How to Open a UK Bank Account from the USA

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If you want to open a bank account in the United Kingdom from the United States, we’ve got the information you need. Although it can be tough to open an account if you’re not a United Kingdom resident or citizen, it’s not impossible, thanks to specialist online services like Wise and Revolut. Online specialists like this can help you open a GBP account - even as a non-resident - which is cheaper, more flexible and easier to use than alternatives from regular banks.

Read on to find out what you need to do to get a bank account in the UK as a US citizen.

How to open a bank account in the UK as a US Resident

It is possible for an American to get access to their own UK bank account, it’s just difficult. You have a few different options:

  • Several UK banks offer specialist, international accounts. Unfortunately, these accounts often have very high initial deposit requirements, and you will probably need to pay a high monthly fee and pay in a lot of money each month to keep using them.
  • Some US banks have “reciprocal relationships” with banks in the UK. This means they can effectively “vouch” for you, which will improve the chances of the UK bank creating your account. Some US banks may even have a UK presence.
  • If you’re planning to be a resident in the UK, you can visit a UK bank when you’re there, and providing you have a valid address document and a valid identity document, you can open an account.
  • You may be able to get a specialist “virtual” bank account from a currency exchange company like Wise. This is, by far, your easiest option.

Whether you’re an international student or another non-resident of the UK, we’ll let you know how to get an account in the UK.

How to open a business bank account in the UK

Most UK banks will offer business accounts to entrepreneurs and business owners who have UK registered businesses. To open an account you’ll need to provide business registration information and a suite of paperwork about the owners, and anyone holding a significant share.

Different banks have different processes for arranging business bank accounts so you’ll want to compare a few and check out the options before you get started. Alternatively look at flexible digital alternatives like Wise and Revolut, which offer business services with low costs and multi-currency functionalities. More on that later. 

Can I open a bank account in the UK before arrival?

It’s tricky to open a bank account in the UK prior to arriving in the country. That’s because most traditional banks need you to be able to show a UK issued proof of address. 

If you want to get ahead of the game and get your GBP bank account set up before you arrive you’ll probably be better off with a specialist service like Wise or Revolut. More on the best GBP account options for non-residents coming up in a moment.

Rules for US Citizens Opening a Bank Account in the UK

Typically, most UK banks require someone to be resident in the United Kingdom when they set up their account. Alternatively, major UK banks will point you to their international and offshore banking options. These account types are usually available for foreigners and non-residents - but they come with restrictive conditions, and - often - high fees. More on that later.

What documents do you need to open a bank account in the UK?

To open a bank account with a traditional UK bank you’ll need to provide proof of identity and proof of address. This usually means you’ll need the following:

  • Proof of identity - a valid passport, national identity card or driver’s license for example
  • Proof of UK residential address - a bank or credit card statement, utility bill or tax return in your name 

Choosing these documents is often the easiest way for the bank to comply with UK legislation designed to stop fraud, money laundering and illegal account use. It helps keep accounts and customers safe - but it’s not always easy to provide this paperwork as a non-resident or new arrival in the UK. 

Luckily some specialist providers and expat services are more flexible in the ways they check customer identity - which can make it far easier for non-residents to legally get a UK account. 

International and Offshore Banking Accounts

One expensive way that you can open up an account from the US is to create an international account with a major UK bank. Unfortunately, this will be out of reach of most US citizens for several reasons:

  • You’ll typically need to make an initial deposit of around £100,000 / $130,000
  • You’ll need to deposit a sizeable amount of money into the account each month
  • You’ll need to earn a significant salary
  • You’ll need to pay a monthly maintenance fee to keep the account

Although requirements do vary between the four big UK banks — Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, and RBS/Natwest, we don’t typically recommend these accounts.

Reciprocal Relationships between U.S. and U.K. Banks

It’s possible that the bank you hold an account with in the US has a relationship with a bank in the UK, which may allow you to open an account there. We recommend contacting your bank in the US and enquiring with them about opening an account in the UK They may be able to recommend a correspondent bank, or they may even have a branch in the UK where you can access your US account or setup a new bank account.

In may cases though, opening a bank account through a reciprocal bank is likely to be difficult and complex.

 

Visit a UK Bank with the Right Documentation to Open an Account

Clearly, you can’t do this while you’re in the US, but we want to make you aware of all your options. If you’re going to be resident in the UK, you can open a bank account shortly after arriving there. Most of the big banks in the UK have accounts for new arrivals, and you’ll have plenty of choice.

  • Barclays provides a wide range of current (checking) accounts with good offers for students.
  • Lloyds has a large banking network and a “Classic” current account suitable for basic banking needs.
  • HSBC provides basic, student, and premier bank accounts.
  • Both RBS and Natwest provide accounts for most needs.

How much does it cost to open a non-resident bank account in the UK?

We’ve covered how major UK banks are likely to send non-resident customers in the direction of offshore banking services - and how expensive that can be. For many international and offshore bank accounts you’ll find yourself with high minimum deposit rates and higher than expected fees - although you could also benefit from perks like wealth management advice and personalized services. These products do absolutely have a market - but it’s mainly among high wealth individuals who want the extra services - and the status - that an offshore account can provide.

If you’re looking for a non-resident bank account options which doesn’t come with hefty fees - and which can offer a greater flexibility around currencies - online specialist services and neobanks may suit you better. We’ve got a couple of top picks coming right up.

