What I Wasn’t Told: Bank Account and National Insurance Number

Wow. As if applying for my program and visa, getting a house, looking for a job and so much more wasn’t enough, unlike my previous time abroad, I had to open a U.K. bank account and apply for a National Insurance number since I’ll be working.

My visa permits me to work 20 hours a week and I landed a job as a cleaner (glamorous, I know) on campus. In order to work in the country, besides the legal credentials (i.e. the right to work provided by my visa), I also had to open a U.K. bank account and apply for a National Insurance number.

Bank account

I knew I had to open a U.K. bank account before I applied for a job to make paying my rent easier. However, from being abroad last time, I remember you could only properly apply in person, so I waited until I arrived in the U.K. to start the process. Boy, was that a mistake.

The first step opening an account is filling out an application online that can be done at any time. Once you completed an application, you need to make an appointment to finalize the details and have some documents scanned. Once I filled out an application, the first available appointment was three weeks away. This is why I strongly advise starting an application before you arrive in the U.K. and book an appointment for a few days after you arrive.

After my documents were scanned, it was still about a business week before I had all my online login information and PIN number. Transferring money internationally can be quite expensive, so I didn’t bother transferring my money from my home bank accounts but rather start using money from my U.K. account once my paychecks started coming in. All in all, not too bad.

The card I got in the U.S. that I use in the U.K. is CapitalOne 360 debit card. It’s a pain to sign a receipt every time I use the card, but usually I take cash out so I don’t have to worry about it. The only other con is the customer service hours are business hours in the U.S., which leaves an undesirable window to call in and isn’t good for time sensitive issues. However, when I did get a hold of someone, they were very kind and helpful.

I recommend opening a U.K. bank account only if you have a job or will be in the U.K. for more than a semester. Other than that, find an alternative way of managing your finances based in the U.S. so you can easily return to your home banking situation after your time abroad.

National Insurance number

To apply for a National Insurance number (free social security-like scheme), you have to already be in the U.K. First, you call the number provided on the government website and wait on hold for nearly an hour before you speak to a representative. Then, you give basic information such as your name, date of birth and passport number simply to confirm you are, in fact, a real person. After that, you provide the representative with an address for the application to be mailed.

The application will arrive in about a business week. Once you fill it out, you post it back in the Freepost envelope provided with the application and you receive your number within about two business weeks. My job let me work without a National Insurance number provided that I had proof that I mailed out my application.

In retrospect, opening a bank account and getting a National Insurance number wasn’t that bad, but really stressful when you don’t know what to do and the clock to get a job to be able to pay rent for the month is not on your side.

So, let’s review:

  • Before you arrive: start a bank account application online and book an appointment to finalize your bank details
  • A.S.A.P. when you arrive: place a phone call to get the National Insurance application posted to you and attend your banking appointment
  • Within a business week: you receive 1) your National Insurance number application which you must fill out and return, 2) your card, PIN and online banking details
  • After two more business weeks: you will have your National Insurance number

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