Making sure that you know how to access money while you are studying in the UK is an important step to a stress-free and fun experience. Instead of relying on just one method, take money in multiple forms — an ATM card, credit card, and some cash for emergencies. Stick with debit and credit cards, take large amounts of money out of the ATM at once, and avoid cash exchange counters. Finally, do your research on fees and rates and remember that they all add up! We encourage you to read the information below carefully, and make decisions that are best-suited to your situation.
- Purchase UK currency at your local bank. It will be cheaper to buy it at your local bank compared to an airport chas exchange counter, and will mean you arrive in the UK with some readily-accessible money.
- Make a budget. We have lots of information to help you make a budget before you leave.
- Start keeping an eye on exchange rates. This will help you become familiar with what's a good and what's a bad rate of exchange. The Bank of Canada has historical data to help you plan ahead.
Bank cards with the Cirrus or Plus logo can be used at ATMs or “cash points” in the UK. However, you will normally be assessed a service charge for accessing funds this way.
Check with the bank you use in your home country as many banks have reciprocal agreements with overseas banks whereby you can use your debit card at certain financial institutions without incurring hefty service charges.
Many cash points will not accept cards with PINs longer than four digits or beginning with zero (even if it does have a Cirrus or Plus logo). If your PIN begins with a zero or is longer than four digits, you should change it before you leave.
You can withdraw cash on-site. But if you are withdrawing money off-site, you might want to consider withdrawing more money and less often. By doing this you will avoid bank charges which can add up to $150-200 a year.
You are advised to bring a credit card with you; it is highly unlikely that a UK bank will issue you a credit card when in the UK. Credit cards are extremely useful in emergency situations, as well as for booking a flight or hotel room.
Make sure that your credit card PIN does not begin with zero and is not longer than four digits. Most ATMs will accept foreign cards but American Express may not be accepted in all places. Save all your receipts and compare them with your statement to make sure the exchange and amount withdrawn was correct. Look at the symbols on your card and the machine to ensure compatibility before putting your cards in.
At many foreign banks it is possible to use a credit card to get cash. The amount charged to your credit card bill is normally based on the exchange rate on the day that your bank or credit card company processes the transaction. If you are accessing money this way, you’ll want to be sure that you pay your credit card bill quickly as interest will be begin to accrue as soon as the cash advance is made.
Opening a UK bank account is by far the safest and most effective way of managing your money as an international student. However, the process can often be quite long and complicated so it important that you are patient, prepared and keep the following points in mind prior to setting up a bank account:
- If you are on a program of less than 6 months, it may not be possible to open a bank account in the UK.
- Banks in the UK follow their own rules and identity checks which are completely separate from the BISC. In order to keep your money safe, banks are very restricted in the ways they communicate with customers and in terms of their processes. This means that you need to attend a bank in person, meet with one of their advisors and sometimes complete a paper application form in order to open a bank account.
- You may need to visit the bank more than once to set up your account, and once you have set up the account, you may have to wait around 10 days for your bank card to arrive.
- The BISC has no influence over the types of accounts banks offer to students, the documentation they require or any other of their processes. We don’t recommend any specific banks and it is up to you to decide which bank you would like to open an account with.
With this in mind, it is important that you bring sufficient funds to cover initial expenses for your first month in the UK. For safety reasons, it is not a good idea to bring large sums of cash; look for alternative options such as using Travellers Cheques or pre-paid cash cards.
Some of the main banks in the UK are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, and NatWest. These banks normally open accounts for international students if the appropriate documentation is provided and meets their requirements.
The BISC does not endorse any particular bank; be aware that not all UK banks offer accounts to international students.
The documentation you will need to provide varies depending on which bank you select to open an account with. However, as a general rule, you will need to ensure you have the following in place:
- Your passport and valid visa (including your BRP)
- Proof of student status and proof of address in the UK and in your home country
The BISC operates a Cashing Facility on campus that operates twice-weekly. You can cash up to £50 each time for a charge of £1 and up to £100 for £2. Sterling traveller’s cheques and credit or debit cards backed by VISA or MasterCard can be used to obtain cash. Payments are put through as a purchase and not as a cash advance to reduce costs to you. The service operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:15pm-2:15pm.
Students may deposit currency, valuables, and passports the Finance Office safe. Contents must be in a secure container. Please ensure you arrange access to your valuable items at least 48 hours in advance as it is not possible to access the safe at the weekends. Do not leave large amounts of cash in your room!
In the UK, prices shown include sales tax (the Value Added Tax, known as the VAT). If you purchase items of any appreciable value while in the country you can get a form from the shop to claim the VAT back. The standard VAT is 20%, so it’s well worth the effort in most cases, but some stores have a minimum purchase requirement before doing this; others will deduct a service charge. Check out the UK Government guide to reclaiming your VAT.