Back to Blog

3 Steps to Open a UK Bank Account for Expats

If you've recently moved to the UK or are preparing to move soon, thankfully there are several different options for expat banking. To open an expat bank account, all you have to do is read this article.
January 5, 2023 14:41

If you've recently moved to the UK or are preparing to move soon, thankfully there are several different options for expat banking. To open an expat bank account, all you have to do is follow three simple steps:

  1. Decide what type of account you want
  2. Find the right type of bank for you
  3. Provide the required documents to get approved for the account

We'll break down each of these steps so you're that much closer to opening the best UK bank account for living abroad for your needs.

Step 1 - Decide on Types of Bank Accounts: UK 

Current Account

A current account is a type of bank account that allows customers to manage their day-to-day financial transactions. This includes depositing money, paying bills, and transferring funds. Most UK banks offer current accounts, and they can be opened online, by phone, or in person.

These accounts typically come with a debit card and cheque book, and some current accounts also offer additional features, such as overdraft protection or interest on balances. If choosing a current account, be sure to compare the fees and features different banks offer to find one that will benefit you the most financially.

Basic Bank Account

A basic bank account is designed for people who may not be eligible for a standard current account due to either having no credit history in the UK or having a low credit score.

Basic accounts usually have fewer features than current accounts, but they can still offer conveniences, like online and mobile banking, direct debits, and standing orders. In some cases, you may also be able to get a debit card with a basic account.

Overall, basic bank accounts can be a good option if you want a bank account in the UK but don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with a standard current account.

Savings Account 

A savings account is a bank account where you can deposit money and earn interest on it. The interest rate on savings accounts in the UK is usually higher than the rate on other types of bank accounts, such as current accounts. 

You can open a savings account with most banks and building societies in the UK. But be aware that some savings accounts require you to make a minimum deposit, and others have restrictions on how often you can withdraw money. Most savings accounts allow you to access your money through online banking, telephone banking, or by visiting a branch. 

If the idea of earning interest on your money appeals to you, make sure to compare interest rates at different banks so that you get the best deal on UK expat savings accounts.

International Account

An international account is a bank account offered by high street banks that allows you to open a UK bank account for expats with them online before you arrive in the UK. These types of accounts are usually multi-currency accounts, accept non-UK addresses as proof of address, and come with debit cards.

Though all of this sounds good on the surface, what to beware of with international accounts is that they routinely require a big deposit, have a monthly fee, or may require you to keep the account open for a set period of time to keep you from jumping ship once you've found a better option.

Step 2 - Decide on Types of Banks in the UK

After you've decided what type of account you would prefer, you'll next want to consider what type of bank would serve you best for expat banking. 

The major deciding factor is whether you'll be able to meet the bank's requirements for opening a bank account in the UK for expats. For example, some banks may require you to have a certain amount of money in savings, start with a large deposit amount, or they may require you to have a UK address.

The different types of banks to consider are:

We'll cover each type for you to explore as you go about moving to a UK bank account for expats. 

Online Banks

An online bank is a type of financial institution that offers banking services entirely online or through a mobile app. You may have heard of them referred to by other names, such as 'challenger banks,' fintechs, EMIs (electronic money institutions), or 'neobanks.

If you've just moved to the UK or are preparing to move soon, an online bank is likely your best bet for a new bank account as it's the easiest to set up of all the different types of banks.

The main drawbacks to having an online-only bank account are lack of physical branches (if you prefer to bank in person) and limited choices in the types of bank accounts they offer. But an online bank account should hold you over until you have what you need in place to get approved by one of the traditional high street banks.

High Street Banks

A high street bank is a large, national bank that offers personal banking services, such as savings and checking accounts, loans, and credit cards. They have branch locations throughout the UK plus offer online banking, making high street banks a convenient option if you can qualify to open an account with one.

Besides accessibility, high street bank accounts come with further amenities, such as multi-currency accounts and a wider range of UK bank account types than online banks. And once you've opened an account with a high street UK bank, you can use it to send money back home to your loved ones.

