Practical Life in London

Bank services in London

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British currency is the Pound Sterling, commonly called the pound or the GBP, and symbolized by £. "Quid" is the slang term for pound. There are a 100 pence (p) to a pound.

ATM and Credit Cards

ATMs are plentiful and can be found almost anywhere. Sometimes called "cash points", you should be able to use Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Cirrus, Plus and Maestro cards. Cash withdrawals from some ATMs may be subject to a charge (about 1.50 GBP), depending on the vendor and your bank.


The best rates are by taking money from an ATM. This depends on your home bank, but this continues to be the safest and cheapest way to exchange.

Moneychangers are frequently advertised at entrance points and in the downtown area. Make sure you understand the rates before committing. Changers at international airports are usually the best deal.

International Transfers

UK electronic transfers are free on the Internet. However, international money transfers require some effort and can be expensive with a fee and/or margin on currency exchange rate.

    Necessary Information:
  • Complete name of the bank
  • Name of branch and/or branch number
  • Address of the branch
  • Branch's SWIFT number (this is an internationally used system of numbers which identifies each branch of each bank, in each country)
  • Name on the account
  • Account number that the funds should be deposited into (IBAN for European transfers)

The easiest way to complete an international transfer is if you have a dual-currency account, such as the connection between Deutsche bank and Bank of America.

Open an Account

Banking in the UK is usually easy to set-up. Most banks offer similar quality services and online banking is standard. However, do shop around to find the best fit for you with agreeable fees.

Opening a bank account is not really complicated, but it can take time to establish yourself as a foreigner and receive a debit or credit card. Proof of employment offers greatest credibility, especially if you have a letter of recommendation from your employer. You will need to demonstrate proof you are a resident with an address. Proof includes: utility bills (gas, telephone, electricity) or a rental contract. A letter of recommendation from your current bank (in English) may also speed the process. One of the easiest options is to open an account with a partner bank in your country.

    Most banks offer:
  • cheque book
  • debit card

British banking lingo and practices can be a bit different.

  • Standing order: Regular bank transfers to a company or person. These are often arranged for rents and utility bills. Ask your landlord for a standing order form, fill it in and give the completed form to your bank.
  • Direct debit: Similar to a standing order, but instead of returning the completed form to the bank, you return it back to the company and it authorizes them to make debits from your account.
  • Chip and pin: In the UK (and across Europe) people use a card with a microchip and key in a pin number when using their credit and debit cards.
  • Checks or cheques: Not used much in the UK, but still offered.

Bank cards

You have a difference between a Debit Card (e.g. Maestro, Visa Electron) and a Credit Card (Visa or Master Card). With the first one, your money will be debited directly from your bank account; with the second one, you are debited from a specific account, that you will pay back according to your wishes and in agreement with the bank (you may get gift points for use). You can ask your bank to repay automatically all your credit card balance at the end of each month. at no fee.


You negotiate an overdraft limit with the bank. If you pass this limit, a global penalty will be applied (about £20), you will pay a penalty for every item up to the limit (about £20 per item), and of course a high interest rate (20%/year).


Many of the U.K.'s major banks also offer international or offshore accounts. Standard banking hours are Monday to Friday from 9:00 until 16:00 (some remain open until 17:30). Many bank offer one day a week that they stay open late. They may also be open on Saturdays (9:00-9:30 until 12:30 or 15:30).

Update 10/05/2012


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i have found that abbey is the easiest for foreigners. they dont really require proof of address. just go in there and ask for a basic account. hsbc will also give you an account without proof of address but will charge alot of money.



Opening a bank account 2
Sometimes it is not that easy to get a bank account, e.g. for this you desperately need a proof of address?

Neither passport nor driving licence will be accepted, because there is no address on it. You need an official letter showing your name and your home address. This can be a utility bill or a payslip from your employer. But how to proof my address if you live in a flatshare or pay my rent "all-inclusive" and therefore do not get any bills? And mostly you need the bank account BEFORE you start work.

So how do I get this "bloody" proof? I will tell you:

* If you have got a landline in your flatshare, ask the one who owns it to add your name to the bill. This can easily be done by just a phone call to BT. Next time the bill will show both names on the address. Worked fine for me. :)) The only drawback might be that a BT bill only comes every 3 months. So you might have to wait quite a while.

* Just recently I have found out another way: As a resident you are entitled for the local elections. Go to the Council of the area where you live and fill out a form to be added to the electorial list. After a few days you will get an official letter from the council confirming that you are now on the list. And THIS letter can be used as proof of address. Easy, quick and free of charge :)

Btw: I have experienced quite the opposite of Chris (above). I had trouble getting a bank account with NatWest and NHBC. But with Barclays I had no problems at all. I immediately got the account plus a Visa Electron Debit Card plus a Visa Mastercard. (A friend of mine is with NatWest and had to wait one year before she could apply for a credit card.)

And I think it is better to go to the smaller branches rather than the big and busy ones in the city centre.

 Chris Fancie


Opening a bank account
Some banks are more up to date than others. Last year, when we tried to open an account at our local Barclay's (with a bank draft for £5000, our passports, house lease, letters from old bank in Canada & employer in UK, etc) we were told that they'd have to contact, by mail, the old bank & we'd have to wait for a reply, by mail. We needed a car & appliances right away, so decided to try another bank.
The next one down the street, NatWest, opened an account, gave us a credit line & credit card applications were put through immediately, no problem.

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