Which account is best for non-residents?

It’s complicated to open an account in the U.K if you’re not located there, but there could be a workaround—a virtual bank account.

The Wise (formerly TransferWise) Account

Wise is a popular currency exchange and international money transfer service. They provide excellent exchange rates and low fees for sending money around the world and their customers love them! One of their most popular and innovative products is the Wise Account and it could be the perfect solution for opening a bank account in the UK from the US

It works as follows:

  • The Wise Account is a multiple currency account that lets you hold money in more than 50 currencies, including US dollars and UK pounds.
  • You can receive money fee free in AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HUF, NZD, RON, SGD, TRY and USD currencies. There’s a 4.14 USD fee for USD wire transfers, but dollar ACH payments are free
  • You get local banking details for each of those countries, which effectively means you have a UK bank account with its own sort code and account number.
  • You also get a connected debit card, so you can spend money from the account. Wise international debit card is free to use if you’re spending money in the local currency.
  • There’s a Wise app that tells you how much is in your account at all times.

You can also use your multi-currency account to send money to over 50 countries.

Fees for the Wise Account

There are no minimum account amounts, no monthly fees and no maintenance fees on the multi-currency account. The only Wise fees you’ll pay are:

  • Low fees when converting between currencies, starting from 0.41%
  • It’s free to make 2 withdrawals, up to the value of $100 every month - you’ll pay 2% + 1.50 USD per withdrawal for ATM withdrawals beyond that

The amount charged for converting between US dollars and UK pounds is as follows:

  • USD to GBP: 0.42%, so $4.20 if you’re converting $1,000
  • GBP to USD: 0.41%, so £4.10 if you’re converting £1,000

We think the Wise Account is the perfect solution and you can set one up quickly and easily, right now.

Learn more

Revolut Account

Revolut multi-currency accounts have been available to personal customers in UK since 2015.
3 different personal Revolut account plans are available:

  • The Standard plan is free from monthly fees.
  • Plus for GBP2.99/month
  • Premium for GBP6.99/month
  • Metal for GBP12.99/month. Paid plans allow you to access additional features and benefits including fee free ATM withdrawals, preferential customer service, premium physical cards and disposable virtual cards. Revolut business accounts, and junior accounts for children are also available.

With Revolut you can hold 27 currencies in the same account and manage your money using an app. Revolut users can send money internationally using the mid-market exchange rate, with fees payable at weekends, on certain currencies. Sending between Revolut accounts is instant. There are also handy budgeting features to help you save, a reward and cashback program, and options to buy, sell and trade crypto currencies and commodities.

revolut account

Learn more

The Best Bank for U.S. Citizens Wanting to Open an Account in the U.K.

For international students, non-residents and others, the Wise Account is going to be your easiest option. It’s fast and easy!

There you have it, your guide to opening an account in the UK from the US Now, if only we could have provided crumpets and tea as well…

Conclusion

There’s no legal barrier to non-residents and new arrivals in the UK opening a bank account. However, non-resident accounts with traditional banks tend to be tricky to open, expensive and inflexible. 

For many customers, choosing a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut will offer a better overall deal, including a more straightforward verification process, lower fees and better exchange rates.

FAQs

Can a foreigner open an account in the UK?

Yes. You can open a UK account as a foreigner or non-resident. However, non-UK residents will find it harder to open an account with a traditional bank, and may find it easier to get set up with a specialist online provider. 

How much do I need to open a bank account in the UK?

You can often open a bank account for free in the UK, although some traditional banks do ask for a minimum deposit amount to start with. Compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

Can I open a UK bank account online?

Yes. You can open a UK bank account online with traditional banks if you have proof of a UK address. If you don’t have this, you may be better off with a specialist online provider which allows you to open your account on your laptop or mobile device, with a more flexible verification process.

What is the best UK bank account for non-residents?

Many major UK banks offer international and offshore banking services which are aimed at high wealth individuals. If that’s not what you’re looking for, your best bet might be to open a UK bank account for non residents online with a specialist provider like Wise or Revolut.

Why can’t I open a bank account in the UK?

There’s no legal reason why you can’t open a bank account in the UK as a non-resident or foreigner. However, because of financial laws aimed to stop fraud, it can be tricky to get an account with a traditional bank if you don’t have proof of UK residence yet. In this case, check out online specialist multi-currency account providers which typically have a more flexible approach to account opening processes.

Can I open a bank account in the UK without a job?

Yes. You can open a bank account in the UK without needing to prove you have a job. However, some specialist accounts may require you to deposit regularly, through a salary, benefits, pension or other income. Check the account terms and conditions to help you find the right one for you.

Can I have a UK bank account without a UK address?

You are unlikely to be able to get a regular bank account in the UK without showing a UK proof of residential address, like a utility bill in your name. However, online specialist multi-currency accounts are available which accept proof of address from your home country - meaning you can apply online before you move to the UK, and use your US proof of address to get your account up and running.

Can I set up a UK bank account from abroad?

Most UK banks will need to see a proof of UK residence to allow you to open an account - so while online opening is an option, it may not be possible if you’re not already a UK resident. Look at specialist services like Wise and Revolut instead.

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By Justin Rampono Updated June 10th, 2022