How to open a bank account in the UK as an American

Gabriela Peratello

If you travel often to the UK, having a GBP bank account can be handy to cut costs. And if you’re moving there for the longer term, it’s pretty much an essential to let you manage your money day to day and access services like a cell phone, home internet and more.

The UK attracts many Americans each year, to work, study or travel for extended periods. If you’re one of them, you need this guide to opening a bank account in the UK as an American.

📑 Table of Contents

move-and-manage-your-money

Can a US citizen open a bank account in the UK?

Yes. You can open a UK bank account as a foreigner in a few different ways. The options open to you will vary depending on whether you’re a UK resident (or intend to become one), or are looking to open a non-resident GBP account.

If you’re a UK resident, opening a bank account in Britain is pretty straightforward. Major banks require a UK proof of address for verification which can be tricky as a new arrival — but online banks and specialist providers can often offer a more flexible verification process which means you’ll find a great account even if you don’t have traditional UK proof of address documents to hand just yet.

Can you get a bank account for non-UK residents?

GBP non-resident accounts are available from many of the major British highstreet banks. However, these are usually set up as ‘international’ accounts which are aimed at high wealth individuals, and require fairly high minimum balances.

An alternative is to open an online GBP account with a specialist provider, such as Wise or Revolut, which can use your US proof of identity and address to verify your account before you arrive in the UK¹⁶. More on digital account options for the UK coming up later.

How to open a bank account in UK as a US citizen: step by step

If you’re already a resident of the UK, you can probably open a bank account online as long as you have an acceptable proof of identity and can provide details and proof of your UK address.

If you don’t have all the paperwork required it’s worth calling into a bank to check what documents are accepted as banks may be able to offer a more flexible service in the branch.

Alternatively, online and digital providers are also usually well set up to support newcomers who may not have all the documents a long term resident would.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to open an account online¹:
  1. Choose the bank and account for you

  2. Download the provider app or head to their desktop site to apply

  3. Complete your personal information following the online prompts

  4. Upload a copy of your identity and address documents — you may also need to upload a selfie, video or complete a video call with the bank to confirm your identity

  5. The bank may run a credit check to complete verification

  6. Once your account is approved you’ll receive your card and other account information in the mail to your home address

It’s worth noting that different banks have different processes and requirements — and depending on the account type you want to open, the information needed can be quite in depth, including¹:

  • Your personal details like your date of birth, nationality, and marriage status

  • Your current and historical address details — you may be asked to provide addresses for the last 3 years

  • Your contact details

  • Your income and what job you do

  • Your outgoings on things like bills, mortgages and rent

What ID (and other documents) do you need to open a bank account in the UK?

Most major UK banks ask you to provide proof of your identity and your UK address¹.

This applies both in branch and online. Proving your identity is simple. You just need your passport, driving license or identity card (if you’re an EU national). You’ll also have to prove your address by providing another document.

Every bank has its own list of what documents are acceptable as proof of address. Broadly speaking, however, these include:

  • A tenancy agreement or mortgage statement;
  • A recent electricity or gas bill (less than 3 months old);
  • A recent (less than 3 months old) bank or credit card statement that’s not printed off the internet; or
  • A current council tax bill.

Banks can be more flexible in certain situations. For example, if you’re in the UK to study, many banks will accept a letter from your University’s admissions office confirming your address.

Or if you’re coming to the UK to join family who are already there, they may accept a letter from a family member who already banks with them, as a good faith proof of your address.

Is it possible to open a bank account before getting to the United Kingdom?

Yes, you can. In fact you’ve got a couple of options. Many major UK banks including Barclays², Lloyds³, HSBC⁴ and NatWest⁵ have so-called ‘international’ accounts.

These accounts typically come with perks like personal account management and investment advice — but you’ll usually have to make a big initial deposit and commit to paying in a minimum amount of money each month. Some banks will also charge you a monthly fee in addition to these requirements.

As an alternative to this, if you need to open a bank account in the UK before you arrive, you may be better off looking at specialist digital accounts offered by UK banks and modern providers. We’ll look at some of these later.

