One of the most confusing and frustrating aspects of planning a move to the UK (whether it is permanent or temporary) is financial. On the surface it looks like you need to lock away tens of thousands of dollars in order to secure an international banking account that allows you to operate in multiple currencies at the same time.
For weeks I thought so based on browsing dozens of financial websites and listening to some customer service representatives from varying banks in the UK. That is until I talked to the right person at HSBC UK and learned that anyone with legal permission to live in the UK can open a basic checking and savings account with no or low minimums. International banking accounts are not necessary at all. Here are the steps the specialist at HSBC UK told me to follow:
- Apply for a basic checking account online about 1-2 business days before the flight from USA to UK. The online application for a basic (no minimums) account with HSBC UK is at https://www.hsbc.co.uk/1/2/current-accounts/basic-bank-account/open-bank-account.
- Upon arrival go to a physical branch of the bank you are opening the account at. Check in advance if you need an appointment to do so as different banks have different rules.
- Show documents at the bank branch. You will need:
- Your passport and residency visa;
- Proof of UK address such as a lease, utility bill, etc. in your name. If none exist at the time of your account opening, a letter from the owner/manager of the property you are staying at initially confirming their address and the dates you are staying there is acceptable;
- Opening deposit (in British pounds) for the account.
Easy, right? It’s not nearly as hard as most financial websites make it seem. That’s because ultimately they want to sell you what you probably do not want or need. For me, all I want really is the ability to direct deposit my earnings from work and pay my essential bills like rent, council taxes, and utilities. I don’t want to tie up my assets in poor performing financial products which is what most of these international banking accounts come off as to me: high minimums paired with low or no interest paid to me for the trouble of not being able to access my money.
Remember that it always pays to shop around, place phone calls, and ask for help. Banks want your business. Make them earn it.