SOAS University of London

International Students

Living in the UK (Banking)

Initial expenses

Since you may not have a bank account in Britain before you arrive you should bring enough money to cover your initial expenses. These may involve:

  • Travelling from your point of arrival to central London (about £4-20 by public transport, £60-75 by taxi)
  • Accommodation in case you arrive early (£30-50 per night in hotel)
  • Food (about £15)

Altogether you will need around £250 or more in travellers cheques or cash on arrival.

Opening a bank account

You will find it useful in the UK to operate a bank account and you should try to do so as soon as possible as the banks can take some time to open an account. There are a number of banks in the UK offering different banking services. You should talk to several banks, choosing one which is either near to SOAS or near to where you will be living in London.

International students are often only able to open Deposit accounts. These accounts allow you to withdraw cash from cash machines, but do not give you a cheque book. This means that you have to carry cash to pay for all goods you wish to buy. They will, however, pay interest on the balance in your account.

Some banks will allow you to have a current account, or at least offer to convert a deposit account to a current account after 3 or 6 months. The advantages of a current account are:
- a cheque book & guarantee card that you can use to pay for things in shops
- a debit card which can be used to automatically debit your account
- it may be possible to negotiate an overdraft facility

UK students usually have a 'student' account which gives them a free overdraft facility. Banks will not usually give this facility to international students but you should ask as some will for students who are on courses lasting more than 12 months. If you have any problems opening an account contact one of the Student Welfare Officers.

Transferring Money

Before transferring any money ask what the charges will be and how long the transfer will take. Try to plan your finances so that you can use the cheapest and most convenient form of transfer to get money from home. If someone transfers money into your account they should keep copies of all the relevant documents in case there is any dispute with the bank in the future.

Electronic transfers are the easiest way to transfer money from your home country. The money is transferred directly from a bank in your home country to your bank in the UK. Your bank will tell you how to do this.

Bankers drafts are slower than electronic transfers, but cheaper. The bank in your home country draws up a draft which is sent to you by post and which you then present to your bank in the UK.

Getting money quickly

If you need to get money quickly there are several reliable and established companies that provide a very quick money transfer service. Transfer time can be as little as 10-15 minutes. Be careful as the transfer charges may be high.

Changing cash

If you have foreign cash, change it at a bank where the charges will be less than in a Bureau de Change.

Financial Help

All non-UK students are allowed to stay in the UK on the understanding that they can support themselves and do not have recourse to public funds. This means you are not entitled to most state benefits though you can claim free schooling for your children and are entitled to treatment on the National Health Service if you are registered on a course which lasts for more than six months, although treatment for existing conditions may be limited.

There is very little financial help available to international students who experience financial difficulties but if you are in financial trouble you should contact one of the Welfare Officers as soon as possible as they may be able to suggest sources of help.