What are some of the best banks in the UK?

The banking industry in the UK is very competitive, and all the UK’s major banks have a range of products for different types of customers. Whether you’re a student, a professional or a business owner, you’re bound to find something to suit your needs.

The UK’s largest banks — Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC or RBS/NatWest — have a large branch network and usually offer comprehensive account options with online and mobile banking, plus loans, credit, insurance, mortgages and more.

If you’re looking for a one stop shop for your UK finances, these providers may suit you. Here’s a look at each of them.

Barclays Bank UK⁶

Barclays is one of the oldest banks in the UK; and has more than 1500 branches around the country.

It’s also probably one of the easiest banks to open an account with if you’re new to the UK, as long as you’re legally resident and have a biometric residence permit.

Here are some of the things you can expect with Barclays:


  • Full range of current and savings accounts, loans, mortgages, and credit

  • Credit cards including reward and cash back cards

  • 24/7 ATMs at almost all UK branches

  • Barclays is a member of the Global ATM Alliance, which may make it easier to get cheap or free international withdrawals


Lloyds Bank UK⁷

Lloyds is the largest provider of current accounts in the UK, and has about 1,300 branches throughout the country. It’s another established bank with a rich history, and one of the UK’s ‘Big 4’.

Opening a Lloyds bank account is fairly easy, even if you have just arrived in the UK.

Here’s a few highlights of Lloyds services:


  • Current accounts for individuals, students, businesses and more

  • Strong branch and ATM network for easy access

  • Credit cards and loans

  • Savings accounts, ISAs (tax efficient saving products) and wealth management

  • Retirement accounts and insurance


HSBC UK⁸

A well known global name, HSBC has more than 1,100 branches around England and Wales, but a lower number in Scotland and Northern Ireland, plus a presence in more than 80 countries around the world.

If you bank with HSBC in your home country, they can help you set up an account in the UK before you get here.

Here are a few of the options available with HSBC:


  • Current and savings accounts, including specialist accounts for children

  • Credit cards, secured and consumer loans and mortgages

  • Range of premium banking options, which offer perks in exchange for holding higher minimum balances and meeting eligibility criteria

  • Investment and retirement advice and planning support

  • Business and international services


RBS⁹/NatWest¹⁰

The RBS Group owns the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. Because they’re part of the same group, both the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have broadly similar products.

However, most of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s 700 branches are located in Scotland, whilst NatWest has over 1,400 branches all over the UK. The group is partly owned by the UK government.

Here are some things to look out for:


  • Full range of bank accounts for individuals, businesses, corporations and high wealth clients

  • Mortgages, overdrafts, credit cards and consumer loans, including buy now, pay later products

  • Savings and investments

  • Online and mobile banking, as well as a strong branch and ATM network


What are the best online banks in the UK? (And other great alternatives)

We’ve mentioned that there are a few online and digital services which may be worth considering — especially if you want to sign up for a flexible GBP account before you arrive in the UK. Here are a few to look at:

Monzo¹¹

Monzo is a UK licensed digital bank, which offers personal, joint and business accounts, including products aimed at teenagers. There’s also a range of credit and loan options, and many accounts come with linked cards which are on the MasterCard network. This makes it easy to spend in the UK and internationally, and make ATM withdrawals whenever you need to.

Monese¹²

Monese isn’t a bank, but it’s licensed as an electronic money institution in the UK and is as safe as a bank for the services it offers. You can get personal or business accounts, which come with linked cards for withdrawals and spending. Accounts range from free to premium products which attract a monthly fee.

An alternative to banks: meet Wise

In most cases, if you’re opening an account with a UK bank or specialist provider, you’ll only be able to hold a GBP account. An alternative to help you while living between the US and UK is to look at a multi-currency account with a provider like Wise. Wise is not a bank, but a Money Services Business (MSB) provider and a smart alternative to banks.

Personal Wise accounts are free to open, and can hold and exchange 40+ currencies, spend with the linked Wise international card in over 150 countries, send payments to 40+ currencies, and receive local bank account details in 9 global currencies. There’s no minimum balance, no monthly fee¹⁷, and currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate.

