ASK Musings

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Banking Archive



December 2019



Our Banking Challenges

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

Before we had a flat, we tried to open a bank account. Some websites suggested that they had special accounts for foreign nationals, or people who didn’t have proof of address yet. Those website are all incorrect.


All of them.

Lloyd’s, for example, still comes up in internet searches as having an account specifically made for folks who have just moved to the UK. According to their staff, however, they discontinued that service in February 2017.

We tried Lloyd’s first because of their website, then walked to Barclay’s. A kind person overheard our frustration and said that Metro Bank was known for being a bit more lenient. So we walked over and they said we needed that address, but that once we had it then we would be all set. Sweet.

Week 1: Three bank visits

Once we had our lease we went back to Metro, but they said we needed an additional proof of address. I called and they said we needed a letter from my husband’s employer. I asked what the letter needed to include, and unfortunately they gave me incorrect information.

This meant that when we went in the next time they wouldn’t open the account, and asked for another letter with additional information. They also said that for a joint account we both had to separately have two forms of proof of address, which was a challenge for me since I didn’t yet have an employer. Gas, electric, or water bills or council tax bills would have worked, but our flat is newly renovated and the system not updated, so we don’t have those bills yet.

Week 2: One bank visit, four total

We both had Monese accounts, so we printed out statements from them, and then brought in our tenancy agreement and the letter from my husband’s employer. We got to the end of the process when the bank said that our tenancy agreement and such didn’t match the official Royal Mail address list, and so we couldn’t open an account yet.

We live in our flat, so we were surprised to see that for the banking system, it didn’t exist.

Week 3: One bank visit, five total

Because we were living in a newly renovated flat, the Royal Mail address system hadn’t been fully updated. This was a problem. Our landlord kindly agreed to send a revised tenancy agreement that matched the Royal Mail system. Home free, right?

Nope. We brought all the same info back to Metro (including the updated employer letter and Monese statements to match), and were told that because our landlords were private, this was a problem. Note that this issue was not brought up in any of the other four visits.

I’m still pissed thinking about it.

So I told them that we wanted them to remove all information they had on us from their system and that we’d be finding another bank. They were surprised. Oh well.

Lesson: Don’t use Metro Bank, and do ask lots of questions.

The next morning we went to Lloyd’s again, and they said they wouldn’t accept the tenancy agreement either. We then went to HSBC, who said that they didn’t have an appointments, but since we were from the US, they should be able to use our US address, open that account, and then transfer over. SCORE!

We took a bus to a larger branch where we were told that no, since we now lived here, that wasn’t an option. BUT. They said that all we needed was the letter from my husband’s employer to open a joint account. It’d be proof for him, and even though I wouldn’t have independent proof, I could still be on a joint account with him.

Week 4: Four bank visits, nine total

Monday I called HSBC and was able to get us an appoint for Thursday. We went in and THEY OPENED OUR BANK ACCOUNT.

Total: Five weeks, 10 visits to banks.

Lesson: Lloyd’s has bad information on their website, Metro always asks for more information and will waste your time. Not sure about Barclay’s or Nationwide. But HSBC worked for us.



December 2019



Getting a Credit Card

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

Another thing that is frustrating about the banking system here is that your US credit history means nothing in the UK. Even companies that appear to be the same (say, Capital One in the US and Capital One in the UK, or Experian credit agency) act as though you’re brand new and have never had a credit card.

And for all I know, you might be! This might be your first time applying for any sort of credit card, and so the process might not seem all that odd to you. But for someone like myself, who has been lucky enough to have over 20 years of good credit history in the US (I say lucky because yes, I manage my finances well but also, I’ve never had any unexpected medical expenses or other major financial hardships, and I’ve always been able to earn above a living wage), this is obnoxious.

My partner and I arrived hoping to start building our credit in the UK. We aren’t sure how long we’re going to live here, but who knows if we’ll ever find ourselves in a situation where it’s important that we have strong credit. I didn’t have a job for the first 11 months, so I looked into a bunch of starter credit cards, thinking well, I’m starting out in the UK, so these are perfect for me!


Most let me go through a check before actually applying so it wouldn’t hurt my (non-existent) credit, and I was not successful with any of them. The main issue seemed to be not my lack of UK-earned income, but my address history. Because we’ve only been in the UK a couple of months, these credit card companies would ask for my previous address, but would only allow for an address in the UK.

You see the dilemma here, yes? I don’t have credit because I’m new to the UK, I can’t build credit without a credit card, but I can’t get a credit card because I’m new to the UK.

