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The rules and regulations for opening a bank account in the UK are very strict. Many banks will not permit you to open an account until you have evidence of a UK address, which you may not receive until some months after arrival.  

Barclays Bank in Cambridge

For new staff of the University of Cambridge and the Colleges, you can open a bank account with Barclays bank in Cambridge using a letter supplied by the HR Compliance Team. This is a bespoke agreement between the University and Barclays bank. Please contact the team for the required letter after you have arrived in the UK. The following terms and conditions apply:

  • You can only open the account with the St. Andrew's Street branch of Barclays, in Cambridge. No other bank, or branch, will accept the letter.
  • You must open the account within one month of arrival in the UK.
  • You must present the letter, your passport and your visa/Biometric Residence Permit, at the bank.
  • You are free to open a bank account with any other bank at any time, however you must then have the required documentation (as below).

Other bank accounts

You are free to open a bank account with any bank in the UK, provided you can present all the required documentation. We strongly recommend bringing with you as much documentation as you can. Please see below for examples of the types of documents you will need.

Before leaving home

  • The bank in your home country may have a special relationship with a bank in the UK. Speak to your bank before you leave for the UK.
  • Ask your bank if can use your cash card in UK bank machines.
  • Find out how you can transfer money to and from the UK and how much this costs.
  • You may need to bring UK currency with you to pay for a deposit on a house. Do avoid carrying large sums of cash with you. The safest and most popular way of bringing money abroad is by traveller’s cheques purchased before you leave home. It is easy to cash these at airports and bureaux de change. Don’t forget to keep a note of the cheque numbers separate from your hand luggage.

What documents will I need to open an account in the UK?

This will depend on which bank you choose and what type of account you open. You will need to confirm your identity before you can open an account, so in general aim to take as many of the following documents with you when you open an account:

  • Passport
  • National identity card
  • UK Biometric Residence Permit (if you hold one)
  • Residence permit issued by UK Visas and Immigration to EU nationals
  • National driving licence
  • Tenancy Agreement
  • Your employment contract, which would be required to prove your address in the UK
  • The bank may also want to see proof of your previous or permanent address in your country of residence
  • Proof of current address in UK e.g. utility bill etc.

Please remember that banks require original documents and not copies.

Types of UK Bank Account

A standard current account is the most common type of bank account in the UK. A current account is for day-to-day use. Two or more people can set up a current account together and have equal access to deposits, withdrawals, debit cards, wiring from abroad, electronic usage and many other services, depending on the bank.  Banks also offer current accounts with “extras” that have added benefits, which often come with a monthly fee.  A simple cash or basic account only provides you with a deposit and withdrawal service. It may be possible to upgrade this account to a current account after a period of time.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has further guidance on banking services in the UK.

Getting a UK credit card

Credit cards allow you to make purchases for most things that you cannot buy with cash or cheques. However, this method of payment may turn into a very expensive option, if you are not able to pay the balance on the account within the specified period – this is usually between 20 and 30 days. If you do decide to obtain a credit card be careful to read all the terms and conditions relating to the card before committing to it; some companies offer a special low introductory interest rate (perhaps even 0%), but then increase it dramatically after that introductory period. You should also check to see if the credit card company charges an annual fee for the card and when this is likely to happen.

Some companies are reluctant to issue credit cards to international staff due to the lack of a UK credit history. If you already have a major credit card from your home country (like Eurocard, Access, Chargex, Barclaycard, Carte Bleue, American Express, Visa or MasterCard), bring it with you to the UK. Once the UK credit card company reviews the credit limit on your current credit card, they may be more likely to offer you a UK credit card. Essentially, the longer you are in the UK the bigger credit history you can build up and the more likely you are to be offered a UK credit card.

Irish and Scottish bank notes

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own bank notes. Whilst most larger stores or supermarkets will accept these, some smaller high street or local stores are often unwilling. If you have any problems using these types of notes, you can ask any bank to exchange them for Bank of England notes. This can be done free of charge.

Bank opening times and more information

Most banks in the UK are open from 9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and many are open on Saturdays.

The British Bankers’ Association also has a downloadable leaflet (PDF document) with information on how to open a bank account if you are new or are returning to the UK.