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William Russell - Blog - How to Open a Bank Account in the UK as an Expat - Young woman in black top looking at her debit card in the UK

Avin Talabani

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Have you just arrived to the UK, or planning to move soon? If you’re moving for work or international studies and want to be ready for settling here, you might be eligible for a UK bank account as an expat. But why opening a bank account in the UK is essential for a non-resident if you are planning to stay here? And can you open a bank account in the UK online even without proof of residence? To answer these questions, we take a look at some of the best bank accounts for foreigners in the UK, from expat accounts to app-based banking.

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Opening a bank account in the UK as an expat

When thinking of moving to the UK, it’s important to make sure you understand how to manage your money. The good news is that there are a lot of reliable banks in the UK, so if you are moving for work, study, or retiring, there will be plenty of options for you. Whilst you can get a bank account in the UK as a foreigner – you should be aware that banks and building societies require proof of address in the UK. This can make things a little difficult when you first arrive as an expat.

We explore all of the options below, from high street banks to expat accounts to app-based banking and more.

Do you have to open a bank account as a foreigner in the UK?

Whilst you don’t legally have to open a bank account when you move to the UK, you may find it makes your life a lot easier if you do! It is not required by law to have a bank account to live in the UK (and not all British residents have one) but you may find that very few employers pay into foreign accounts or pay by cash. Also, you may see higher transaction charges for using a foreign account in shops and cash machines in the UK. Moreover, you will certainly need a bank account to pay your utility bills and get a mortgage.

If you don’t want to go down the route of opening a traditional bank account in the UK, there are alternative money management options such as:

  • Building societies
  • Credit unions
  • National Savings and Investment accounts (formerly Post Office Savings accounts)

Why is it more difficult to open a bank account in the UK as a new resident?

The proof of address detail is where people moving to the UK from abroad often hit a wall. It’s also tough if you’ve landed in the UK and live with relatives and don’t have any bills in your name or a rental contract.

What can you do to prepare for opening a bank account in the UK as a foreigner?

Before you open a UK bank account as a non-resident, you can still manage your money from your overseas account. However, to make your move to the UK as smooth as possible, you might want to:

  • check with your home bank if your debit or credit cards can be used abroad
  • make sure that you know the exact costs of transaction fees and currency exchange fees
  • double check if your home bank is able to help open a bank account in the UK for you if it has a correspondent banking relationship with a UK bank

Alternatively, some UK banks have international accounts for non-residents that can be opened up from abroad (especially in the EU), so you could open an account in advance of your move. Some banks charge monthly fees for these accounts, though, so check first and don’t open an account months in advance of moving if it will mean hefty charges.

Why is it worth opening a bank account in the UK as a non-resident?

  • If you’re planning to work in the UK, your future employer will be transferring your salary into a UK bank account.
  • It will be easier to rent a property if you can cover the costs from a UK account.
  • You’ll be charged currency conversion fees each time you use your debit card or withdraw cash in the UK.
    Currency exchange rates fluctuate, making it harder to keep to a budget.
  • You will need a local bank account for your bills, such as mobile phone contracts, gym membership and energy bills.
  • Last but not least, if you get locked out of your home bank account because you’ve forgotten your PIN code, it will be challenging to deal with it internationally as opposed to a local branch.
Find out more about dealing with your finances when living and working away from home:
read our blog on mortgages for expats

Banking in the UK if you’re a non-resident: traditional vs online banks

The UK is one of the global financial centres and its financial services sector consists of private UK banks, international banks, and publicly owned lending institutions such as building societies and credit unions.

The UK has the biggest banking sector in Europe, with 300 banks and 45 building societies. The banks available to the public are called ‘high street’ banks: the major ones include Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest, and Royal Bank of Scotland. Santander is also a big name. The biggest building society is Nationwide. Most high street banks are available online as well as on the high street.

Types of UK bank accounts

  • Current account – Usually referred to as a ‘checking account’ in the US. This is your day-to-day account, the one your main salary is paid into. Current accounts offer debit cards and, depending on your circumstances, will permit you to go overdrawn up to a set limit. Some of these accounts charge a fee, for which you get benefits in return, like cashback on your spending and/or interest on your balance when you’re in credit or roadside car insurance.
  • Basic banking accounts – these are a type of current account, mainly aimed at people with a low income or with a poor credit rating. As the name suggests, they only offer the basics. You won’t get an overdraft, for example.
  • Savings accounts – these come in different types, including regular savings accounts where current account customers get a preferential rate, and ISAs, where interest earned is protected from tax.
As a foreigner in the UK, you may benefit from having a local online bank account.

