Opening a bank account in the UK is difficult. Really, really difficult. But difficult in a perplexingly complex way. It is easier for an ex-bankrupt, an ex-prisoner, or a homeless person to get a bank account in the UK than it is for an Australian expat. You have to demonstrate both proof of address and proof of identity, which is reasonable, but the trick is that you cannot use the same document for both purposes. And the documents that the banks will accept for proof of address can be very difficult to come by if you have just landed in the UK.
The banks we spoke to will accept a utility bill with your address on it. However, in order to get a utility bill, you need to have a current account from which a direct debit can be made because no utilities will allow for post-payment or credit card payments for utility bills. They would not even accept a residential tenancy agreement, even though it was a signed and executed legal document, nor would they accept a formal letter on council letterhead indicating that we were registered for council tax. They told us that they would only accept a bill for council tax, which is something that won't arrive for three months.
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What is perhaps more surprising about opening a UK account than the documentation requirements is that you have to make an "appointment". There is no way to even start the process online (for the big high street banks). And making an appointment is not just a simple matter of walking into a branch.
The first bank we spoke to couldn't find an appointment slot for several weeks, the second one had a spot in "about a week", and the third one was prepared to find a spot on a Saturday morning when we told them of our plight, and the fact that we had a "private banking" sum of cash to move from Australia. Sadly, several hours after confirming the appointment the bank called us back to let us know that the Saturday appointment was cancelled because the staff member had called in sick.
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One bank did tell us that they would accept details of a UK National Insurance Number, so we called the questionably named "National Insurance Hotline" in an attempt to get registered. As new residents we were foiled again. The first person we spoke to could not find a time for an appointment. And this was not "could not find a time for an appointment today" but simply "could not find any time for an appointment". When pressed, she indicated that we might be able to get one in November. At least this was November 2015.
It ended up being easier for me, an Australian citizen with a UK ancestry visa, to start the process. In 7-10 days from our call, the National Insurance folks will send me a letter (by post, of course) telling me that the process has started. From this, I can then arrange a time to come in and be interviewed. They didn't say if I needed to travel by horse and cart to the meeting, or if travel by internal combustion engine vehicle would be appropriate. Luckily, I can work for up to 3 months without a National Insurance number. We are still none the wiser about how to go about getting a National Insurance number for my wife, who holds dual Australian / UK passports.
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After a bit of online research, we found a tip from a fellow Australian expat. If you can, change the address for one of your Australian bank accounts to your new UK address before you leave for the UK. Then organise for a statement to be sent to that address.
UK bank staff will tell you that "Internet printouts" are not accepted. This adds another difficulty as most Australian banks have online statements, and have had for some time, so there is no difference whatsoever between a statement sent in the post and a PDF of the statement downloaded from the Internet. We will see how this works out for us next week. If we can get an appointment.
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Something else that might be useful, depending on your circumstances, are "offshore banking" or "passport bank accounts". However, most of the offshore banking accounts require a balance that pushes you into the banks' private banking category, which is not always easy to achieve.
CORRECTION: HSBC offers an online account opening process for "passport accounts". You can start that process here.
Additionally, here are few links that might be of use to anyone thinking of relocating to the UK, and wanting to set up a bank account:
- Can you open a bank account in the UK?
- How to open up your first UK bank account without proof of address
Not much this week as most of the time has been taken up trying to open a bank account.
According to the SMH, Eftpos is getting its tap and go, online act together. Glenbrook consulting argues that the interdependence of e-government and government e-payments is another payment chicken and egg challenge. And the World Economic Forum thinks that we need a common standard for moving e-money.
Also, just in case anyone has forgotten about the depths of the global financial crisis (or "GFC" as we like to call it in Australia), the Guardian thinks that the banks have ignored the lessons of the crash.