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Opening a bank account in the UK

As I foretold in the post where I announced my move, here is the first of the rants with the problems of moving to the UK.

The banking system of the UK, which is already a complicated pain in most countries, appears to be even more complicated. One of the problem is that almost all debit and credit cards have a nearly 3% foreign transaction fee. For those wondering what foreign transaction fees are, they are fees levied on payment executed using a currency different from the “native” currency of the card/account. The term “foreign” is often a misnomer in Europe since within Eurozone transactions may be “foreign” but there is no fee connected, since it’s a single market. Of course this does not apply for UK accounts, as the Sterling is only used in the one country.

This makes it worse than the equivalent 1.75% foreign transaction fee of my Tesco Credit Card, since that would not apply for any expenses incurred in most of the European continent. So I really need to find a good alternative to that.

Of course, there already is Revolut, which I spoke of before. This provide a bank account equivalent and a prepaid MasterCard that has no foreign transaction fees. Unfortunately this has a couple of limitations. The first is that this is a prepaid card, rather than a credit card. And this matters.

In particular, hotels and car rentals (though I don’t have a license, which means I don’t use the latter) generally require you to use a credit card, because they pre-authorize a higher amount of money than you’re meant to pay at the end. if you were to do that with Revolut, you’ll end up with more money locked in for a number of days until the complete charge happens. Since at least in one case I had multiple hundreds euro locked in a pre-authorization of a credit card for two weeks, it’s not the kind of experience I would like to repeat out of habits. Most hotels would allow you to provide a different credit card for deposit and payment, that would mean I could use a normal credit card at check-in time, and then just settle the account with Revolut, but you can imagine that this is not really very handy, particularly at busy hotels during conferences, or if I’m checking out in a hurry because I’m late for my flight.

So I started looking for various options of 0% foreign transaction fee cards, and I identified two cards in particular that fit my requirements, one from Barclays and one from NatWest. Both are premium cards that cost extra money, or require you to have a more expensive bank account, but a quick calculation shows me that I will probably make up the difference in price reasonably easily. And between the two, I focused on the NatWest, because it is part of the same group (RBS) as my current Irish bank, and I was hoping that they would make signing up for it easier.

I couldn’t be more wrong. Even though I’m a customer of Private Banking at Ulster Bank (ROI), they couldn’t help me to set up a UK account at all. It took them one full month to find the name of a colleague of theirs I could contact in London, who then pointed me at the Global Employees service that was supposed to help me. A month after that, I still have no bank account in London, because the process requires my employer to provide a document stating not only my transfer salary, but in no irrevocable terms that the transfer will happen, and how much time I’m meant to spend in the UK.

This is clearly impossible. First of all, since my employer does not own me, I can always change my mind, and leave the company before my transfer finalizes, so they will never declare that there is no chance I would do that (despite the fact that I don’t want to do that and I want the transfer to go through). Secondly, nobody can tell how much time I’ll be spending in the UK. It may be that I’ll live there for the rest of my life, or it may be that I will leave before the two years from Article 50 terminate, because they would make my life impossible, or the crashed economy would make it infeasible for me to keep living in the country.

Both declarations are not really possible to provide, and the fact that the assigned contact has been contacting my HR department multiple times even though they told her twice at least that I’m the only one who can request that information have at the end ticked me off enough that I might try once to escalate this to a supervisor, but otherwise will just stop considering NatWest a feasible banking option, because the last thing I want to do is dealing with drones.

Comments 2
  1. I have a Halifax Clarity Mastercard, which has a 0% foreign transaction fee (Mastercard exchange rate), no fees, and no other requirements (no need for a bank account).However, I fear that if you try to get one of these cards, you’ll get rejected because you have no credit history in the UK. Basically, if you’ve lived in the UK for less than three years, I found that it’s difficult to pass any checks that require any kind of credit history. That was already a problem when I tried to subscribe to a Three pay-monthly mobile plan (I had to go prepaid).And yes, opening a bank account while immigrating into the UK is mindbogglingly difficult. Not only do they demand unreasonable guarantees from your employer (like you described), there is also the classic chicken-and-egg problem of “They need an address of residence to open a bank account, but I can’t get a place if I don’t have a bank account”. Fun.When I immigrated to the UK in 2012, the way to solve that problem was to go into a very specific HSBC Branch where some (not all) employees were made aware of some kind of agreement between HSBC and our mutual employer to reduce the requirements when opening bank accounts. I have no idea whether that’s still in place; you might want to ask around.

  2. I’m with Etienne here. The Halifax Clarity is one of the best options and does exactly what you want; the only expense on it when traveling abroad is the interest on the amount if you don’t clear it at the end of the month assuming one doesn’t do that automatically.Problem for you will be credit history as banks follow a script….I couldn’t get a credit card when coming to the UK.Option I used was simply to use my original credit-card. You are not required to use a UK one!btw) information of this sort is pretty easy to find using moneysupermarket.

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