This is an installment in a series of posts about moving to the UK for a Ph.D, specifically at Durham University. To read more posts like this, see our list here.
Setting up banking in the UK takes a little adjustment and a little work. However, it is not too terribly difficult. Before leaving the USA, it may behoove your to check with your bank to see if they have any branches or relationships with banks in Britain. It is a long shot, but worth asking.
If you need to set up banking with a new bank, it will take a little time. First, you will need a letter from your college (NB, that’s not the University, but your college. Durham is one of few schools to use a true college system. Read about it on one of our other posts here). Just ask in your college for a bank letter and give them a little time to get it together for you.
To set up a new account, you’ll need an appointment. You won’t be able to just drop in for a new account setup. We found that some banks don’t answer their phones. You have to leave a message on the machine and wait for a return call. It may take a few days to get an appointment. If you are setting up a joint account, be sure to let them know that when you schedule the appointment. They’ll need to allot for the extra time. Be sure to let them know that you are an international student and ask for specifics documentation you’ll need to provide. Found out if there any deposit requirements or associated fees. We found that several American students have had success at Lloyd’s Bank. Plus, Beth likes the horse logo. HA!
You will likely get an ATM/Debit card with your account. Debit cards are widely accepted. When you find a place that won’t take a card, ATM’s (called Cash Pointes in the UK) are numerous. It isn’t difficult to find a place to withdraw cash without paying fees.
Bank transfers are also common. You may find that regular monthly payments will be requested by bank draft. You may need to plan for this in your regular budget. If you are owed a check, don’t be surprised if your money comes by a one-time direct deposit.
One important point to make about banking. If you want to use an American credit card in the UK, ask for a Chip-and-PIN or Chip-and-sign card before you move over. Swipe cards are rare here; seems as though only the Americans use them. You may find a place that takes cards, but won’t take your swipe card. If they do take a swipe card, it may be quite an ordeal to use it. Not every clerk knows how to use them. You may find yourself waiting for a manager to come finish your transaction. Also, make sure that you sign your card before you use it. The cashiers will carefully inspect your signature on the card with the signature on the receipt that you sign before them. It isn’t always this difficult, but it is at least a conversation piece at most stores!
One more bit of advice, talk to your credit card company and/or bank about using your card overseas. Ask about any foreign transaction fees. Also find out about fees for withdrawing foreign currency from the ATM. This may be a good way get cash—the kind with a picture of the Queen rather than a President!