Is there a shortcut to open a bank account in the UK?
June 1, 2010 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving from Canada to the UK and just have one giant, bank sized hurdle that just refuses to be jumped over. Help?

I'm moving to the UK from Canada in three weeks. I'm a dual citizen, so don't have to go through quite so many hurdles as I would if I didn't have UK citizenship, but the banking system is just getting on my nerves.

There seems to be companies to help with this, but I don't know if they're trustworthy, and the only ones I can find service Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. NOT Canada. (ex: here)

For those of you who have emigrated from North America to the UK and have found a way to bypass the headache that is the UK banking system, PLEASE share your wisdom! I've got relatives trying to work on the banks on the other side of the ocean, I've got a letter of introduction from my bank, and I've got statements being sent to my granddad's house to *try* desperately to prove that I'm living there. Probably won't work. I need some help.
posted by Planet F to Work & Money (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't actually say what the issue is.

Why do you need a bank account before you get there? Last time I opened a bank account in the UK, I just needed proof of ID (do you have a UK passport?) and proof of address. That should give you a basic bank account, but not necessarily credit cards or overdrafts/cheque cards etc. although with a letter from your bank these should be easy.

You should be able to open a bank account relatively easily if you are a UK citizen, but not necessarily without you being there. Is there any reason you can't just do this when you arrive?
posted by Brockles at 7:43 AM on June 1, 2010

Can you wait until you get to the UK to open your account?

Once you have a UK address I presume those hurdles would disappear?
posted by Simon_ at 7:44 AM on June 1, 2010

Usually your first employer will write you a letter of introduction. In my opinion it's hopeless to try to open an account before you go there; you need to show ID and give your tax details. They want to be sure that you won't be evading taxes or laundering money.
posted by ask me please at 7:49 AM on June 1, 2010

Also, if one bank acts snotty, just walk out and try another. It's been my experience that your experience will vary depending on who you talk to.
posted by gadha at 7:49 AM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Ok, so here's the problem:

I have the proof of ID, and my grandpa is willing to let me use his place as my "permanent address" until I can find a better place.

BUT: all the documents which they will accept as proving my address in the UK (bank statements, utilities bills, etc) require me to FIRST have a bank account in the UK... it's sort of a never ending cycle of paperwork.

Talking to my bank and other people who have made the move, the UK banking system is the most difficult to navigate, so I'm just trying to see if I can find an easier way! If there isn't one, then I'm resigned to live off cash from my Canadian account until I can wrestle an account out of a UK bank, but some jobs require a UK bank account, and so do rented accomodations. *sigh*
posted by Planet F at 7:51 AM on June 1, 2010

HSBC has an international savings account option which allows you to withdraw money at a decent exchange rate at any HSBC branch in the world with no additional fees (there are relatively modest monthly account fees). When I moved from Canada to the Netherlands, I just put all my funds into such an account and then sorted the rest out when I arrived.

So I guess I'm echoing the other answers. Is there some particular reason that you need to have an account set up before you arrive in the UK? These things are usually a lot easier in the flesh.
posted by 256 at 7:52 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

A binding offer for tenancy would probably do it. (Though it sounds like that will be an issue.)

When we moved to the UK in late 2003, we had a signed tenancy agreement with the university's accommodations service. That sufficed for Lloyds TSB at the time.

Do you yet have your national insurance number? I believe that the a letter from them would suffice. It's also possible that the NHS card (sent to your address when you first register with a local GP) would also do.

Have you called any local branches to ask what they would accept? If you ring one near a university you might get some useful advice: every Sept/Oct they deal with dozens of new foreign undergrads with similar proof of identity/residency issues.

Good luck!
posted by joeycoleman at 8:09 AM on June 1, 2010

Came in to second the suggestion to look into HSBC. They have a service for just this sort of issue. I've used them to handle account moves between the US, Australia, and the UK.
posted by qwip at 8:12 AM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: joeycoleman: That's good advice about asking a university branch, I've always found that banks near unis are much more accomodating.

The National insurance number (although I don't have one) is no longer acceptable, neither is the NHS card... they've further upped the anti on what is acceptable. My UK relatives are talking to banks now, and my aunt moved relatively recently to the UK from Poland, and had the same issues as me.
posted by Planet F at 8:13 AM on June 1, 2010

I've heard that the rules have gotten worse since we arrived; I'm pretty sure my wife used either her NHS card or NI letter to get her account (as her name wasn't on the tenancy offer). How things change in 7 years.

I just too a quick look on Directgov and they mention (in one of the linked PDFs) that other options may be available for international students, migrant workers, etc, but that you should talk to the institution in question.
posted by joeycoleman at 8:22 AM on June 1, 2010

Ok here's what you do.
Get an apartment, move in. Get water/electricity - you can choose to pay online or in person - they don't require bank details for this. Next, call them up and ask them to send you a bill straight away. Use this to establish proof of address.
posted by gadha at 8:23 AM on June 1, 2010

When I moved from North America to the UK, I also encountered hurdles, but everything worked out in the long run (which in my case meant by about a month after arriving here).

After discussing my situation with banks and estate agents, I completed the bank account paperwork, found a flat via a high street agent, paid 6 months' rent up front (via bank transfer from my overseas account, as I recall it), and then walked over to the bank and gave them the signed tenancy agreement to copy. Delivery of the tenancy agreement triggered the opening of the account.

One thing to note is that everything took lots of time. Whereas I had walked away from setting up an account in NYC with a checkbook in hand, it took many days to get a debit card, PIN, chequebook, etc. here. Each piece came separately, on separate postal days.

