Getting a UK bank account

When Andy and I first visited London back in April, we were told that we’d need to open bank accounts to do pretty much everything. We couldn’t open them then but were finally able to now so I’ll explain what the process was like.

First, the main banks here are Barclays, NatWest and HSBC. There are others, of course, but those are the ones you’ll find branches for in almost every neighborhood you visit. Andy and I chose Barclays – well, really Andy chose Barclays and I trust him so went along with what he thought best 😀 I should mention though that Barclays has a working partnership with Bank of America so you can withdraw money from BOA at a Barclays cash machine (ATM) without incurring fees so that might have been what drove his decision to go with Barclays (I don’t know, I’m just here for the ride…).

Since my only experience with opening a bank account in the UK is through Barclays, please note that I’m generalizing/assuming as I can’t verify that this process is that same for other banks.

The first thing you should know is that you need to make an appointment to open a bank account. Yes, I know. I too was all like wtf??

Andy and I knew this but didn’t make an appointment (cause we’re rebels!) and instead walked into the bank at the middle of the day on a random weekday. Thankfully, the branch we visited wasn’t busy and they were able to get two customer service associates to help us set up our accounts separately. They will tell you that it’ll take about 1.5 hours to open an account. It took us less than an hour – and that was inclusive of chit chatting with the associates.

To open our accounts, we needed:

  1. Proof of identity (we used our passports)
  2. A UK mailing address (we used the address of our temporary flat/apartment

And that was it.

The associates sat us down, took down basic info (name, address, occupation, salary, etc etc) and opened our accounts for us. My associate was even nice enough to show me how to switch my App Store info to show I’m now living in the UK so that I can download the Barclays app and do mobile banking (a US address won’t allow you to see/download UK apps).

Then, the mail began. The rest of the process is very different from opening an account in the States. What Barclays does is that it mails you a pin code. That is the code you’ll need to withdraw money at a cash machine and/or use your card to make purchases. In addition, it sends you ANOTHER passcode which you’ll need to enter online to do online banking. You can, of course, change these codes later on but you do need them initially to access the cash machine and to bank online. For the online banking, in addition to the passcode, you also need to set up a memorable word. The memorable word is meant to be something that only you would know. Well, I got so crafty coming up with my memorable word that I forgot it…

SO…. Barclays had to re-send me an online banking pin for me to log in. This meant that I had to wait several days to get the damn pin before I could do any online banking. The wait wasn’t so bad though because I didn’t have any money in the account anyway so it was fine.

After getting the second code and being much smarter about my memorable word, I can now online bank and manage my funds online. Barclays also sends me periodic texts to let me know my balance which I find useful and might prove useful to those who can’t/don’t online bank.

One last thing to mention is that the debit cards here are “chip and pin”. Back in the States, we have “swipe” cards – meaning that we have to swipe them into the machine and either enter the pin or sign. In the UK (and the rest of the world I think) they have chip and pin cards. They require you to enter your card into the machine, enter your pin and be done with it. It’s sounds similar but it’s actually way easier to use and makes you feel more like you’re from here and less like a tourist.

And that was the process. Relatively simple but time consuming if you, like me, forget your memorable word. It’s a super secure system they have here so it’s actually worth the time. Oh and make note, cashiers here are VERY good about making sure the back of your cards are signed so make sure you sign the card and sign a similar signature on your receipt or they WILL question you.

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