How to open a UK bank account when you just arrived in the country

A common problem for new arrivals in the UK is opening a bank account. Most of banks require a proof of address which you may not be able to provide if you just flew in and are living in a temporary accomodation. Renting an apartment with a real estate agency will also likely require a bank account, which means there’s a circular dependency between renting and having an account. Any expat forum is full of cries for help from people desperate to establish financial foothold in the UK. Best course of action when dealing with this sort of thing is not panicking and trying to experience the ordeal as an RPG quest. I’ve been in this Catch-22 situation myself and tried several banks with varying degrees of success. The experience described was in London in August 2015 and certainly some rules may change in the future.

Bootstrapping kit

The only documents I had on the day of my arrival were:

PRC is issued on the spot at OVRO and states your address that you report, with a big police stamp over it.

I rented a room for the first two weeks and I could receive paper correspondence there. As I found out later, banks may accept NIN allocation letter from HMRC as a proof of address, with examples being Metro and Natwest. Therefore requesting one as soon as possible is a good idea (it will still take some time for the application to be processed and NIN confirmation letter to arrive).

I also read that a letter from the employer helps. I asked for one as soon as I started. It came with a company letterhead and stated my start date, job title, salary and my current UK address (the wording was something like «The current address we have on file for Dmitry is…»). This letter was how I eventually got my bank account with HSBC. My first bank visits were less successfull though.

Lloyds

For some reason Lloyds is often recommended as a starter bank for those new to the UK. I still don’t know why, their requirements are no different from any other bank.

Borough branch experience was brief:

— Hi, can I open an account?
— Do you have a appointment? (I could see the lady giving me a weird look)
— No
— Please use our website to make one

And of course the website declines online applications that don’t include 3 years of UK address history!

I had more success at Lloyds Wimbledon branch. After examining my PRC the clerk made several calls and booked an appointment two weeks later. They agreed to accept my PRC as a proof of address after requesting «a special permission» from someone up the chain of command.

HSBC

I managed to book my appointment by phone, explaining the situation. This was after a week I’ve been in the UK and I already had a letter from the employer. I brought it to Wimbledon branch of HSBC. The clerk was seemingly impressed and even shared his thoughts on Mail’s editorial policy, complaining about not enough of sports events coverage. They even offered a credit card. The account was opened, cards and PIN codes arrived to my temporary address next week, along with a security token. Yay! I was relieved.

A week later I got to the appointment at Lloyds as well, equipped with my PRC, which also allowed me to open an account.

Natwest

Clerks at Kensington branch of Natwest were puzzled both by my PRC and my letter from the employer:

— Hmm, do you work in the police?
— No!

His logic was flawless, but it didn’t help me to open an account.

Metro

Unlike with any other bank, at «hassle-free» Metro bank I was asked not one, but TWO proofs of address, and I had none. No free lollipop could cheer me up. I walked out sadly.

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