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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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 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 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
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
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
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:
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.
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:
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.
|50+ currencies including GBP, USD and EUR
|GBP, EUR and RON
Current accounts in GBP, USD and EUR
Savings accounts in 19 currencies
|Minimum balance: 15,000 GBP — 50,000 GBP
|Fall below fee
|15 GBP — 35 GBP
|Up to 14.95 GBP/month
|Waived if minimum balance is maintained
|1.5 GBP per withdrawal, some account plans offer limited levels of free withdrawals
|ATM fees may apply depending on the account
|ATM fees may apply depending on the account
|No foreign transaction fee
|2% foreign transaction fee
|2.75% foreign transaction fee
|Low fee, varies by currency
|Up 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
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.
- Barclays - Documents
- Barclays - UK wealth international
- Lloyds - International current account
- HSBC - Account opening
- Natwest - Offshore current account
- Barclays - Current accounts
- Lloyds - Current accounts
- HSBC - Current accounts
- Monese - Pricing
- Barclays - Pricing
- HSBC - Expat pricing
- Wise may request additional documents to verify a customer's identity
- 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
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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