One of the first things schools and Universities tell to international students on their welcome packs, along with basic survival guidance like registering with the local General Practitioner and the emergency numbers, is to open a bank account. Which in fact, in my opinion, I don’t think it is that important to have it, however it does make life easier, as you get access to other services, like get a gym membership or a mobile contract with hundreds of texts instead of the crazy-expensive “pay as you go”.
The problem is that no one really tells you which bank is best, and I remember when I was asking for a address confirmation letter at my university, that letter needs to be addressed to a particular bank, so I asked the office assistant – which bank would you recommend? And he responds - well I have Barclays.- and my choice. An interesting way to choose a bank, considering that coming from abroad, and knowing nothing about their brand and reputation and I was going to trust my one-year cost of living to a “stranger”.
Next thing I did was go to a Barclay’s branch but unfortunately, I was told off (after hours of waiting and been pitched about 5 different accounts that “suited me”) because of some problems with my documents and had to return to the university to correct it. Then I remembered that we had HSBC in my country, so my logic was - perhaps it could be easier to move funds to my UK account. So I changed my mind and requested a letter to open a HSBC bank account.
In my experience, HSBC was the quickest banking experience I’ve ever had. Not only at the beginning that I pre-filled my application online, then went to my nearest branch, and got my account in less than 15 minutes with no queuing or waiting, and I think is just great that they have this “Starbucks like-home feeling ” because they all look familiar, they make you feel comfortable and agree in what they sell. Once I was a customer, the Internet banking just works perfectly, no need to carry an annoying and big security device to access to your account.
I wouldn’t dare to say that HSBC is THE best option but they do know how to make it interesting for international students naming their student account as Passport. They basically sign you on a 1-year contract.
The promise is that your account will be easily transferred (but not necessary) to your country once you finish your studies or want to move back. They also welcome you with a “free sim topped up with £10 credit”, which of course is not very free after the of £8 a month. They also give you more useful advice and a few other useless discounts (at least they were for me) like for Western Union to transfer money abroad.