For how to enter the UK on a work / study visa, please see the first blog in this series: So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: The Visa. For the next post in the series, please see So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5.
Assuming that you’ve now landed in the UK, one of the first things you’ll need to set up when you get here is your bank account. It will be essential to you making the deposit and first month’s rent on your flat, will help you set up utilities / a cell phone plan, and will allow you to receive your salary. However, it is likely one of the most difficult things to do when you get here, regardless of your financial standing in Canada / elsewhere, the primary reason being your lack of a credit score for the UK. However, you may still have other options.
- Open and set up an HSBC Premier Account before you leave home.
Of course, not everyone has this luxury as the requirements for a Canadian HSBC Premier Account are high, but if your mother or father bank with HSBC at this level, they should be able to help you set up an account internationally before you leave the country as you’re eligible for “HSBC Premier status in all countries where you bank with HSBC affiliates”. This will make it a lot easier to transfer funds to help you get started when you’re making the initial deposit / first month’s rent on flats in the city. “Portable HSBC credit history that can help secure credit cards”is another Premier benefit that can help you build your credit score as it is otherwise quite difficult to get a credit card here without a prior credit score. The one way around the credit card difficulty / building a credit score is to transfer your existing eligible American Express to the UK.
- Provide supporting documents necessary to opening an account.
Different banks still have quite similar requirements (see requirements for the big 4 banks: HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, and RBS/NatWest) in terms of the documentation required to open a bank account in the formal way. But this is where it gets circular. With the exception of Lloyds [they claim you only need your ID, but I was accepted for an account only to have it closed three days later due to my failing credit checks – common occurrence, I was told – as I had no history], you will need proof of ID, and proof of current address. The former is easy enough – your passport, amongst other things, will suffice. The proof of current address is where it gets circular. In order to have proof of address, you need to have a flat to which official documents, such as utility bills / tenancy agreements, can be attributed. But, in order to get a flat, you need a bank account to pay the deposit / first month’s rent! This is where you really need to rely on the kindness and patience of family and friends living in the UK to help you out. If you lay the groundwork out beforehand, it should work.One option is to get a UK-based family / friend with whom you’re close and with whom you’re staying to change one of his / her utility bills or council tax to your name prior to your application to the bank. I attempted this with my uncle’s address, but changing the name on the bills sometimes can take 4 to 6 weeks to become effective, so I had not enough foresight to complete this before I needed to apply for my bank account.A second option is to get a trusted family / friend living in the UK and with whom you’re close to receive the initial wire of money you send from overseas so that he / she can make the initial deposit / first month’s rent payment from their UK account to your landlord, so that you can sign your tenancy agreement. I was really fortunate to have a cousin living in the UK at the time. She was also my UK guarantor for my flat agreement which helped the process immensely. Once I had the tenancy agreement, the document was my proof of address, and only then was I able to open a bank account with HSBC.As you will be a foreigner with no prior UK credit history, the banks will also likely prefer that you have a signed employment contract when opening the account because this establishes a source of income to the account. Have this at the ready as this can only help increase the likelihood of your bank account application success. Even then, after providing my employment contract, they requested another formal letter on company letterhead confirming my employment. In previous years, the employment contract was accepted in lieu of the proof of address, but from my understanding, financial regulations have only tightened this further making this route impossible.
- Try opening an account at a Zone 2 / Zone 3 branch of the same bank, or smaller banks.
Ultimately, although the formal requirements for opening a bank account in the UK should be the documentation required in point 2, I’ve anecdotally heard of experiences where people have made the journey outside Zone 1 to bank branches in Zones 2 and 3 (of the London tube lines), or have tried other smaller banks (Co-operative Bank, Halifax, etc.) and have been successful at opening accounts with only their ID and possibly a contract of employment. I have not tried this method personally, but it seems that some smaller branches do flex on the rules given their desire to do business, and you may find success this way, if your other methods were unsuccessful.
- Ask your company about special arrangements or programs.
If you work for a multi-national company, or just a large company in general, your firm may have personal banking relationships with banks designed to help foreign nationals get set up in a new country. It’s worth speaking with HR or relevant parties to see if there are any programs that will waive certain requirements in opening a bank account to facilitate the process with greater ease.
One other cultural thing to note as you’re on this journey to the coveted bank digits: banks run on an appointment system in the UK. You can’t just walk into a bank branch to open an account as is possible in North America; you have to walk in, make an appointment, and come back at your appointment time to open an account. Fortunately, most bank branches do open late at least one day of the week, and some are open on Saturdays. It’s just how it works here, but it’s always worth calling in to the branch you want to try and double check hours and account opening procedures before you go out to the branch.
I only managed to open my bank account 1.5 months after landing in the UK. I relied on the charity and trust of friends and family, and that will likely be one of the things you will need to establish your bank account here.
What were your experiences? Do you have any tips to share?