank Account in the UK: A Full Guide 2024
If you’re heading to the UK to live, work or study, getting a UK bank account to hold, spend, receive and exchange British pounds is pretty much essential. Opening a GBP account at a British bank once you’ve arrived and settled should pose no problem at all, as long as you have your valid ID and a UK proof of address for verification purposes.
However, getting started with a UK account before you arrive is somewhat more complicated. Instead of heading for a UK bank you may find the process is easier and cheaper with a specialist service like Wise or Revolut, which have accounts you can open from New Zealand, and use to hold, spend, send and exchange GBP. We’ll take a look at how to get started with a bank in the UK, and with alternative account providers, in just a moment.
What documents do I need?
To open a bank account in the UK you’ll usually need to provide:
- A photo ID document like a passport or a driving license
- Proof of your local UK address
As we’ll see in a moment, some UK banks do have options for people planning to move to the country, which may accept a New Zealand proof of address document to start your account opening process. However, these options may require you to deposit a large amount of money in the bank – or you might find your account options are very limited until you actually move and can provide a UK address.
Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut
Banks in the UK usually need a proof of local address there, to access full account services. You won’t be able to provide a proof of address before you move – and even once you’ve arrived in the UK, getting a document like a utility bill in your name can take time and be an unnecessary headache.
Instead, hit the ground running with an online and digital account from a provider like Wise or Revolut, which you can open using your New Zealand ID and address, to get UK bank details, and easy ways to pay and get paid in both pounds and dollars.
Digital accounts from both Wise and Revolut come with options to hold and exchange GBP alongside a selection of other currencies including NZD, as well as international debit cards. We’ll look at this in more detail a little later.
How to open a bank account in the UK as a foreigner
Once you’re resident in the UK and have a proof of address there, you can open a UK bank account pretty easily. Options exist to open online, in apps, and in person – but only if you can provide all the paperwork needed.
If you’re already in the UK the steps you’ll usually take to open a bank account are:
- Choose the perfect account for your needs
- Get all your documentation ready
- Apply online, or in a branch person
- Submit your documents online or in a branch
- Once your account is verified you’ll be able to start transacting
Bear in mind that opening a bank account in the UK before leaving New Zealand may be quite a different experience. We’ll look at a couple of banks which allow you to open an account from overseas later – but this may mean depositing a hefty sum into another savings or investment account, or having your account’s functionality limited until you physically arrive in the UK.
What do I need to know before opening a bank account in the UK?
If you’re trying to open a UK bank account before you leave New Zealand, bear in mind that many banking brands will point you to their expat or international divisions. These offer feature packed accounts – but there’s a catch. As these services target high wealth individuals, you will often find you need to make a high deposit of 100,000 GBP or more before you can start to open your account. Make sure you check through the eligibility rules carefully before you start your application.
Can I open a bank account in the UK only with my passport?
You’re unlikely to be able to open a UK bank account with just a passport. Usually proof of address is required, even if you’re using a service which lets you open your account from overseas.
Which account is best in the UK for foreigners?
Let’s take a look at a few examples, covering financial technology companies Wise and Revolut, and UK banks Barclays and HSBC. There’s more detail on each of these options coming up later.
|Available to customers in many different regions
|Legal residents of countries including New Zealand, the EEA, Australia, the UK and US
|UK residents, and legal residents of select countries, who intend to move to the UK
|Legal residents of select countries
|GBP and NZD account options
|No – GBP only
|No – GBP only
|Open before you arrive in the UK
|Submit an online query to check this option
|Yes – 100,000 GBP or more in eligible deposits needed
|Submit an online query to check this option
|No fee – minimum deposit requirements may apply
|Fall below fee
|Varies by account tier – Standard accounts have no monthly fee
|Online international money transfers
|Low, transparent fees and the mid-market exchange rate
|Costs vary by destination, value and account type
|No fee for most SEPA payments in EUR
5 GBP – 17 GBP for other payments, depending on how you arrange them
|No fee for SEPA payments in EUR
15 GBP – 35 GBP for other payments, depending on how you arrange them
- The HSBC account profiled is the standard bank account. Barclays International – this review looks at the International Bank Account and debit card, other account options are also available from both banks
Wise multi-currency accounts can hold and exchange 40+ currencies including GBP and NZD, and come with a linked deb
itcard for easy spending. Wise currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate and low, transparent fees from 0.43% whenever you switch currencies in your account, or spend with your linked Wise international debit card.
