Forms of Identification

Almost Every UK immigrant faces the same problem in getting established:- the need to open a bank account. In some cases this is exacerbated because many estate agents will not agree to a lease unless the prospective tenant has a bank account. There are no sure-fire ways to get around this problem that work for everyone, and we cannot provide a solution like that. So rather this page focuses on understanding how the system works and what the basic requirements are.

By way of background, the UK is a global hub of international commerce, investment banking, and corporate finance. This environment generates innumerable cash-flows in and out of the UK, and as a side-effect has created the need for off-shore tax havens. The movement of cash in and out of the UK (especially through off-shore havens, but in practice from any foreign source) invites the opportunity for money laundering. In response to this - and other reasons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer created the Financial Services Authority ( FSA) in 1985.

The FSA established a regulatory framework to deal with money laundering, and the interpretation of this framework (that is to say the day-to-day details) was handed over to a trade association called the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group. The activities of this group are beyond the scope of this article, except to say that they laid down guidance for banks on who may and who may not open a bank account in the UK. And listed in their guidance are the acceptable forms of identification one needs to produce in order to open a bank account.

These are:
  • A document that establishes your identity; and
  • One or more documents that establish your address

While all banks are required to meet the minimal standard, some banks may impose additional requirements in line with their business model and it is their right to do so (some banks may require proof of residency in addition to proof of address for example; in other cases, the bank may require an advanced immigration status, such as ILR). We suggest checking with several banks to see which set of requirements best suits your needs. Despite wide variances from bank-to-bank, it is our experience that local branch personnel are trained to believe that their bank's standards are the precise letter of the law, and accordingly lengthy discussions with them about what are acceptable forms of ID are not usually productive.

The table below gives a summary of acceptable forms of ID...


Forms of Identification
Proof of Identity Proof of Address
In order to be acceptable, this document must meet the following criteria
  1. it is not expired and is issued by an acceptable source;
  2. it contains a photograph affixed by the issuing agency; and
  3. it contains the same signature as that on the account application.

There are many ways to meet this requirement, but for most immigrants, the obvious choice is their passport. Some banks may insist upon an English translation if the passport is not in English, but there is nothing in the rules substantiating this.

Invariably, this requirement causes the most frustration for newly arrived immigrants, and admittedly the conditions are fuzzy. Generally, documents meeting this requirement will show the following characteristics:
  1. The document is system generated, although tenancy agreements and/or correspondence from a solicitor can also be accepted; also correspondence from an agency in the UK government, such as HMRC can be accepted;
  2. The document has a date and is current, usually issued in the last 6 months, but shorter periods may apply in some cases, a TV license for example;
  3. The document shows the same name and address as given on the bank account application;
  4. The document is from an acceptable source and clearly shows that the person has an account or customer identification registered in their name;
  5. The document is not a bill for a mobile telephone; and
  6. It is not the same document presented as proof of identity.


Additional notes:

  • Please remember that there are many ways to meet the requirements and we have presented only those thought to be of immediate relevance to immigrants.

  • The FSA does much more than intervene against money laundering and we have restricted their scope to just what is relevant to this article. They operate a number of programmes to protect members of the general public from fraud and abuse, and more importantly they are directly responsible for the high level of public confidence in the UK banking system. To learn more about the FSA, please visit their site.

  • The era of terrorism has introduced similar requirements in business sectors outside of those governed by the FSA and the above guidance has been adopted by convention in many cases.

  • If you have encountered a bank (or branch) which has a particularly friendly policy towards immigrants, we would love to know about it via our feedback page. We are not in a position to use anything other than positive comments however. 

Reviewed 4 May 2012