Gone Rogue Travel

How to open a bank account in the UK

Finally, you secure a paid internship or job in the UK.

But somehow, the problem is still getting paid.

Like most things about moving abroad, opening a bank account isn’t simple. In fact, I think there’s even more red tape around opening one than there is around getting the right to work in the first place.

Options I tried that aren’t a bank account


Initially, you may try to get by using Paypal.

While it seems like Paypal saves the hassle of opening a proper account, if you do the math, this proves worse for your finances.

Paypal actually charges you to receive money, so every time you get paid, 5% of it goes straight to Paypal.

Even if you choose to sacrifice 5% of your earnings to the Paypal overlord, you’ll still be losing money.


Exchange rates. Paypal’s exchange rate is horrible. Like .1% to .2% different than the exchange rate a bank would give you between dollars and pounds, and Paypal keeps the difference.

In the end, Paypal is a great way to buy items off Amazon. It is not a great system for getting paid OR running freelance payments.

Getting paid into a UK partner or friend’s account

With Paypal out, you could ask your employer to pay into a partner’s or friend’s UK account to avoid the fee. While this is better, and it saves you 5% of your monthly salary plus the exchange rate difference, the money will only be accessible to you once it’s withdrawn as cash.

That works for petty cash spending, but of course, if you’re getting paid £800 per month, and only spending £250, the savings stay somewhere, and it won’t be somewhere accessible to you.


Payment into your US bank account

Getting paid into a US bank account tends to also be a no, because employers need various allowances to pay into a US account, and a change fee still applies.

You could opt for a service like Transferwise, to help you lower the fees of changing currencies and transferring between countries. While better than Paypal, it still charges a small percentage off every transfer.

This also requires your employer to pay directly to Transferwise, which they won’t be keen to do, as it messes up their HR records.

Opening a UK bank account

If you’re like me and plan to spend at least six months in the UK being paid, opening a bank account does make sense.

If you’re shorter term, it will be very hard to get a bank to agree to open an account for you, and you may want to consider one of the options listed above.

What you need to open a bank account:


Your passport works best for this. If you have a Biometric Residence Permit, bring that as well, because they will want to make copies of both the visa in your passport and the BRP.

Proof of Address

This could be a bill, a rental agreement with your UK address on it, or a bank statement from your home bank with your new UK address on it.

While this bit should be simple, it can lead to complications (more on that in the next section, ‘How to provide Proof of Address’).

Other possible requirements

Some banks need extra proof that you’re staying in the UK long-term.

How to provide Proof of Address:

Proving you live in the UK is the hardest part of opening an account.

For starters, if you’ve just moved into a place, it takes at least a month to get your first utility bill (the preferred form of proof). But check with the bank – they may accept a rental agreement as proof, so long as it has your address on it.

What they will accept as Proof of Address

What they won’t accept as Proof of Address

Issues with providing Proof of Address (and overcoming them):

If you’re living with friends, your flatmate has their name on the bills, your landlord doesn’t have official documents with your address on them, or you’re not paying rent or bills because you’re living with family or staying at a dorm or hostel, things get complicated.

In this case, you need to have a bank statement from your home bank that has your new UK address on it.

Even if you don’t think this will be your situation, I’d recommend changing your address before you leave and getting an official, printed bank statement from your bank and packing it with you for the move.

Seriously, the headaches* you’ll save yourself are worth this small effort.

Which bank should you open an account with?

BUNAC gave me plenty of tips on opening a UK bank account.

They actually work with a few branches of Barclays bank in London that they recommend, but I also did my own research.

Below are the banks I dealt with, as well as the pros and cons of opening an account with each of them.


Because of BUNAC’s recommendation, I went to the Barclays bank in my town. But pretty much from the moment I entered, I encountered issues, mostly due to the statement sent by US Bank to me.

Barclays only needs identification and proof of address to open an account, but are very strict on their proof of address. While they’ll accept bloody INITIALS on a water or electric bill, they will not accept a bank statement from your home bank with a c/o address or any anomalies.

I was staying with family friends, so when my mom changed my address at home, she had added a c/o line, and Barclays was not having it.

Pros of banking with Barclays

Cons of banking with Barclays

Metro Bank

Metro Bank was recommended to me by my boss, as she’d dealt with them and said they were easygoing.

They still required identification and proof of address (which I was struggling to prove), plus a National Insurance number, so they actually needed more information to open an account for me. Though I doubt the c/o thing would’ve been an issue, I decided to look elsewhere.

Pros of banking with Metro Bank

Cons of banking with Metro Bank


Finally, I went to HSBC.

I set up an appointment over the phone and had an account 2 hours after my meeting with the lovely man at my local branch.

He needed the same things as Barclays, but didn’t kick up a fuss about the ‘c/o’ or the fact that my zip code wasn’t formatted perfectly.

Pros of banking with HSBC

Cons of banking with HSBC

In the end, I’m glad I chose HSBC over Barclays.

Since writing this post, I’ve moved back to the United States and use a combination of US Bank, Transferwise, and HSBC to manage my finances. I did my first Transferwise transfer a few weeks back and had zero issues.

I also have money sitting in two accounts and two currencies, so when the pound is strong, I can transfer it to dollars, and when dollars are strong, I can spend from my UK account.

When I travel, I use my CapitalOne Venture credit card to avoid fees, and can transfer pounds to dollars using Transferwise to pay it off. It’s glorious.

It takes a significant time commitment and dedication to reading the fine print to make sure you’re getting an account you want.

But, once you’ve got it, you can rest easy that you can actually work for pay in the UK.


*The headaches I encountered trying to open a UK bank account (aka an ‘account’ of how crappy US Bank is for overseas travel)

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