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Durham University

Global Durham

Opening A Bank Account

Opening a UK bank account is the safest and most effective way of managing your money as an international student. However, the process can sometimes be complicated and may take several weeks after arrival in the UK to have everything in place. So please be patient and bring sufficient funds to cover initial expenses for your first month in the UK.

For safety reasons, it is not a good idea to bring large sums of cash with you to the UK and you are advised not carry more than £400 in cash in your hand luggage. We recommend that you carry enough funds to cover you for your first few weeks at university in cash or, preferably, Traveller's Cheques.

For information on how you can pay your tuition fees, click here.

In order to help you get started with opening a bank account, the Comparison of UK Banks summarises the offers for international students from some of the UK’s main high street banks. Representatives from these banks will be available to meet with you at the Bank pop events from between 10.00 - 16.00 on Wednesday 25th September at the Palatine Centre.

Banking Terminology

Bank Statements

Banks will generally send you a bank statement every month, outlining the transactions on your account. It is important that you keep these statements safely as you may be asked to produce them at a later stage e.g. for visa extensions, for which hard copy bank statements are necessary. If you require further originals, this may take a few days and may incur a cost.

Direct Debit

When you tell the bank to allow an organisation to collect regular payments from your account. Direct Debits may be for fixed or variable amounts and may be used to pay your tuition fees/ mobile phone bills etc. You will not be able to cancel a direct debit on the day it is to be paid, so you need to ensure that you have sufficient money in the account which it is to be paid from.

Standing Order

When you tell the bank to pay a fixed amount to someone straight from your account at regular intervals. The money is taken from your account automatically on a fixed date and will show up on your statement.

Debit Card

A debit cardis a plastic card which provides an alternative payment method to cash when making purchases. The funds are withdrawn directly from the cardholder's bank account and no further action is necessary. For payments of over £10, using a debit card is common in most shops. You can use a debit card to pay for goods and services on the internet, but make sure you only buy from reputable websites, to avoid any theft of money from your account.

Credit Card

A credit card is different from a debit card in that it does not remove money from the user's account after every transaction. In the case of credit cards, the issuer lends money to the user. A credit card allows the consumer to owe money, at the cost of having interest charged. You will receive a statement each month of what you owe, and should then pay this as directed to avoid having to pay extra. International Students are not usually able to have a credit card.


Personal Identification Number – you will require this to withdraw cash from a cash machine (or ATM) and also if you wish to pay for goods or services using your debit card e.g. in a shop. Keep it secret, even from friends and family members.


An overdraft occurs when withdrawals from a bank account exceed the available balance, giving the account a negative balance. With most banks you will incur penalty fees for going overdrawn on your account.

Location of the main banks

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What services will banks provide?

Banks vary in the services they provide. All banks provide a cashpoint card to allow you to obtain cash from machines 24 hours a day. Most banks will provide a cheque book to students but you may need to request this; cheques are being used less frequently in the UK but can still be useful for making some payments. Debit cards can be used for shopping and to pay bills and these are provided by all banks.

A new service is ‘contactless payment’ which allows you to make small payments in some shops and supermarkets (less than £20) without having to enter your PIN number. Many banks have an app with which you can make small payments and access your account information.

All banks offer online and telephone banking; you may like to discuss the security arrangements with the bank if you use these services. Most banks do not make a charge for depositing money or making payments (cheques, direct debits). However, if your bank account goes overdrawn or you make a payment when there is not enough money in your account, you will be charged by the bank.

If you are going to be absent from the UK for a very long period you should let your bank know, as otherwise they might treat your account as dormant and close it.

Keep your bank statements as you may need them if you need to extend or apply for a visa in the future.

How do I open a bank account?

On Friday 30th September there will be an induction event for international students at the university – all major UK banks will be in attendance and you will be able to open an account there. You can open a bank account at any point after you have completed the enrolment process and obtained your student status letter. You should go directly to a branch of your chosen bank, in person, taking with you all necessary documentation: passport / EU ID card, visa, biometric residency permit and student status letter. All banks perform a credit check in order to open an account so offering you a bank account is not always guaranteed.

Which bank does the university recommend?

The university is unable to recommend any particular bank. There is a wide range of banks available – all banks offer a comparable service to students. You will need to look at the information provided by each bank and decide which bank you prefer. On Friday 30th September there will be an induction event for international students at the university – all major UK banks will be in attendance and you will be able to open an account there.