I used Citibank, since I already had a US Citibank account. They had more branches in London at the time than they do now.

Do you have an AmEx card? I was able to get a UK AmEx card quite quickly once I had moved here, since I had already had an AmEx card in the US for some time. There was a form that I needed to fill out and send in that was specifically for such international moves. Getting the UK AmEx card was a big help.

A final note: before I left for London, I got a bank draft (out of funds in my account) for £8,000, thinking that this would be useful to use as a deposit when opening a new account. It was not at all useful. In fact, once I had the UK account open, it took days for the funds to clear, even though it was a bank draft from Citibank in NY and I had deposited it at Citibank in the UK.
posted by sueinnyc at 8:28 AM on June 1, 2010

I moved to the UK last year. Barclays only required a friend's address. No bills, etc. Cards took a few days to arrive in the mail, but we could access the account over the counter almost immediately.

However, I could not transfer my credit to the UK, and so I have not got a credit card still, after a year. Amazed to heard that sueinnyc was able to move her Amex credit, as I sure wasn't able to from Australia.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:32 AM on June 1, 2010

Ok here's what you do.
Get an apartment, move in.

This is going to be hard without a bank account - UK landlords often run credit checks for single-occupancy apartments, you will need to pay your deposit by cheque or bank transfer (never ever ever do this in cash) and without a bank account, that's going to be tricky.

I have the opposite problem - my passport has expired, I don't and can't have any other form of photo ID, and it was a pain to get my address changed in branch recently. Especially given that it takes six weeks and £80 to get a renewal!
posted by mippy at 8:38 AM on June 1, 2010

I lived temporarily in the UK for three months. I was able to open (and routinely use) an HSBC account for all my needs. It wasn't a savings account but an international US checking account. I'm sure that HSBC services the UK. I opened and did all of this online before I left. The branch-folk in the UK were just as helpful if I had opened a UK account. Pretty sure this is a route you could follow.
posted by msbutah at 9:32 AM on June 1, 2010

Replace the UK in "I'm sure that HSBC services the UK" with CA .... my mistake for getting distracted whilst posting.
posted by msbutah at 9:34 AM on June 1, 2010

Re: HSBC - I tried to get an international account with them in 2000 when I first was going to the UK as an exchange student and women I talked with in their Vancouver branch accused me of trying to commit fraud or something. Maybe it was because I was young, or the reception was a cow, but I think this option is problematic.

It will be easier to get a bank account when you're there. I used a letter from my uni residences, but the Know Your Customer regulations are pretty standard in developed countries: you need to prove a physical address. Could your uncle draw up a rental contract for you and charge you a nominal rent so you could use the rental contract as a proof of address?
posted by Kurichina at 10:05 AM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Kurichina: That's actually not a solution we had thought of, but it could possibly work. Thanks! And yeah, I have no knowledge of HSBC and don't really see that it's necessary when I can keep my Canadian account open as long as I need.
posted by Planet F at 10:15 AM on June 1, 2010

I was there before. A rental contract from your grandfather is probably fine, especially if it looks official and you don't have the same last name. An employment contract is good too. But what I did was have my bank in Holland send the statements to my new UK address. That counted as an official document and went through without problem. Which is very stupid, but hey.
posted by Spanner Nic at 10:58 AM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Spanner Nic: I'm having my bank statements sent to my grandpa's place already, so you just made me feel about 99x better about my chances. Hopefully it will work for me too!
posted by Planet F at 11:03 AM on June 1, 2010

Scroll down to HSBC Passport
posted by K.P. at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2010

Wait, no, scratch that--it has a 8quid monthly fee for 12 months.
posted by K.P. at 1:49 PM on June 1, 2010

I was able to get one in 2003 with just a letter from my employer/landlord. I'm sure a letter from your grandfather will work. If it doesn't at one bank, try another.
posted by Gor-ella at 2:06 PM on June 1, 2010

When I moved to the UK last year, all I needed was to redirect 3 months worth of my US account's bank statements to the address I was planning to live in, so that they were addressed to me at that address. It helped that I opened the account in the presence of someone who already had a longstanding account there.
posted by tavegyl at 1:48 AM on June 2, 2010

It might pay to look into whether any local banks (or other financial institutions like bureau de changes) have links with their UK counterparts. I know of a number of people who have set up full UK accounts from New Zealand by simply filling in a form and transferring a sum of money into the account before they left. This was roughly 2000 or 2001 so may well be out of date, but I think the amount required was 500 pounds and this option was definitely available through HSBC. I'm afraid I can't remember the company from the NZ end, but it was a financial institution rather than a "travelers assistance" company and was not a service that they actively advertised. You could speak to a local travel agent to see if they have any information.

I would definitely advise you to look into this as much as you can before you leave as (in my experience) an account opened before you get to the UK will provide access to a full range of services (e.g: credit cards etc if wanted), whereas if you wait till you arrive you may struggle to access to such services or indeed struggle for months just to get any kind of account set up.

As noted in comments above, not everyone who moves to the UK struggles to get an account, but I know many who have had problems and they assure me there is no hell like that created by UK bank & govt bureaucracy! ("can't get a bank account without a flat" / "can't get a flat (or job) without a bank account" / "can't get a national insurance number without a job")

This link seems to suggest that 1st contact and other companies do offer such a service to Canadians, and could be worth investigating if nothing else works. I have never dealt with 1st Contact personally, but they are fairly well known in the travelers assistance industry so if you contact them directly you should be in safe (if overpriced) hands.

Feel free to Memail me if you continue to have problems and I can try to dig out the name of the company in NZ if you think it may help.
posted by urban greeting at 6:05 AM on June 2, 2010

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