Here’s all you need to know about foreign currency accounts with Bank of Sydney. The fees requirements and foreign exchange rates.
Every year thousands of Australians head to the UK with most holidaymakers being return visitors.¹ If you’re planning to go there for more than just a quick visit then there are a few logistical things to consider. One is banking.
When spending long periods of time in a foreign country it’s always a good idea to consider whether it is worth getting some local account details. So let’s take a look at what your options are for opening an account in the United Kingdom and if an online alternative like Wise might be simpler.
|💸 Keep over 40 currencies and get personalised account details for currencies like AUD, EUR, USD, GBP & CAD – Send and receive payments from abroad like a local|
There are many different banks in the United Kingdom but like Australia some are more popular than others. Here’s who’s considered the “Big Four” banks in the UK.²
- Barclays UK
- HSBC UK
As an Australian you can open a bank account in the United Kingdom, but how easy it is depends on your circumstances and whether or not you’re a UK resident (or plan to become one).
Becoming a resident of the UK, if you intend to stay there for the foreseeable future will highly simplify the process of opening an account there, as you will get the needed documentation traditional banks look for.
You could also turn to more flexible online financial solutions like Wise. The Wise Account provides you local account details in GBP, which can be used to receive and make payments just like a local in the UK.
Start by choosing a bank and account that you meet the eligibility criteria for. Once you’ve done this you can start the application process.
Many UK banks offer customers the option to apply online. Here’s an overview of how that process generally works.
- Head to their website and look on the home screen or account page for an application button
- Follow the prompts to provide your personal information and documentation
- The bank may do a credit check against your name before approval, if you now live in the UK³
Once your account is approved the bank will send you some form of confirmation and you’ll be able to start using it.
Depending on the bank you may also be able to apply using one of these methods, keeping in mind that the criteria and required documentation should be the same.
- At a branch
- Over the phone
- Through the bank’s mobile app
|Read more: best GBP accounts in Australia|
Each UK bank has lists of documents and information that are required to open a certain type of account. In general, you’ll be asked for your personal details, proof of identity and proof of address.
Here’s some of the personal information you could be asked for.
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Current and historical addresses
- Contact information
- Employment status and income
- Any major expenditures you have like loans, rent and bills
Proving your identity should be relatively straightforward because Australian passports can be accepted.⁴ Alternatively you could provide a UK or EU drivers licence or UK biometric residence permit.
Proof of address can be more tricky, especially if you’re not settled yet, but here’s what might be acceptable.⁴
- A full UK, EU or EEA drivers licence with your current address
- A bank statement from any physical bank listing your UK address
- UK electricity, gas or landline bill from within the last 3 months
- Letter from a parent or guardian who is already with the bank
- A HRMC tax notification from within the last 12 months
- Credit card statement from a UK provider issued within the last 3 months
An important consideration when opening a new bank account is the fees you’ll be charged. To know exactly what you’ll be charged you need to check the relevant fee schedules, but here’s what you could be in for.
In general, UK banks usually don’t charge monthly fees for their everyday current accounts. These accounts usually allow you to send and receive GBP in the UK for free and have low or no fees for sending Euros within the European Economic Area.⁸
You may likely need to do some international transfers and currency conversions. High street bank fees for this type of transaction can get quite expensive, especially since you can be charged multiple ways for a single transaction. Here’s a few things to look out for when you’re reading the fee schedules.
- Flat rate or percentage fees from the sending bank
- Flat rate or percentage fees from the receiving bank
- Fees for using the SWIFT code system
- Mark up on the exchange rate
- Fee differences for initiating the transfer online, over the phone or at a branch
|Read more: best foreign currency accounts in Australia|
Many UK banks don’t charge for sterling ATM withdrawals or using your debit card for GBP transactions within the United Kingdom.
Where you’ll generally face fees is for making an ATM withdrawal or debit card payment in a foreign currency. To give you an idea, Barclays UK charge a fee of 2.99% for either of these actions.⁸
Overall this means using a UK bank card when travelling to nearby European countries or going back to Australia for a visit is probably not the most cost effective solution.
If you don’t qualify to open a normal UK bank account don’t stress, there are a few alternatives out there.
Some banks offer accounts that cater specifically to international students studying in the UK. These accounts often have modified documentation requirements to make it easier to apply.
One example is the International Student Account with HSBC UK.⁵ If you’re an Australian student living and studying in the UK this is all you have to take to a local HSBC UK branch for proof of identity and address.
- Proof of Identity - Valid Australian Passport
- Proof of Address - Letter from your university or college confirming you accepted a place at their institution (Dated within 3 months)
If you’re unable to meet the proof of address requirements then one option is to open a non resident or international account. Not all banks offer these and the downside is they can be very expensive.
For example, Barclays offers an International Bank Account which you can open in GBP as a non-UK resident, but you need to hold a minimum of £100,000 (or equivalent) across your Barclays accounts.⁶
Without a UK address the easiest option might be joining an online financial service provider that offers accounts to Australians. Here are some available to Australian residents.
When choosing which service provider is right for you, you’ll want to see who offers the most for you living in the UK. Here’s an idea of what to look for.
- Can you convert, store and send GBP?
- Is there a card you can use for daily spending in GBP?
- What are the fees and rates for exchanging AUD and GBP?
- Do you get GBP account details that you can use in the UK?
If you look online you’ll notice that many Australian banks appear to have a presence in the UK. Unfortunately, according to the Australian High Commission UK these banks don’t offer over the counter banking assistance to visiting Australians.⁷
- Commonwealth Bank
There are some international banks that have a presence in Australia and the UK, such as HSBC. If you're with one of these banks it’s worth seeing if there’s a way you can open a UK account as an extension of the account you already hold in Australia.
Opening a UK bank account can be a bit of a process that’s made more difficult if you aren’t considered a resident yet. The good news is there’s an easier way to get setup to send and receive GBP, and you can do it before you even leave Australia.
The Wise Account from Wise — while not a bank account — enables you to store over 40 international currencies and get local account details for a number of different countries, including AUD, GBP, NZD, EUR and USD. You can use these to easily transfer your money to Wise or get paid by others..
You’ll also avoid high international transaction fees and get access to the mid-market rate on all conversions. The best part - you can open and manage your Wise account completely online.
Join over 13 million customers currently using Wise.
- Visit Britain - Australia
- Financial Time - Pandemic seals dominance of UK’s biggest banks
- HSBC UK - HSBC Advance Bank Account
- Barclays UK - What do you need to open a bank account?
- HSBC UK - HSBC Bank Account for international students
- Barclays - International Bank Account
- Australian High Commission United Kingdom - Offices of Australian Banks in London
- Barclays UK - Fee Information Document
Sources checked on: 3 April 2023
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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