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An Expat’s Guide: how to open a bank account in the UK

Welcome to the UK! Wherever you’re from, the article aims to guide you through the steps of opening a UK bank account.

4 min read

So, you’ve just landed in the UK? Between packing, finding a place to live and starting your new job or studies, we know you’ve got plenty to think about. Luckily, opening a bank account doesn’t have to be one of them.

With the right bank, opening your first UK account can be “easy peasy” (as they say over here.) To find out how, just follow our guide.

How do I open a UK bank account?

As long as you have proof of your identity, you should be able to open a bank account in the UK fairly easily. Banks over here will often refer to a bank account for day-to-day transactions as a “current account”. The first step is to choose your bank and look online to see which types of current account they offer.

The UK has a long history associated with banking, so there’s plenty of options to choose from. Along with the traditional banks with branches that you can see walking down any main road, you can also choose a digital alternative that lets you do the whole account opening process online.

The ‘traditional way’ to open a bank account is to walk into a branch with your ID, stand in line for an appointment and then an employee will manually open the account for you. Of course, an even easier way is to open a mobile bank account, like N26, directly from to your smartphone. All it takes it downloading the app and following a few steps and you’ll have a full UK current account in minutes – especially handy if you’ve still got loads of boxes to unpack.

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Can I open a UK bank account online?

Yes, you can. If you have the right documentation, you’ll find numerous banks and app that will let you open a current account online. There’s generally a security step, such as a video call for identity verification.

N26 is one bank that lets you do the whole process from your phone, without any paperwork. All you need is your ID and a smartphone to download the app, and you can open an account in minutes.

What documents do I need to open a bank account in the UK?

So, you’ve chosen your bank. What do you need to open your current account? Well, different banks have slightly different rules, but it’s common for them to ask for two types of documents:

  • Proof of identification (Your ID)
  • Proof of address

For ID, a passport or national identity card should generally be fine. Providing a proof of address can be a little harder for new arrivals in the country – which we outline below.

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What can be used as proof of address?

Proof of address usually needs to be something like a recent utilities bill or rental contract with your address printed on it – basically, an official document that proves where you live. Some banks have various options for new arrivals in the country – for instance, they’ll accept official documentation from a university, if you’re going to be studying here.

The exact forms of valid proof of address accepted varies from bank to bank: you should check the list of documents that your chosen bank allows.

Do I need a UK address for a UK bank account?

Generally speaking, you need to be officially resident in the UK in order to open a UK bank account, but you don’t have to be a UK citizen. If you haven’t moved there yet, you might not be able to get very far.

How long does it take to open a bank account in the UK?

Again, different banks offer different levels of service. Often, it depends on how quickly they can verify your information. Typically, it shouldn’t take more than a week to open your account, but bear in mind that if you might need to wait for the bank to send you your bank card and PIN number in the post (often posted separately for security reasons).

With N26, once you’ve verified your identity by photo or video call, your account will be ready to use instantly. Your Mastercard will, of course, still need to be posted to you, but you can start using your account’s features in the app straight away.

The best UK bank accounts for expats

If you’re moving to the UK, you’ll probably want to save as much energy as you can when to subjects like banking, so that you can concentrate on the bigger things– such as where to live, your studies, your job and so on. Getting a bank account might seem like a hassle, but hopefully with the help of this guide and digital banking, it doesn’t have to be.

To take the stress out of expat living, our series on all things relocation, An Expats’ Guide, aims to help you land as smoothly as possible in your new life in the UK. Each week, we’ll be breaking down the mysteries around getting life on track in the UK.

By N26

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