But the brick-and-mortar overhead comes at a cost to you. Their exchange rates for money transfers and other fees may end up eating away at your account balance.

International Banks

An international bank is a bank that has branches in multiple countries. They often have more branches and ATMs than any other type of bank, so it's easy to access your money just about anywhere in the world.

If you have a branch of an international bank in your home country and open an account there, then once you arrive in the UK, it'll be easy to access your finances by visiting a physical branch or using their online and mobile banking services.

Offshore Banks

If you're a high-net worth individual, you may be interested in opening an account with an offshore bank. These banks are not on the UK mainland and instead are located on nearby islands, like the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.

Offshore banks require hefty initial deposits, but they provide greater privacy and asset protection than other banks. Because these offshore banks are merely independent offshoots of the large high street banks, they still use the British pound.

If you decide to go with an offshore bank, research the bank's reputation and fees and make sure the bank is regulated by a reputable body.

Step 3 - Provide Required Documents 

Before you can get approved for a bank account at the type of bank where you think you'll have the best chances of being accepted, you'll need to provide them with a few important documents. These document requirements vary depending on the type of bank you choose to apply with, but could include:

If you open an account with a high street bank, you'll generally need to provide proof of your identity, UK proof of address, and proof of your income. However, if you open an account with an online-only bank, you may only have to provide proof of your identity, like a picture of your passport. 

This is a major perk of going with an online-only bank because the UK proof of address requirement is what trips most people up when trying to open a bank account for new immigrants in the UK with more traditional banks. 

Helpful tip! 

Make sure your name matches across your UK proof of address and identity documents to increase your chances of being approved for a UK bank account for non-residents by a high street bank.


Money Transfers for Expats

After you've succeeded in setting up your preferred UK bank account, how do you transfer money back home to your loved ones?

The best way is with a global money transfer app that offers real-time, low-cost transfers without hidden fees. It's best to find a service that:

PassTo gives you your first two transfers for free bundled with a special welcome rate. You need money transfers, and it's what we do best!


How long does it take to open an expat bank account?

The time it takes to open a UK bank account depends on the type of bank you choose. If you opt to open an account in person at a traditional brick-and-mortar bank and present all the required documents, once approved, your account could be up and running within 1 to 2 days.

However, if you open an account with an online-only bank, the process will likely be much quicker, and your account could be open within 24 hours. Lastly, keep in mind that if you open a UK bank account while still outside of the UK, you'll need to allow time - up to 15 days - for the account to be approved and opened.

So, when it comes to choosing a UK bank, it's important to consider not only the fees and services offered, but also the amount of time it will take to get your account up and running.

Are UK banks to close expat accounts?

You may be wondering what will happen to expat UK bank accounts after Brexit. Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, there have been uncomfortable changes for British expats living in EU countries.

One of the most recent being that many UK banks are no longer allowing these customers to keep their accounts open. This is because the UK is no longer part of the EU's passporting system, which allows financial institutions to provide services across borders without having to obtain a separate licence in each country.

As a result, British expats are being forced to close their UK bank accounts and open new ones with local banks. However, this change does not affect expats from countries outside of the UK who have moved to the UK and opened UK bank accounts. If you're an expat from the UK who is living in another country, make sure to check with your bank to see if your account will be affected.

Bottom line, as long as you live in the UK, your bank account shouldn't fall victim to this issue. But if you are a UK national living abroad in the EU, high street banks are sending out notices that they are closing expat bank accounts.

What are the best banks for expats in the UK?

If you're an expat moving to the UK, you'll want to choose a bank that offers good customer service, competitive rates, convenient locations, and online/mobile banking.

 Some of the best banks for foreigners in the UK are Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, and Santander. Each of these banks has a large network of branches and ATMs, so you can easily access your money whether you're in London or elsewhere in the country.

When choosing a bank, it's important to compare different options to see which one will best meet your specific needs. The best UK bank account for living abroad in the UK is one that offers you the features and services you need to manage your finances in the most convenient and secure way.

If you've recently moved to the UK or are preparing to move soon, thankfully there are several different options for expat banking. To open an expat bank account, all you have to do is read this article.