Do I need a bank account?

It is strongly recommended that all students have a UK bank account during their time as a student in the UK. UK direct debits are not possible from a non-UK bank account. When you live in a private residence, rent and bills can only be paid from a UK bank account. It may also be difficult to make certain online transactions without a UK bank account.

Can I open a bank account before I come to the UK?

No, you can only open a bank account when you are resident in the UK and have fully enrolled at your university.

Where do I get a student status letter?

A student status letter will be issued to you by your college when you have fully completed the enrolment process.

How long will it take to open a bank account?

It could take up to 2-3 weeks from opening a bank account to receiving your bank card and PIN number. For security reasons your debit card and PIN number will be sent to you separately.

What should I look for when choosing a bank?

If you choose an online account and have a visa to stay in the UK it is best to choose to have paper bank statements as you may need these if you extend your UK visa. Banks also offer savings accounts. If you have a large sum of money, there may be advantages for it to be kept in a designated savings account. Some banks charge for transfers from overseas but others don’t. The time taken for transfers depends on the method of transfer and the country transferred from. You may want to compare:

  • the cost of transferring money from overseas
  • whether the bank account has a monthly charge
  • whether you are required to deposit a minimum amount in order to open the account
  • what the penalty is for being overdrawn without authorisation
  • rates of interest on savings accounts
  • the days and times that the bank is open

Can I open a bank account based on Sharia principles?

If you would like an account based on Sharia principles, check websites and publicity materials. Some 'high street' banks offer accounts and services that meet these principles. There are also a few specialist banks that operate in accordance with Sharia principles.

Is internet banking safe?

Internet banking is a safe and secure method of banking. However, you should ensure that you keep your login details safe and do not share them with anyone. It is also strongly recommended that you only use internet banking via a secure Wifi connection.

Which documents do I need to open a bank account?

  • Proof of your identity – your passport (or EU ID card) and visa / biometric residency permit, if applicable.
  • Proof of your student status – usually a student status letter (see below)
  • Proof of your address – also usually on the same student status letter

What is a ‘basic’ bank account and what other types of account may be available?

A ‘basic’ bank account is one which allows you to deposit, withdraw and transfer money. It offers a debit card, cheque book, usually internet and telephone banking and optional monthly paper account statements. Interest rates are usually low. Banks also offer a range of savings accounts with higher rates of interest, as well as a range of accounts which offer particular benefits such as insurance. These accounts often involve a monthly charge. As a student you will only need a ‘basic’ account. All banks perform a credit check in order to open an account so offering you a bank account is not always guaranteed.

What is the best way to bring money with me to the UK?

We strongly recommend transferring money into a UK bank account – either your own, when you have opened it, or an account of a trusted 3rd party. You should NOT bring large amounts of cash with you as the university cannot guarantee its safety.

Can my family or employer pay money into a UK bank account from abroad?

Yes, money can be paid into your bank account from abroad. Some banks may impose charges for making and/or receiving a transfer.

How can I manage my money?

You can manage your money via standard monthly statements, and by regularly checking your current balance via cash machines. Most banks also offer online-banking and telephone-banking free-of-charge, meaning that you can check your account and carry out transactions online and by telephone.

Can I make large payments, such as tuition and accommodation fees?

Large payments can be made by bank transfer from both UK and non-UK banks. Some banks may charge for transfers. If transferring money from a non-UK account, we recommend using Flywire:

Will I pay tax on any interest on my account?

No tax is payable on bank account interest.

Will I pay for the bank services I use?

All services offered as part of a student bank account are usually free-of-charge. You will usually not have to pay for services.

How much do I have to pay to open a bank account?

Student and basic bank accounts are usually offered free-of-charge, along with all services included with those accounts. However, banks offer a wide range of bank accounts – some of these will incur a charge in return for specific services. As a student, a student bank account will serve all your needs.

Can I borrow money?

Banks offer a range of bank loans and credit cards which will be available to you. If you take out a bank loan or a credit card, you should read ALL terms and conditions and small print and ensure that you understand EXACTLY what your agreement with the bank is. You should also ensure that you understand what the repayment schedule is and that you are able to afford this. You should ensure that you do this BEFORE you sign any agreement with the bank. Consult with a member of staff at your college, or with your college mentor, if unsure.

How do I close a UK bank account / transfer banks?

Closing and transferring UK bank accounts are usually quite simple processes. Make an appointment to speak to an advisor at your bank.