The currency throughout the UK is British Pounds (£). It may take you a while to get used to the exchange rate from your country. This website will help you calculate exchange rates in the short term.
International students are allowed to open a bank account in the UK, and some universities require their students to have a UK bank account. Whether mandated or not, having an account helps with managing your finances, and you should plan to open one.
Before you leave for your school abroad, speak to your current bank to discuss the best options for transferring money to a new account in the UK. Make sure to bring a bank card or another method to access money you have in your home country bank account since it could take several weeks for you to open a UK account and transfer money into it. As an alternative, you could bring several hundred pounds worth of travelers checks to cover your first few weeks.
You should also research UK banks. Ask your university for advice and research online. Start the process of opening your account before you arrive. That way, you will have selected a bank ahead of time and you will be sure of what you need to bring. When selecting a bank, pay attention to fees and services the account you choose offers. A debit card is very helpful, especially if you don’t already have a major credit card.
Although you should double-check with your selected bank, to open a bank account in the UK, you will need the following:
- Your passport (or you can also use your national identity card if you are from an EU country)
- Your unconditional acceptance letter from your university
- Evidence of your current address in the UK (for instance, your tenancy agreement or student accommodation contract)
A "basic bank account" is the type of account most set up by international students. Since basic accounts often don't provide bank cards or checkbooks, you should see if your bank has a student account or another type of account that will allow you these conveniences. The process of opening a UK bank account can take around two weeks.
For a guide to opening a UK bank account for international students, visit Save the Student.
Debit or Bank Cards
Debit cards or bank cards are an excellent option for international students. Many banks now typically provide a bank card when you open an account. The bank card is affiliated with a credit network, like Visa or Mastercard, so you can use your card to withdraw money from a cash point and you can also use it just like a credit card to make purchases online or in stores. Unlike credit cards, when you use a bank card the money is instantly taken from your account, so if you do not have enough funds in your bank account, the card will be rejected. For students new to the UK, a bank card is highly recommended since it allows you to do things and make purchases that require a credit card. Airline tickets, theatre tickets, rental cars, mobile phones, and online purchases will be much easier to do with a bank card rather than with cash or travelers’ checks.
Credit cards are also available to international students. Like debit cards, credit cards allow you to make purchases online and access services that you cannot access with cash or checks. A credit card is also a good idea if you want to maintain good financial records, as your monthly statement will serve as a reminder of how you're spending money.
Note that a credit card may turn into a very expensive payment option. If you are not able to pay the balance within the specified grace period – typically between 20 and 30 days, you will end up paying interest fees. Be careful to read all of the details of the credit card offer before committing to it. Learn the structure of the credit card company's fees and interest charges. Learn all you can to make an informed decision before opening any credit cards.
Some companies are reluctant to issue credit cards to international students, since they are not likely to have an established credit history. If you already have a major credit card from your home country, bring it with you. After the U.K. bank reviews your credit limit on the foreign card, they may be more likely to offer you a credit card. Banks with which you have accounts are also more likely to accept your request for a credit card.