Banking – How to choose a current account?
Which English bank should you choose?
Opening a bank account is always a big dilemma; which bank should you choose? which offers should you accept? and above all, how long does it take to get a bank account?
In the UK there are a large number of banks, some of which are also known probably in your country, such as HSBC and Barclays. These are two of the major banks in the UK.
When you arrive in the UK one of the first things you should do, besides getting an English phone number and a NIN, is open a bank account.
How to open a bank account
First of all, I would like to mention, there are two major types of banks; those with a physical location and those that operate solely online. In this article I will try to shed some light on the differences between these two types of bank and how to open both a physical and an online account.
Physical banks are those you meet on the high street, such as Barclays, HSBC, Natwest, etc.
The easiest way to open a physical account in the UK is to go directly to the bank’s website and follow the guided registration procedure (in English, bank account application). During registration all personal information and details of your residence will be requested.
Once you have completed the registration and thus the request to open an account, you will receive an email, after which – generally a standard procedure, you will have to go to the bank and carry out standard security checks with a bank advisor.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to open a traditional bank account, as in recent years banks have increased security measures and have made the account opening procedure a little more difficult.
Firstly the bank wants to be sure that you actually live in the UK, and secondly because they need to be sure that you will use the account.
Which documents are required for opening a bank account?
Before going to the bank, the required documents must be prepared. Specifically, the following documents might be requested:
An identity document:
- EU or UK passport
- National Identity Document (usually a plastic card)
- EU or UK driving license
Proof of a UK address:
- a utility bill in your name
- employment contract
Although it is clear what the required documents are and we all have a valid ID, it is not always easy to provide the other documents, such as the utility bill in one’s own name, the NIN or an employment contract; it can take some time to obtain these.
Online bank accounts
An online bank account, as the name implies, only exists online – ie, it does not have a physical location and is centred around the use of a mobile phone. In fact, almost all online banks allow you to manage your account through their own application, using both Android devices or an iPhone.
The best and most popular online accounts are:
- N26: offers both sterling accounts and Euro accounts, and both personal and business accounts. It is used by over 1.5 million customers throughout Europe.
- Revolut: very well known online bank, Revolut gives you Euro and UK currency.
- TransferWise: is the service most widely used to transfer money from one currency to another, and for more than a year it has provided a card that enables you to reduce commissions when you travel abroad and spend using a foreign currency.
What are the major differences between a physical bank and an online bank?
The differences between physical and online banks are minimal. Both enable you to protect your money, make purchases online, in stores or even request a loan (not all online banks grant loans).
Surely one of the main reasons for opting for an online bank, especially for those who are coming to the UK right now, is that you don’t need to provide proof of an address, whereas showing proof of a UK address is mandatory if you want to open a physical bank account. Essentially, online banks are a new generation of banks, made and developed for people who travel and require more flexibility.
Moreover, opening an online bank account is very fast, it varies from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the clarity of the documents that you will be able to upload/attach on the application during the account registration process.
What is proof of address?
Proof of address is simply an official document addressed to you at your current address.
I suggest you read our article dedicated to most commonly used English words and what they mean.
Using your national card in the UK
When you arrive in England you can continue to use your card to pay in stores, to withdraw cash and even to make transfers; but you need to be careful because every transaction will involve a commission charge.
Payment using an in-store terminal: basically this type of payment does not involve any extra commission but since you are spending pounds, your bank will have to convert Euros into sterling and this conversion always means you lose money. In fact, banks have a higher exchange rate than the average real exchange rate.
Always remember to check your bank’s website before travelling abroad so as to be informed of any extra fees and commissions.
Cash withdrawal: the commission for withdrawing cash from a UK ATM can be as high as 5 Euros so remember that if you need to withdraw because you absolutely need it, withdraw as much as you can in order to absorb the commission. Generally the maximum amount you can withdraw in a day is between 250 and 300 Euros.
Bank transfer: of the three, this type of transaction is the least common, but it could be useful if you need to make a transfer for the deposit or the rent in order to enter your new home. In this case the commission can reach as much as 30 euros or more (depending on the amount sent and your bank). If the person to whom you are sending to is English, they will surely have an English bank account so your transfer will be considered an ‘international’ transfer.
Avoid high transfer fees by using the TransferWise service (low commission rates and international transfers in less than an hour).
I would also like to point out to you that having a card issues in your country can sometimes be a drawback for your employer when he has to pay you a salary. In fact, as it appears to be an international transfer when you have to pay an English bank from your national account, in the same way it will be an international transfer if your salary is paid from an English account to your national bank account.
If you have any questions, please write in the comments section below.