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Ask an expert: ‘I’m an ex-pat and struggling to open a UK bank account. What can I do?’

What you need to do if you want to open an account when you live abroad

Every week, Which?’s money experts answer your financial queries. You can submit your questions to money-letters@which.co.uk, or via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Q. I’m an ex-pat returning to the UK. I’m struggling to open a bank account because I don’t have a UK address yet? Any ideas as to how I can get one?

Submitted via Twitter.

A. Returning home from a lengthy stay abroad can be a stressful experience in itself so it’s crucial to be clear in what your options are when it comes to banking.

The good news is that, since September last year, European Union rules have required UK banks to offer a basic bank account to all EU residents, no matter what their financial situation.

A basic bank account is a kind of no-frills account that allows you to send and receive money, set up direct debits and standing order, and withdraw cash with a debit card. They don’t come with overdrafts – so you won’t be able to dip into one if you have run out of cash.

You can also deposit money and withdraw cash over the counter at any Post Office or bank branch, on the same terms as other personal current account customers.

We’ve listed the 12 providers in the table below.

1 Bank of Scotland Basic
2 Barclays Basic Current Account
3 Clydesdale/Yorkshire Bank Readycash Account
4 Co-operative Bank Cashminder
5 Halifax Basic
6 HSBC Basic Bank Account
7 Lloyds Bank Basic Account
8 Nationwide FlexBasic
9 NatWest/RBS Foundation Account
10 Santander Basic Current Account
11 TSB Cash Account
12 Virgin Money Essentials

Banks offering these accounts have different criteria for opening them – some let you open a basic bank account online without a UK address, while others allow you to start the process abroad but it must be completed in the UK. We spoke to four major banks and building societies about their processes.

For example, Lloyds Bank allows you to open its Basic account with proof of ID and your EU address. This can be sent by mail, and is returned securely once the account has been opened. Barclays has similar requirements.

Nationwide, however, said that while EU residents can apply from abroad online, they’ll need to travel to the UK to have a face-to-face meeting within two months of being invited to an appointment in branch so Nationwide can verify who they are. The building society also stated that only sterling can be paid into a Nationwide current account – all other currencies will be rejected.

Banking options for people living outside of the EU

Things can become more challenging if you live outside of the EU and don’t have a UK address. Nationwide told Which? Money that  if your current home is outside the EU or EEA, you’ll have to wait until you’ve secured a UK address before you can open an account.

If you want to bank with Barclays when you get to the UK, you can apply for one of its non-basic current accounts online while you prepare for your move within 90 days of application. But the account won’t be opened until you have a face-to-face appointment to show your proof of address. If you happen to be in the UK, Barclays says the application could be completed then.

HSBC told us that if you are already one of its customers in the country within which you currently reside, you can speak to your local HSBC bank who can arrange to support you opening accounts with HSBC in other countries.

Lloyds Bank offers an International account, gives you the choice of three different currencies – sterling, euro or US dollar, as well as fee free international payments. It requires you to have a gross annual income of £50,000. To open one, you’ll have a call with the bank while you’re abroad and need to send proof of address and ID over via email. If approved, the account should be open within 3-5 working days.

Lloyds said it ‘may conduct enhanced due diligence’ for new account applications for people living overseas – meaning you may have to provide additional documentation or answer more questions – although this is carried out on a case-by-case basis.

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