Several high street banks also provide international student bank accounts. These can offer incentives, such as cashback and gift cards, and international students may be able to apply for a small overdraft.

Some banks offer expat accounts especially designed for those living and working outside their home country. These usually have minimum income or deposit requirements.

Which documents will you need to open a UK bank account as a non-resident?

To open a UK bank account, you generally need the following two things:

  • Proof of your identity: it can be a passport, driving licence, or national identity card. In general, if you are a foreigner, you most likely will use your passport.
  • If you are an international student, you will need to show a valid study visa, a Student ID or a letter of acceptance from your university, and sometimes a bank statement from your home bank.
  • Proof of address: This is generally a recent utility bill, rental contract, council tax bill. Mobile phone bills are generally not accepted.
Will expats need COVID passports to move and travel abroad?
Find out more here

How do you open a UK bank account without proof of address?

The proof of address requirement is where foreigners and non-residents in the UK who have just arrived in the country experience difficulties. However, with the recent surge of digital app-based banks launching in the UK, there is more choice than before for you to open a bank account to make your life in the UK easier.

According to a recent study by the Finder.com, 14 million Britons have already opened accounts in digital banks, and another 6 million are thinking of opening an online bank account by the end of the year. Convenience, better terms of service and the ability to track spending in real time are the three main reasons that British users enjoy the ‘disrupters’ online banks.

If you want to open a bank-like UK account without proof of address, Wise, Monese, Revolut and Monzo are a few online services that will set up a UK account without residency. All offer UK account numbers and sort codes and debits cards you can use in retailers or pay for items online. Each service has different rules, so read the detail section for each provider to make sure you find the best service for your needs.

Note that even though you don’t have to submit proof of address, you’ll still need to supply a UK address – this is also where your debit card will be delivered.

How do you get proof of residence in the UK as an expat?

Banks and financial institutions, according to the Money Laundering Regulations 2017, are required to ask for appropriate Identity Evidence when certain financial transactions take place. By checking your ID (name) and a proof of address at your name, this minimises the chance that the account is opened under a false identity.

Banks and other financial institutions will require proof of name in the form of a current signed passport, original birth certificate, EEA member state identity card, current UK or EEA driving licence, registration card for self-employed individuals, Resident Permit issued by the Home office to EEA nationals, National Identity card or Firearms certificate.

UK banks ask customers to prove who they are and where they live in the UK before they open a bank account. Proof of address ensures that a bank account is not opened under a false identity. Each bank accepts different documents, but in general, you will be asked to show two official documents, e.g.:

  • Utility bills
  • Local authority council tax bill for the current council tax year
  • Current UK driving license
  • Bank, Building Society or Credit Union statement
  • Mortgage statement
  • Council or housing association rent card or tenancy agreement for the current year
  • Solicitors letter within the last three month confirming the property purchase (or the land registry confirmation of address)
  • HMRC self-assessment letters
  • Electoral Register entry
  • NHS Medical card

What is the easiest UK bank account to open if you’re a non-resident?

The high street banks will want to see proof of your UK address, often in the form of a Council Tax bill or utility bills in your name, before they will allow you to open an account. But expats who’ve just arrived won’t have these.

Because of this, some expats find applying for an account with an online-only bank or e-money institution (such as a fintech app) quicker and easier than with a high street bank.

As an expat, you might also want one that offers multi-currency accounts, especially if you’re a digital nomad working in different countries. Plus, you’ll probably be looking to send money back to your home country as cheaply as possible. The latter might be cheaper if you open an account with the same bank as your one at home.

Account opening requirements vary, so be sure to check the terms and conditions, but some options include:

Bank What you need to open an account Features Currency available
Monese Email address, phone number, and ID document Accounts are available in sterling, euro, and RON
Monzo Valid ID (but you will need a UK address to receive your debit card) Current account, Savings account, Travel account, Children’s account, Transfers abroad You can use it in the world without paying fees*
Revolut Valid ID Current account, Savings account, Travel account, Children’s account, Transfers abroad You can transfer money abroad in over 30 currencies with the interbank exchange rate
Wise Valid ID Offers euro bank accounts in the UK, as well as a current account with no fees for using your card overseas. Offers a multi-currency account for travellers, expats and freelancers. Plus, you can send money abroad with its money transfer service.
Starling Valid ID Current account, Travel account, Children’s account, Transfers abroad, Loans and overdrafts Offers euro bank accounts in the UK, as well as a current account with no fees for using your card overseas.
Atom Valid ID Savings account, Loans and overdrafts, Loans and overdrafts Offers euro bank accounts in the UK, as well as a current account with no fees for using your card overseas.