💡 Did you know that Wise also offers a business account?

Some key features of Wise Business include:
  • Better visibility and organization of business finances. This is helpful for account reconciliations and audits
  • Major local account details for a simple one-off fee to receive international payments with ease
  • No monthly account fees or minimum balance requirements
  • Receive payments from e-commerce platforms such as Amazon or via Stripe
  • Create invoices using the free Wise invoice generator or invoice templates
  • Accounting integrations, including a QuickBooks Bill Pay connection
  • Batch payment options. Fast payment of up to 1,000 people

Discover the difference between
Wise Business vs Personal

Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing  for the most up to date pricing and fee information

Costs and fees of United Kingdom bank accounts

You can get a basic current account at no monthly cost from most high street banks. This should be more than enough for your everyday banking needs.

Most banks also have premium accounts that offer additional benefits such as cashback on household bills, in-credit interest and insurance.

Let’s take a look at some common costs for the providers we’ve explored above. We’ll compare one online multi-currency account — Wise — against digital account provider Monese, Barclays as a ‘Big 4’ highstreet bank, and HSBC Expat services as an international account option from a traditional bank.

ServiceWiseMonese¹³Barclays¹⁴HSBC Expat¹⁵
Currencies covered50+ currencies including GBP, USD and EURGBP, EUR and RONGBP

Current accounts in GBP, USD and EUR

Savings accounts in 19 currencies

Opening fee0 GBP0 GBP0 GBPMinimum balance: 15,000 GBP — 50,000 GBP
Fall below fee0 GBP0 GBP0 GBP15 GBP — 35 GBP
Maintenance fee0 GBPUp to 14.95 GBP/month0 GBPWaived if minimum balance is maintained
ATM fees
    2 free withdrawals a month, to a set limit, with low fees after that¹⁷
    Wise will not charge you for these withdrawals, but some additional charges may occur from independent ATM networks.
1.5 GBP per withdrawal, some account plans offer limited levels of free withdrawalsATM fees may apply depending on the accountATM fees may apply depending on the account
Spending overseasNo foreign transaction fee2% foreign transaction fee2.99%2.75% foreign transaction fee
International transfersLow fee, varies by currencyUp to 2.5% of transfer value

Free for online payments, 25 GBP for in branch or phone transfers

Exchange rate markup applies

Online transfers up to 5 GBP + third party charges + exchange rate markup
Wondering how much the banking fees will cost you in USD? Check out the conversion calculator below:

Send money to and from your UK bank account in just a few clicks with Wise

send-money

If you’re moving to the UK and need to make payments from USD to GBP, check out low cost international transfers from Wise.

Wise offers fast, secure transfers all over the world, which use the mid-market exchange rate with no hidden fees¹⁷. 45%+ of transfers are instant¹⁸, so your money can be moving faster compared with a regular bank — with lower overall costs and a better exchange rate.

You can also open a Wise Account to access local GBP details — even before you land in the UK. Get your account set up ahead of time, with multi-currency functionality, a linked international debit card, easy global payments and more — with no minimum balance and no monthly fee¹⁷ to worry about.

Create a Wise account
in minutes 🚀

Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing  for the most up to date pricing and fee information


Sources:

  1. Barclays - Documents
  2. Barclays - UK wealth international
  3. Lloyds - International current account
  4. HSBC - Account opening
  5. Natwest - Offshore current account
  6. Barclays - Current accounts
  7. Lloyds - Current accounts
  8. HSBC - Current accounts
  9. RBS
  10. NatWest
  11. Monzo
  12. Monese
  13. Monese - Pricing
  14. Barclays - Pricing
  15. HSBC - Expat pricing
  16. Wise may request additional documents to verify a customer's identity
  17. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information
  18. The speed of transaction claim depends on funds availability, approval by Wise’s proprietary verification system and systems availability of our partners’ banking system, and may not be available for all transactions

Sources checked on 08.15.2022


Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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