I promise that the ICLC does not endorse any particular bank. This is not an advertisement, it's just a question. I ask this for a couple reasons. First, it introduces the subject of money, and when students are preparing to come over to London, we get loads of questions about money. What's the best form to bring it over in? Can I open a British bank account? Does anyone use traveler's cheques? Can I use checks in USD to pay my rent?
The best way to bring money to the UK is much too subjective to give a specific answer. The most important thing is to ensure that you have more than one way to access funds so that you don't find yourself stranded in any way. Have a debit card and a credit card. Come over with some GBP in cash and some traveler's cheques (only sold in USD in the USA). Or any combination of the above. The most important thing is that you don't find yourself stuck with no access to money. If you are doing the flat hunt in the first week you will not only have to pay your first month's rent at the end of your first week in the UK, you will also have to pay a deposit, which is usually another 4-6 weeks of rent, at the same time. Remember that you need to have your money in your checking account at your bank because British ATMs don't ask if you want to take from your savings or your checking. They will ONLY draw from your checking account. And remember that exchange rates and commissions fluctuate whether you are exchanging traveler's checks or withdrawing from an ATM. Shop around to find a deal.
Opening a British bank account can be a tricky one. A few students have had luck doing this in the past, but general practice is that students who will be in the country for less than 6 months are declined for opening British bank accounts. It's best to assume that you won't get a British bank account. What you might want to do is see if your home bank has a sister bank (I think Bank of America is sistered with Barclays, but check this out yourself to be sure) in the UK where you can use their ATMs for free or more cheaply.
Some people use traveler's cheques. The trick is to shop around for a good rate. Many places that change them advertise the rates that they buy and sell at in their shop windows. Some students have expressed frustration in the past with the difficulty they may have encountered finding a good exchange rate. The positive side of them is that they are non-negotiable, ready cash.
Paying your monthly rent (advertised at a weekly rate, paid at a monthly rate, multiply by 52, divide by 12, we will explain it all when you get here) to your landlord is usually done in cash. This is probably different from the regular practice in Ithaca of writing a cheque each month, but as it is unlikely that you will have cheques in GBP to write, you will probably pay in cash. Most landlords will NOT accept cheques in USD because it is too much of a kerfuffle (that's the technical term) to change and cash them.
The second reason I ask my original question is purely out of curiosity. Not that we are trying to take stock of our audience, no don't bank on that. Bill, Heather, Sarah and I are people you can count on, that's all.
PS- Keep an eye on the exchange rate at www.oanda.com. We do endorse this. Actually the UK Border Agency endorses this as the only site they recognise for official exchange rates. And the ICLC does what the UKBA tells us.