The Savvy IMG

Your First Bank Account in the UK

In this post, let's tackle tackle one of the biggest headaches of moving to the UK: opening your first bank account.

Table of Contents

Your First Bank Account

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Now the first thing that comes to mind is to go to a bank on the high street in person. Unfortunately, as a new migrant, this is not always so easy. In fact, opening my first bank account caused me and countless others huge headaches because of all the required paperwork. 

The problem with high street banks

Banks require you to submit proof of your address via very specific documents such as a utility bill, council tax bill, or other bank statements – all of which are impossible to get in your first month in the UK!

There are some banks that accept job contracts and tenancy agreements, but you’ll find that this is not universal. Not all banks accept these documents, and even different branches of the same bank can vary. I booked an appointment with a bank, spent half a day for that appointment, and presented all my documents, only to be rejected. 

The nightmare you want to avoid

So what happens in these cases is that you go to another bank, then another, then yet another, and it easily turns into a whole day affair. What’s worse is that some banks rebook you an appointment in the future, only to reject you again!

I have met many others who have been through the same experience. Using these documents has worked well for some, and you can always try this first, but be prepared for a bumpy ride. 

The consequences of not having a bank account

The main issue with not having your bank account set up in time is that you won’t be able to receive payment for your first month of work! 

This is because hospitals have cut-off dates for payment to go through to your bank account. So if don’t set up your account in time, you’ll have to wait until the next month to get paid. Don’t worry, you will get your pay, but you’ll get the first two months in one go. That doesn’t help when you have a whole month of bills to pay for by the end of the first month!

What’s not a great solution

Many IMGs work around this problem by bringing lots of cash from home, but bringing a lot of money into the country can  causes problems at the airport. Also, many companies do not readily accept cash payment. Instead of paying for your bills through a few clicks on your computer, you may have to take precious time from your days off on long phone calls with customer service, or on trips to the local post office. 

Is there a better way? Definitely.

Introducing digital banking

Companies that provide digital banking accounts are registered with the government and fulfill all the legal requirements just like a normal high street bank. The only difference is that they are purely online and have no physical branches that you can actually visit. 

In all other aspects, they work in much the same way that any bank does. You can receive payment from work, set up direct debits and pay bills online, and you get a physical debit card that you can use for payments in day-to-day life.

Why go digital?

The primary advantage of a digital account for IMGs, is that it removes the initial headache I’ve listed above because they DON’T require you to have a proof of address. Once you have an account open, you can use this to receive payment from your employer and use the debit card to pay for your bills and shopping.

The only documents required are:

  • ID (passport)
  • A UK mobile number
  • An email address, and 
  • A physical UK address where they can send your card – proof of address is not required.

Signing up can take mere minutes, and approving your account can take just a couple of hours or less.

So what are the options for digital banking?


I personally recommend Monese because I found it really easy to create an account with them. All I needed was 5 minutes to submit all my application details in the comfort of my home through their app, and another 2 hours for them to approve my account. The majority of accounts are actually approved even sooner than 2 hours.

I also like Monese because they have a sign up bonus and a referral programme. When you open an account and use your card, you’ll receive a free £5 welcome reward. They are currently the only digital banking service with a sign up bonus like this.

Furthermore, for every friend and family you refer, you’ll get another £5 when they use their card for the first time. Your friend or family member will also get £5 when they use their card.  Once your friend has spent more than £500 on the card, you both earn an additional £15!

The other features of Monese that you’ll find helpful in your first month in the UK include the ability to add your Monese card to your PayPal account and smartphone (Apple Pay and Google Pay). This makes daily transactions really easy like getting that morning coffee, buying your lunch, doing your groceries, and paying for public transport. 

  1. Download the app using this specific link – it’s best to use this link on your smartphone rather than on a computer.
  2. Sign up for a new account via the app on your phone.
  3. Make sure you use the code SAVVYIMG so you get £15 free after your first card transaction.
  4. Follow all the instructions. You will be asked to enter a code sent via phone and email. You will also be asked to picture your ID and record a short video, all for verification purposes.
  5. Wait for them to approve your application. When it’s approved you can give your hospital your account details so you can get paid.
  6. Look out for your free debit card in the mail.
  7. Once you receive the debit card, simply top up your account with cash and you’re good to go! 
  8. Be sure to make that first transaction on your card so you receive a free £15 welcome bonus (only available if you sign up with the code SAVVYIMG).

To top up your account, you can either go to the local Post Office or your nearest PayPoint counter, or simply ask a friend to transfer you money while you give them the same amount in cash. 


Monzo is another great option. I have not personally tried this service however it has many good reviews on the IMG Facebook groups.

The steps to open a Monzo account are the same as Monese but there is no sign up bonus. There used to be a sign up bonus of £10 which became £5, but it has now been removed altogether. 

Starling and Revolut

These are two other companies that provide digital accounts in the UK that have a good reputation. Again, I have not personally used their services, and I do not know anyone who has, but do check them out while shopping around for a digital bank. Neither of them has a sign up bonus.

Should you still get a high street bank account?

Digital financial services are a great way to hassle-free banking as a new migrant in this country. However, once you have the documents necessary for a regular high street bank account, I would say to still open an account with them as well. This can give you access to credit cards and good mortgage deals later on.

Also, Monese and Revolut both charge a 2% fee if you withdraw more than £200 in cash each month. To be very honest, I can’t even remember the last time I withdrew cash from an ATM. Virtually all shops in the UK take card so it’s not an issue. And if I do need cash, it would definitely be less than £200/month. 

Suggested: How to transfer money back home from the UK

  • There are certain challenges to opening a regular high street bank account as a new migrant to the UK that can be overcome by opening a digital account.
  • Digital banking services are a great alternative to high street banks as a bridge for you to receive salary and pay for expenses in the first few months.
  • Monese provides a current account that offers £5 welcome bonus when you sign up and make your first card transaction. You can then invite friends and family and earn up to £20 each when they qualify.
  • Other digital banking services without a sign up bonus include Monzo, Starling, Revolut.
  • Once you have the necessary documents, consider opening a normal brick and mortar bank account as well for the other benefits.


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Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.


Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.


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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
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