*please note that we are not promoting any of these accounts and you will need to make an informed decision before opening one. Subject to change. Please check their websites for full information.

Depending on your salary, it might also be worth looking at the expat accounts offered by the high street banks. These include:

  • HSBC Expat Premier account – sterling, USD and euro multi-currency accounts and exclusive foreign exchange rates. But you need a salary of £100,000 or £50,000 in an HSBC bank account.
  • Lloyds International account – a choice of sterling, USD or euro and free international money transfers. You’ll need an annual income of £50,000.
  • NatWest International Select account – pay in a minimum salary of £40,000 and manage your money on the mobile app.
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How do you choose a bank account in the UK as a non-resident?

If you are looking to open a bank account in the UK as an expat, which bank you decode to go for will depend on your own personal circumstances and what you are looking for. There are various factors you might want to take into consideration, such as:

  • Flexibility – as an expat, if you’re looking for ease of access and 24/7 banking, digital and mobile accounts are well worth considering.
  • International scope – if you want an account that will be well-linked to accounts and services overseas, you’ll need to check international and multi-currency account options as well as services such as international money transfers.
  • Potential costs – some banks may charge you for withdrawing money. You also might want to check the commission you pay for exchanging currency.
  • Range of products and services – this can range from account-related services such as credit and borrowing options to other financial services including UK mortgages, insurance in the UK, and investments.
  • Incentives – many banks will try to attract customers by offering incentives such as cash deposits or interest-free periods, so shop around to see what’s available
Do you know how much health treatment can cost away from home?
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What else do you need to consider about banking and sending money abroad in the UK as a non-resident?

Can you have a UK bank account if you don’t live in the UK?

You can simply keep your current account open if you leave the UK to live and work overseas. This might be a smart move, especially if you’re not moving permanently. There are also some accounts you can open ahead of time if you’re planning to move to the UK. It’s a good idea to check with your bank to see if they have links with UK banks as it can make doing this easier.

Mobile banking in the UK: what does it look like?

Online or mobile banking is available through mobile banking apps in the UK which can be downloaded onto smartphones and tablets. Services and features vary slightly between banks. Many offer the possibility of mobile banking for a range of accounts including current accounts, savings accounts, and business accounts.

Mobile banking features include:

  • Mobile payments, so that you can pay bills, go shopping, and make P2P payments to other mobile users.
  • Money management and budgeting tools, including keeping track of loans and investments.
  • 24/7 access to your account and instant bank mobile bank statements.
  • International money transfers to multi-currency accounts.
  • Online support including through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter
  • Enhanced security features

Not all banking services are available through apps at the moment, with mobile-only banks unlikely to offer the full range of services available through traditional banks such as loans, mortgage options, and insurance. Mobile banking in the UK is also reliant on good Wi-Fi coverage, which can be a problem in some rural and remote areas.

Can a tourist open a bank account in the UK?

No. You need a UK address to open a bank account in the UK. If you’re just passing through, a multi-currency account with one of the banking apps might be a good option.

What about sending money abroad?

There are a lot of options, so it’s important to shop around for the best rates. You might want to investigate what banking apps have to offer. A few examples include:

  • Paysend – transfer money online to over 90 countries.
  • Wise (formerly TransferWise) – rates based on the real exchange rate. Receive money for free.
  • Western Union – a huge global network and your choice of sending cash to a bank account, Western Union agent, or (in some locations) direct to a mobile number.

Can a foreigner open a bank account in the UK?

Foreigners can open a traditional bank account in the UK as long as they have proof of the address, which sometimes it’s hard to get. Good news is that there are companies like Monzo or Monese which offer UK bank account even without the proof of the address

Is it possible to have a Euro bank account in the UK?

Some UK banks offer bank account in Euro. However, the fees for such accounts are quite high. But we have good news – there is a possibility to open a bank account in Euro for free.

Thinking of moving abroad in 2021?

With the end of the pandemic in sight, there has never been a better time to think about starting a new life. In 2021, we have created a guide with a list of best places to live and move abroad for expats. Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of global health insurance. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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