I’ve been living in Manchester for seven months now, and since I landed a job I have stopped sharing my experience about the practicalities that each expat must encounter when moving to UK and setting up a new life. However, I want to live up to my promises and would love to help with some advice. This time – what it takes to open up a bank account in the UK.
The very first practicality to take care of was getting my National Insurance Number (NIN) – I have described all this process in this blog post. Even though it might seem a long process, I had no idea that opening a bank account might be more difficult, and sometimes seem even impossible.
The first thing I did was to do a research and find out what I need to open a bank account. Most resources told me I need two main things – evidence of my identity and confirmation of my UK address, also called as ‘proof of address’. I had no problems providing the first one as I had a passport and an ID card, however, the second bit was tricky.
The more I looked, it seemed that sometimes the ‘proof of address’ is the most valuable document you can have besides your ID. As an EU national, I don’t need a visa, a living and work permit or anything the like, but ‘proof of address’ is mandatory when living in the UK. Especially if you want to deal with such practicalities like opening a bank account.
The importance of the ‘proof of address’ in the process of opening a bank account shows when you just do a simple Google search for the phrase – quite a few first page results directly or indirectly relate to opening a bank account. I had to find out a way how to make this happen.
What Is a Proof Of Address?
The UK government has published this list of possible documents (link opens as a downloadable Word doc), and here’s another source from moneyfacts.co.uk. The list includes household utility bills, current and valid UK driving licence, bank or credit card statement, local authority tax bill, current tenancy agreement and some others.
Hah, but that can be interesting… How can you possibly have one of those if you have just arrived, have no bank account and haven’t received any bills on your name? Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position where I could provide any of these – I was still looking for a job, had no UK driving licence, no banking statements or tax bills, and the tenancy agreement had mysteriously disappeared somewhere as none of my flatmates could locate it.
The only thing I could think of that had my name and address on it was the letter I received with my NIN number. Could that possibly serve as a ‘proof of address’? From what I had read on other expat blogs – it was worth the try.
I only had to find a bank that would be the friendliest to foreigners like me…
Which Bank to Choose?
Opening a bank account in the UK is not an easy thing to do when you’re an expat – that’s the general mood I got from reading more and more about this. All banks without exceptions will ask you ‘proof of address’, but what’s worse – some of them won’t even consider opening a bank account for you if you don’t have a job yet.
But this, thankfully, is not a mission impossible. There are banks who go easier on foreigners – I would suggest you do your own research to find the bank that would best serve your needs, especially if you have no problems providing the documents required. My choice was easy – the research I did indicate Barclays to be the friendliest bank for expats, so I went for it.
What Else Do You Need to Open an Account?
First, you will need to make an appointment at your local branch. I’m sure you can phone in, however, I just went to the nearest Barclays branch in Chorlton, two minutes away from the first flat I lived in.
First, I needed to fill out an application form – be prepared to provide various details about you, your income, expenses, past several home addresses, ID numbers etc. Second, I made an appointment to come in again a few days later. In some cases it might even take weeks – I was lucky to be squeezed in between two other appointments. They also informed me what documents should I bring – passport or ID card and a ‘proof of address’.
I think I got quite lucky as the lady who met me for my appointment was really nice, very understanding and helpful. And surprisingly enough, she accepted my NIN letter as ‘proof of address’ without even doubting it. She did question me where I’ve lived since arriving in the UK, but just to take notice of all my addresses in the UK.
The questions I was not really prepared to answer were about my expenses and… income. I was well aware of my expenditures, and also knew how much savings I had left, but I didn’t realize I needed to paint a certain picture. That is – so my expenses are not exceeding my income. But the lady quickly jumped to my help – she hinted me to account for the savings as monthly income and helped me do the math to make the numbers look right.
She also helped me set up my Mobile Banking app and suggested other services that might interest me, but was never pushing for anything. And, as a Latvian who has always paid bank account fees, I was happy to learn that I won’t have to spend anything just to keep the account open. The appointment lasted some 30 minutes, and I left the Barclays branch as their newest customer.
When You Have Settled In…
Now that I have a job and can present more than one ‘proof of income’, I could think about switching to another bank. However, I’m satisfied with the service I currently have.
I would love to hear what was your experience with opening a bank account in the UK? Or perhaps elsewhere abroad?
Photos: Barclays & from personal archive.
Note: This post originally appeared on Expat in MCR (expatinmcr.com) blog which has since been renamed to Dream Chaser (dreamchaserwrites.com).