Opening a UK Bank Account for Expats

This is the third step in our list of things to do when you move to the UK. Last time we looked at where to find apartments in the UK, and why it’s important to start looking for a place right away. This week we look at opening a UK bank account, which you’ll need to get before you move on to our final step, finding a job. If you want a job, you’ll need a bank account. Most jobs deposit your pay straight into your account via direct deposit, so good luck getting paid without one!

This was probably the hardest point on the list to do, other than maybe finding a job; it took us three tries before we found one that would let us open an account with the limited documentation we had. Most banks want you to have both proof of address and a piece of European identification to open an account, and if you don’t have a lease or any bills under your name, or a National Insurance number, you probably wont have even a proof of address.

Documentation Required

Opeining a UK bank account wis a good alternative to storing your money in a burlap sack

Opening a UK bank account is a good alternative to storing your money in a burlap sack.
Image © Copyright 401(K) 2013 and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0

We first tried to open an account with Santander. They were the first bank we saw when we were walking around, so we figured we’d give them a go. The friendly employee we spoke to quickly dashed our hopes.

If you want to open a basic bank account with Santander, they require two pieces of ID. Your international passport counts as one piece, but they won’t accept any other form of international identification. The Canadian IDs we had replaced before coming to the UK were of no use to us there (and, it turns out, for anything. But that’s a whole other story).

The other option was to use the letter you’re sent when you apply for your National Insurance Number, but that can take a few weeks to get itself, and regardless, we didn’t have it yet.

We scratched Santander off our list and headed to the Royal Bank of Scotland. Again they needed proof that we were living in the country. All we wanted to do was open an account to put some money in – seems like it should be easy, right? But even with a place to live, we had no lease or bills under our names to prove to them that we live in the United Kingdom. What we needed was a bank that requires as little documentation as possible.

Find a Bank that Doesn’t Require Proof of Address

Which led us to the last bank we tried, Barclays. They told us that we could open an account with only our Canadian passports. We were in luck – except that they require you to make an appointment to open the account, which we couldn’t get for another two weeks. The irony.

When the appointment finally came, it was quick. It only took about twenty minutes, and went off without a hitch. Of course, that wasn’t the end of our waiting; we had to wait another five or so days to receive our cards in the mail.

We’ve now had our Barclays account for two months and have not had any problems with them. They also have branches located all over the UK, which is good to have if you don’t plan on spending all your time in one place in the UK.

Opening a UK bank account was probably the hardest thing we had to do once we moved here. We would suggest doing this just after you get a place to live, since it could take about three to four weeks for the whole process. The next step is to get a National Insurance Number, so you can get a job.


Have you ever had difficulties opening a bank account abroad?


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