How to open a business bank account in the UK as a non-resident

Panna Kemenes

The number of US-owned local businesses and employees in the UK have grown almost every year since 1997. US-owned local business units accounted for 1% of all local business units in the UK in 2019.¹

You’re not legally required to have a specific business bank account if you operate a company in the UK. However, you’ll find it swiftly becomes necessary in order to keep your personal and business finances seperate.

Luckily there are plenty of banking options, and the process is fairly simple. Here’s how to open a business bank account in the UK as a non-resident.

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Can I open a UK business bank account as a non-resident?

UK residency isn't legally required to open a business bank account. Banks, however, are wary about working with non-residents because of the extra administration and possible exposure to fraud.

If at least one resident director lives in the UK, you'll find that more banks are able to work with you.

If you don't have any company directors resident in the UK, then an international business bank account is your best option. However, this can come with a steep minimum deposit so it won’t suit everyone.

Can I open a business bank account in the UK with a foreign corporate entity?

It’s difficult to open a bank account in the UK for a foreign corporate entity. If you already bank with a large global institution in your home country, you may find that they can help you set up an account with their UK business.

HSBC has a reputation for being willing to help smaller international businesses, but accounts would be offered on a case by case basis.

A stress-free solution to getting UK business account details is to open a Wise Business account. With Wise Business you can get UK account details, such as a UK account number, sort code, and IBAN code, even as a US citizen. This means your UK customers can start paying you like a local straight away. You can also pay your UK suppliers and employees with ease at the mid-market rate, all from one account!

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What types of corporate entities are there in the UK?

The business bank accounts open to you will depend to an extent on the structure and size of your company.

Corporate entities legally accepted in the UK are:²

  • Sole Trader
  • Limited Company
  • Business Partnership

There are also legal structures specifically designed for non-profit and social enterprises.

It’s worth noting that the fine detail about business structures varies across the different countries of the UK. Business partnership liabilities, for example, are split differently in England compared with Scotland. If you’re registering a business in the UK, make sure you know the law in the region you’re working in.

Process for opening a business bank account for non UK residents

If you hit all the eligibility criteria, then the process to open a UK business bank account as a non-resident is a fairly simple process.

You'll be asked to prove your identity and address, with documents such as these:

  • Proof of ID for all named company directors - passport, photo driving license or national ID card
  • Proof of address - recent bank statement or utility bill, or council tax statement.

If you’re applying from abroad, you may be asked to provide notarised translations of your ID and documents used to prove your address.

You'll also need to give details of your company, such as:

  • Full business address (including postcode)
  • Contact details
  • Companies House registration number (for limited companies and partnerships)
  • Estimated annual turnover

In some cases, you'll need to prove your own personal financial situation, with documents to show you have a clean credit and banking history.

Can I open a UK business bank account from the US?

If you live abroad and don’t have UK residency you'll find your options for opening a business bank account are limited.

You may be able to open an account with HSBC if your directors can all travel to the UK to meet with a bank representative and present relevant documents. Long term residency isn't necessary for some HSBC accounts, which can then be managed via mobile and internet banking from overseas.

Opening an account with a banking alternative, such as Wise Business can be an easy solution to get UK business account details as a non-citizen.

Can I open a UK business bank account online?

Most high street banks require you to present ID and documentation in person, making it difficult to open a business bank account entirely online. In many cases, you can start the application online or on the phone, but still need to present documents in branch at a later stage.

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional banks, you can open a Wise Business account online. Wise Business offers UK details for residents and non-residents alike. No need to wait in line or book appointments.

Which UK business bank should I choose as a non-resident?

The UK has a huge retail and commercial banking sector, which is dominated by the ‘Big Four’:

  • HSBC
  • Barclays
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group

Santander sits as the fifth largest bank by volume in the UK.

Each bank will have slightly different products available, so read the terms and conditions carefully.

HSBC

HSBC is a global bank with 4400 offices in over 7 countries across the world. In the UK they offer business accounts to limited companies, partnerships, sole traders and charities.

Barclays

Whatever size business you run, Barclays has an account for you. They work with limited companies, partnerships and sole traders, and with 1444 branches in the UK, you’ll probably find one close by.

Lloyds Banking Group

Lloyds offers business accounts to limited companies, partnerships, sole traders and charities, with an annual turnover of up to £1 million.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group

RBS has just under 500 branches in the UK and cover the world through a network of international offices. They have bank accounts aimed at limited companies, partnerships, sole traders and charities.

UK business banking fees and charges

Before you open your business bank account in the UK as a non-redsident, it's important to read the small print carefully - especially the section on banking fees and charges.

It’s common to find monthly account handling charges and fixed fees for banking transactions. Even when these fees look small, they can build up over time.

As a US company, you may need to make international money transfers. It’s worth paying special attention to the fees applied when you move money or make direct payments between accounts that use different currencies.

Many UK banks don't offer a good deal to their customers when making international money transfers. Often they'll add a high initial ‘admin’ charge for processing the transaction, as well as steep transaction fees. These may be fixed fees or a percentage of the amount transferred.

Instead of a transparent, up-front fee, you might find that your bank’s profit is rolled into a poor exchange rate. If your bank applies an exchange rate which is worse than the mid-market rate, then you lose out as the true cost of your transfer is higher than it needs to be.

To make sure your bank isn’t taking an extra cut, you can use an online currency converter to check the actual value of your money before you transfer internationally.

    💡 If you do make a transfer, you might consider using an alternative service such as Wise Business.
    Wise has no monthly fee and uses the mid-market exchange rate you can find on Google. Since your international transfer is made with two local transfers in each respective country, large SWIFT transfer fees are also cut out, leaving you with more money.
    Wise Business offers one account for over 40 currencies, and all the tools to make managing business finances easier.

Get started with Wise Business 🚀


Sources:

  1. The role of United States-owned businesses in the United Kingdom (executive summary) - GOV.UK
  2. https://www.gov.uk/business-legal-structures/overview

All sources checked September 26, 2022.


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