Get your account set up online or in-app, and manage your money with nothing but your phone. Use your Wise account to send payments to 160+ countries, and get local bank details for up to 9 currencies including both NZD and GBP, to get paid conveniently by others.
How to open an account with Wise
Open your account with Wise online or in the Wise app, by adding your personal and contact information and uploading your ID and address documents. The process shouldn’t take long, and there’s no minimum balance required to set up your account.
Revolut is already a popular non-bank option, with over 35 million global customers. Revolut has only recently launched in New Zealand, offering a digital account which you can use to hold and handle a selection of currencies including NZD and GBP, and spend with a linked card.
As Revolut is still very new in New Zealand, the accounts available are limited to Standard plans only, which have no ongoing fees but also come with somewhat limited features. In other countries, Revolut offers up to 5 different account tiers which allow you to pick the mix of features and fees that suits you – keep an eye out for more options being launched here soon.
How to open an account with Revolut
To open an account with Revolut you’ll need to download the Revolut app, register using your personal and contact information, and upload images of the required ID. You’re guided through the process using onscreen prompts.
HSBC has international and expat banking services, but unfortunately these can’t be directly accessed if you’re a New Zealand resident. Instead, you may be able to open an HSBC UK account if you’re planning on moving to the UK, which could even be done online depending on the circumstances. As you’d be accessing the full range of HSBC accounts in this case, you could choose from a selection of different options including some high tier accounts which come with extra features and perks, if you hold a higher deposit.
Bear in mind that if you open your account online using this service and then do not move to the UK, the options available to you will be limited and your account may be closed.
How to open an account with HSBC
If you want to open an HSBC account before moving to the UK you’ll need to submit an online query and wait for a member of the HSBC team to get in touch with you. Online opening in advance of arrival is available in some circumstances, but bank staff can talk you through the options you’re eligible for based on your situation.
Barclays International offers services to people who plan on moving to the UK, with accounts covering GBP, USD and EUR, and an international debit card. These accounts have lots of features and perks, but are aimed at high wealth individuals. To open this account before moving to the UK you need to hold a balance of 100,000 GBP+ within eligible Barclays accounts. If you don’t intend on doing that anyway, you may be better off waiting until you arrive in the UK when you’ll be able to pick from a full range of accounts including some without ongoing fees or minimum balance requirements.
How to open an account with Barclays International
You may be able to open your account with Barclays International online, as long as you have an eligible proof of ID and address.
What is a bank account in the UK needed for?
If you’re moving to the UK, you’ll probably need to get a UK bank account to access basic services, pay rent, and arrange utilities, mobile phones and so on. GBP accounts also offer the following features:
- Easy to receive payments from others in GBP
- Hold GBP and other foreign currencies to make transacting internationally convenient
- Spend conveniently with a local bank card in the UK
- Access other financial services in the UK like credit cards or loans
Benefits of opening a bank account in the UK
Having a UK bank account if you live there is helpful to limit your costs and make sure you don’t need to unnecessarily convert currencies from GBP to NZD or vice versa. You’re also usually required to have a UK bank account to get a mobile phone contract, set up household utilities and arrange direct debits for things like rent.
If you’re not moving to the UK, a GBP bank account can still be handy for those times you travel in the UK or spend with UK based ecommerce stores. Again, it can make life more convenient and cheaper, as you can avoid foreign transaction fees.
Can I open a bank account in the UK before arrival?
HSBC has a service which allows you to start the process of opening an account before arrival. But your account functions will be limited if you don’t then arrive in the UK in the end. Barclays has international services which make it very easy to open an account before arrival – but only if you have 100,000 GBP you can deposit in a savings or investment account with them.
If you want something more flexible, check out multi-currency accounts from popular providers like Wise and Revolut, which you can open from New Zealand and use at home and abroad in a range of currencies.
Can I open a bank account online?
Yes. You can open a standard UK bank account online if you have a local proof of address in the UK, and even if you don’t you might be able to get your account open by using a major bank’s international services. However, as we’ve seen, these options can come with their own drawbacks, which may make non-bank alternatives like Wise and Revolut a more straightforward option.
How long does it take to open a bank account in the UK?
If you open a bank account in the UK online you’ll be able to complete the process quickly, but you’ll then have to wait a few days for your connected card to be mailed to you. Opening an account in a branch could take longer but you should be OK to get all your account documents and card on the same day as long as verification is complete.
What are the types of bank accounts in the UK?
UK banks have everyday accounts – known as current accounts – and a broad selection of savings account options. There are also international account services, foreign currency accounts and multi-currency accounts. Get familiar with the terms and the range of options by browsing the website of one of the major UK banks, to see what there is.