With that in mind, my partner and I decided to try for a joint credit card from the bank where we have our current (checking) account. After 45 minutes in person (including about 15 minutes of the bank employee on the phone with the underwriters), we were successful in getting a joint credit card with a reasonable credit limit!


Because the account is primarily my partner’s, I’m not allowed to view any statements or purchase history. I can MAKE purchases, but I can’t access anything via online banking. That’s kind of a problem, since I’m the one who manages our finances. We figured something out, but I find this to be a very frustrating situation. In the US the main joint credit card we use has my partner as the primary just because he signed up for it first, yet I can still sign in and view it any time I like.

Deep sigh.

Because I want to build my own credit, I asked about whether I could apply for a starter credit card in my own name. Nope. Because I didn’t have a job yet (and even if I did, it needed to pay at least £8,000 / year), I didn’t get access to credit on my own. Even if I had income from a US-based venture (say, consulting), because it’s dollars, it didn’t count.

The whole experience continues to be illogical and frustrating, but hey, at least we have a credit card now.

My advice to you is that the same day you open your joint account, ask if you can apply for a joint credit card as well. It’ll save you some time and get you on the way towards building some credit. And who knows, depending on your bank, see if they’ll issue you a very low limit personal credit card. They might have different rules than HSBC. In a couple of months, after you’ve shown that you’re making payments and that income is being deposited into the current account, make another appointment to see if you can get the limit increased.

And as soon as you get a job, apply for your own credit card!



December 2019




Written by , Posted in Getting Ready, Move to UK: Before You Go

I don’t like commercial banks. About six years ago I left big banks behind and moved all of my cash to a credit union. It was great decision, because it matched my political concerns about the role of major banks in the economic collapse of 2008, and it supported my community.

It also made the financial part of our move to London a giant, drawn-out pain in the ass.

One reason was that they weren’t great at handling international wire transfers requested in person (we later learned that if we called, they had specialists who are awesome). My husband did one and thankfully we didn’t lose our money, but after two weeks we found out it hadn’t worked.

The other reason is that a wire transfer service like TransferWise will require you to transfer money from your US account to their US account before they convert the money. Not usually a problem, except for the fact that some credit unions have rules about how many accounts can be connected to the same outside account. In our case, we learned that our credit union only allowed two people to connect to the same outside account, and two people already were.

Cue sad trombone.

As I will mention multiple times throughout this site: getting a bank account in the UK is one of the most difficult financial things I’ve ever done. And I’ve bought a house.

They seemingly require just one simple thing: proof of address. But the rules around exactly what can count for proof of address are ever-changing and don’t make loads of sense.

With that in mind, there are a couple of things you can do to get a leg up on the process.

Open a New US Account with a Big Bank
You can open a US account at a major bank that has a heavy presence in London, and let them know that you plan to open a UK account as well once you move there. You’ll already be a client, so it should be much easier. Some options include HSBC, Barclay’s, and Lloyds.

If you have a strong financial tie to your local bank (say, your mortgage is through them, or you have other automatic payments that need a US bank account), that’s fine! Keep that! But take a little bit of money and open that other bank account so that you’re ready to hit the British ground running.

If you have credit cards, check to see if they charge a fee for foreign transactions. Even if you do everything right, it’ll still probably be awhile before you’re able to do everything in the local currency, so if possible get a credit card that doesn’t charge anything for foreign currency transactions so you can save some money in the beginning. It’s still better to be able to pay directly in pounds, but that’s not going to be an option on day one for most people.

We used Chase Sapphire and Capital One cards, and it worked fine. We’ll talk more about this in the Settling In section, but be prepared to sign for every credit card transaction since the US system STILL doesn’t use Chip + PIN. And shop workers here actually care that your signature matches. One plus side of living here is that my signature actually looks like my name now, instead of just a squiggle, because it has to match what’s on the back of my card. Seriously, a woman at Sainsbury’s made me re-sign my receipt because it didn’t match the first time.

Also do some research to see if your bank or credit card will allow you to have a UK address.

Internet Banking
Another option is to open a UK account through an internet bank like Monese. They do charge a monthly fee, but they can help you do a few things in the beginning, like set up your internet (because internet companies all require a direct debit for the monthly payment, which seems shady as hell to me, but it’s their game).

You can also get a debit card through them so you can more easily pay for things and get money out of ATMs without a fee. Just be sure to move some money into this account before you move. It’s entirely possible that this will be all you need when you live in London, but if you want to, say, have a joint account with your partner, you’re going to need a brick and mortar bank, so consider the above advice.