expat life

Expats and banking

11 Comments 15 October 2012

I remember when I first moved to the UK I had no idea about how to check out international bank options. I went from bank to bank looking for someone who would accept that lil’ ol’ me with zero cash, no job and an American passport might be a safe person to open a bank account with them. The bank managers said it would help if I had a job. When I finally got a job, they said ‘we need your bank account details.’ It was one of the many stresses new expats potentially face.

I have no idea if it’s still that difficult for young, jobless American expats moving to the UK, but I do sometimes see grumblings from expats trying to open a current account in the UK. Most resently, I saw a post by a woman who has moved with her husband for his very lucrative job in London and even she had difficulty opening a current account, because she didn’t have a job and had only lived at her address about three days. The bank suggested that she open a joint account with her husband. She wasn’t impressed. I wondered why no one suggested that she check out information on setting up international bank accounts. It seems logical now that I’ve been an expat for so long but when you’re new you have no idea.

I guess the welcome packages that some companies do when they move people around might be a great place to include this information, but clearly they don’t always do this. What exactly is included in these welcome packages? And why don’t more companies do them??

What experiences have you had with trying to get a bank account when you move overseas? Did anyone advise you or did you have to figure it out on your own?


 This post has not been sponsored by anyone.


Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. tami curtis says:

    when i first moved over, 13 and a half years ago, i had a very bad experience with my husband’s bank. All he wanted to do was add me on to his already existing account – yet they treated me like i was an international spy! they pretty much accused me of having a fake passport, and questioned our motives as to why he wanted to add me – i guess getting married wasnt good enough! i will never understand why i was treated like this (i’m obviously not a spy, or if i am, not a very good one!) i gave them no reason, i gave all my information and of course my passport was not fake. i mean, why would anyone ever fake a passport to live here (sarcasm)????

  2. International banks aren’t truly international – they just have branches in different countries. When I first moved to London, I assumed that my American Citibank account would get me access to a British Citibank account – wrong. And when I moved back, after getting an HSBC account, I assumed I’d be able to transfer that to an American HSBC account – but wrong again.

    Remembering from when I opened that first HSBC account in 2008, I didn’t have to have a job (though that might have been due to the kind of account I chose) but I did have to have two utility bills. Very tricky for a student who had arrived, like, the day before! They really don’t make it easy.

  3. My husband & I moved to London in 2002, he was a student, & soon after moving I got a job at a solicitors. Since he was a student, he could open an account at the bank near the school. I, however, could not open an account.

    I could either take my paycheck to a bank & have it cashed every 2 weeks, or I could have it direct deposited into his bank account, which I could not access since students could not open joint accounts.

    We ended up going the direct deposit route, & then he gave me the ATM card so I could go to bank machines.

    What I have found, from living in different countries, is that unless you walk into a bank with a wad of money, it’s pretty hard to open a new account.

  4. Expat Mum says:

    I had similar problems when I moved to the States. Basically, until you have a Social Security number, you can’t open a bank account (or you couldn’t a while back); since you usually can’t have a SS number till you have a job, it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation.
    And – this may not be a popular question – but if you move half way across the world for your husband’s job, and you yourself don’t have a job, I can’t see what is so outrageous about being asked to open a joint bank account. I mean, I can see why it might be bad customer service, but that’s all.

  5. Tammy says:

    When I moved over 11 years ago, I had similar problems. No bank would take me, but I was informed that I could open an account once the school year came (I was a graduate student in waiting).

    I started working as a bar maid before classes got going, not knowing that they only paid via direct deposit! I worked for 6 weeks with no check until I had that bank information. That was something they failed to tell me about before I started.

    A guide that had all these little hidden things (like council tax!!!!) would be invaluable for people moving over.

  6. Iota says:

    I’m so glad we kept our UK bank accounts when we went to the US, and we’ll definitely keep our US ones now we’re back.

    I can’t remember it being too much of a problem when we moved to the US, but Husband had a job, and we had cash from the sale of our house here, so we were a good option for a bank. I do remember being stuck until the cards came through, but that wasn’t for long.

    People have NO idea of the trauma of an international move, do they? You can’t do ANYTHING, really, without a bank account, but getting one can be such a hassle. And that’s just the beginning of it all…

  7. Jenn says:

    Thankfully, this was the ONLY area where the “international relocation consultants” that the corporate office hired (they didn’t really have any prior international operations) was helpful.

    We opened up an HSBC account in NY which allowed NY to set up one in the UK. I’m assuming it isn’t a standard banking account, since it sounds like other people have had problems with this, and we’ve actually just closed our US HSBC account due to inactivity, but it was the only thing that was really useful.

    That said, we did open up a joint account, but honestly, I didn’t see a need for an individual account since I couldn’t work here. I’m not offended by this inasmuch as I am by the fact that because my husband opened ALL the utilities in his name only, I couldn’t call Sky when we had an issue with the Skybox – they always asked to speak to my husband, or if he could conference in!!!

    I usually told them I’d get a note from my mummy for them and hung up, fuming, and then my husband would get an earful because he had still not added me to the accounts.

    That is MY advice – make sure all utilities are in BOTH names, especially if you are a SAHM and the one who has to deal with the nimrods on the phone.

  8. Jenny says:

    oh, don’t get me started. I’ve been abroad for a month and a half now and my bank saga still hasn’t ended. I managed to finagle myself an account somehow,which was a bit tricky but thankfully I had a little assistance from a friend (who had an account at the bank) who came along to help argue in my favor. It worked, but it’s been drama since then…first my card didn’t come, then i found out that 3,500 Euros was missing (I assume thanks to whoever stole my card out of the mail)…bank says its my responsibility to apply for the police report and the police say it’s the bank’s responsibility, and until its resolved all my money has been tied up anyway, despite having an account. Really would have been better off if i hadn’t bothered! This has been going on for weeks and it seems the object is to make sure my information passes through as many hands as possible via hand-written letters (seriously, back in america this would have taken an hour or two in a banker’s office and a few clicks of a mouse!) It’s amazing how differently banks in other countries operate, which means plenty of confusion on my part. Throw in the fact that everything is being done in a foreign language…fun.

    • Michelloui says:

      Oh Jenny that sounds completely miserable. I hope it’s all resolved for you soon and that you get your money back as well!!

  9. MsCaroline says:

    Not only is getting a bank account challenging, but learning how people use them is quite different. Just about everything in Seoul is paid via bank transfer – no checks at all. It took me a while to figure out how to do it, even though the ATMs here have ‘English’ options.

  10. chickenruby says:

    Don’t get me started on the bank saga, here in South Africa. After a large International bank let us down, because they don’t actually have a branch here (failed to tell us that bit) we opened local accounts as hubby is paid in Rand. They don’t do joint accounts and as a visitor I found myself without access to any money as UK account which we opened to move here, suspended my card due to ‘unusual activity’ finally I was allowed a bank account with hubbies permission. Then they inform us there is no drop down box for British so would we mind being Irish?
    Seriously couldn’t make this up

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