How to choose a bank account in the UK
Spend a bit of time researching bank account options in the UK to help you pick one. You’ll find plenty of options with no maintenance or account keeping fees, but it’s worth digging a bit deeper to make sure the bank’s costs aren’t just hidden in the transaction fees.
Banks in the UK have generally very good online and mobile banking, which means you’ll seldom need to visit a branch. However, it’s definitely worth checking if the bank you prefer has good in person, online and phone customer service which you can access easily if the self service banking options fail and you need help.
How much does it cost to open a bank account in the UK?
Unless you pick a premium account type which requires a high minimum deposit, you’ll probably find that there’s no fee for opening your UK bank account. However, with accounts which have no monthly charge, there are likely to be transaction fees, including ATM and payment fees which can be pretty steep, especially for international transactions outside of Europe.
It’s worth investing the time to read the account fee schedule carefully before you get started, to make sure you don’t run into any unexpected charges when you transact.
Is it possible to open a fee-free account in the UK?
It may look like you can access fee free banking in the UK, but that’s not really true. Most UK bank accounts have a selection of transaction fees which depend on how you use your account. These costs may not look like the bank fees you’re used to in New Zealand, so reading the account terms and conditions is essential.
If you’re looking for an international account which has transparent pricing for services, compare the bank options you’re considering against Wise and Revolut, as non-bank services with clear and simple pricing and low costs.
What are the additional costs?
Opening your account with a bank in the UK may be free, but you could come across a range of other costs including:
- Foreign transaction fees – when you spend with a card overseas
- Withdrawal fees for ATM use – at home and abroad
- International payment fees – which can vary by destination and payment type
- Charges for receiving funds into the account – particularly for international payments
- Overdraft charges and interest – usually higher if your overdraft has not been arranged in advance
- Fees if a payment is refused or returned due to lack of funds
Tips for transferring money
Living overseas comes with some extra costs, including high fees for sending international payments. However, sending money overseas is usually a fact of life for an expat, so it’s important to be aware of some of the ways your fees may mount up when you use a bank:
- International payment fees can be higher when sending a payment by phone or in a branch
- Expect charges for both sending and receiving payments
- Bank exchange rates usually include a markup which is an extra fee hidden in the rate applied
- Third party costs may be deducted from the payment as it is processed, unless you opt to cover all additional charges when you initiate the transfer
Opening a bank account in the UK is pretty essential if you’re planning on moving there – but pulling together the paperwork to get a standard UK current account is likely to be tricky, or even impossible, if you don’t already have a local UK address. Your main alternative is to turn to expat banking services – which means depositing a large amount of money into a savings or investment account, or paying high fall below fees.
If you want something simpler and cheaper, check out providers like Revolut and Wise for multi-currency account options you can open online or in-app, using your New Zealand proof of address. Hold and exchange NZD and GBP side by side, to make living internationally easier, and to cut your costs.
- Can a non-resident foreigner open an account in the UK?
Yes, but your options may be limited to opening an expat account which needs a deposit in the region of 100,000 GBP to open. If you want something easier and cheaper, check out Wise or Revolut instead. These are non-bank options, but which can be opened from New Zealand and around the world, and used to hold and exchange both NZD and GBP easily.
- How much do I need to open a bank account in the UK?
There are not usually fees to open a standard UK bank account. However, transaction fees will apply which can be steep, particularly if you need to complete any international transactions. Compare your options and read through the fee schedules carefully to avoid surprises.
- Can I open a bank account in the UK online?
Some banks do offer online opening options, even if you’re not in the UK yet. However, you may find account options are limited – or expensive – if you’re looking at non-resident accounts. Once you’re in the UK and have a proof of address, opening an account online is easy and means you can pick from pretty much any account offered by the bank.
- How to apply for a bank account online in the UK?
If you’ve got a proof of address and ID documents you may be able to apply for your bank account in the UK online. However, your options may be limited if you’re not already a resident in the UK. In this case, an online provider like Wise may be a better bet for a flexible account you can use to transact in GBP as well as NZD.
- Can I open a bank account in the UK before landing?
Some banks do allow you to open an account in the UK before arrival if you go through their expat divisions, which have high minimum deposit requirements. Or, as a cheaper alternative, check out an online provider like Wise which has GBP among 40+ currencies supported in its low cost multi-currency account.
- Can a foreigner open an account in the UK?
Yes. If you have a local address in the UK you’ll find it easy to open a bank account. If you don’t have a local proof of address you may decide to use an online multi-currency account instead.