Getting a UK Bank Account
Getting a bank account in the UK as a first time resident can be difficult and frustrating for a couple of reasons. One, you will need a permanent address to set up a bank account, but often you aren’t able to secure an address without a bank account, something of a catch 22. Second, as a new UK resident you are starting with no credit history, regardless of your credit status elsewhere, which puts you at a huge disadvantage for the type of account you can open and your ability to acquire UK credit cards. You will also want to be very careful which bank you choose. Some are more user-friendly than others. Based on some past experiences, Abbey Bank is generally one you will want to avoid. Lloyds TSB is especially friendly toward new residents and seems to specialize in international dealings. In many cases, Lloyds will even set up a bank account for you before you arrive in the UK! When possible, we would highly recommend that you go this route as it saves you a lot of hassle once you are here.
What you’ll need – Proof of address (e.g. a bill that came to you in the mail with your name on it or your signed lease) and your passport.
What you’ll get – Most banks will give you an ATM/debit card and possibly a book of checks as well. Most banks will not, however, give you a credit card until you have been here for at least 6 months (some require a longer period of time). Specific guidelines vary depending on the bank. Other banks in the Aberdeen area include The Royal Bank of Scotland, the Bank of Scotland (they have a branch right in Old Aberdeen on the University campus), and Clydesdale Bank.
Additional tips – If you find that you are having difficulty setting up an account and/or securing a place of residence, but are anxious to get your bank account(s) up and running, consider asking a new friend (or host family) to write you a letter stating that you are currently living with them. Take that letter and a proof of his/her address with you to the bank as your proof of address. Albeit a temporary solution, you can always change your address at a later date to provide them with your more permanent one. Be patient and persistent. It may take you a while, but eventually you will get an account set up. Check in with your bank representative often during the set up process and don’t assume that “no news is good news”. It’s probably not.
Transferring Funds (US to UK)
There are various ways to move money from your account(s) in the US to the UK. Each has pros and cons, which we’ve spelled out here.
Wire Transfer – If you would like to transfer a large sum of money to a UK bank account, the most convenient way to do that is via wire transfer. To transfer from the US to the UK, you will most likely need to make the transaction in person from your local bank branch in the US. Your bank will walk you through how to do it, but you will need to have the following UK bank information to complete the transaction: bank address, your account number, IBAN # (International Bank Account Number) and Switch Code or BIC # (Bank Identifier Code Number). Depending on the type of account you have with your US bank, you will most likely be charged a fee (about $30-$40) from the sending bank, but not from the receiving bank. As long as the dollar to pound exchange rate stays close to 2:1, some have found it to be a wise option to transfer a large sum of money into GBP (£) simply for the stability and the opportunity to earn interest in GBP in the UK bank account.
Travelers checks – You may find, as many others have, that travelers checks are quickly becoming a thing of the past. They are definitely a valid way of paying for things in many places, but here in the UK you may also find that there are many locations, which won’t accept them either. Your US bank account may charge you to issue them, and you will likely be charged again when you try to cash them here. The benefit is that your money will be replaced should the checks be lost or stolen.
ATM withdrawal – Making a cash withdrawal from an ATM (cash machine or hole in the wall) here is very simple. Any ATM/debit card you have will work although you may be charged a fee from one or both banks with each transaction made (your US bank as well as the bank that owns the ATM machine). In Aberdeen, there are very few cash machines that charge fees, but be careful. There are a few and they are usually located within convenience stores. Your US debit card will usually give you the best exchange rate available. Make sure that you call your bank to let them know that you will be living out of the country, so that they can note it on your account. Otherwise, the fraud department may place a freeze on your card after 2 or 3 transactions if they think it might have been stolen and slipped out of the country.
You may use your US credit cards here in the UK, but be aware that you will be charged a “foreign transaction fee” (usually a percentage of your purchase varying by bank) as well as given a fairly poor exchange rate. Also, you may not be required to change your address with your credit card company to your UK address, but any online shopping you do here in the UK (the same goes in the US) will most likely require a current “local” billing address in order to process your card. It is therefore advisable to have at least one card with a US billing address and one with a UK. As is the case with your ATM/debit card (above), remember to call your credit card company to let them know that you will be living out of the country, so that they can note it on your account.