A Swiss in the UK

Thinking about moving abroad? I was born in Switzerland and settled down in UK nearly three years ago. I got my first job and moved in my first flat within just over a year. There have been quite a few steps for me to take in order to achieve this; this is my experience as an expat, share yours with us here!

06 June 2006

Opening a bank account in the UK - a few steps

Opening a bank account in the UK was for me one of the longest and most frustrating challenge I went through in the last two years. But it is also one of the first steps you should take when you first arrive. Why? Because without a bank account, the numbers of things you cannot do is unlimited: move in a place of your own, rent a phone line, pay bills, get a contract mobile phone, and many more (my short list should already have convinced you). This probably sounds very obvious to you, but make sure you do that as soon as possible.

Here are a few hints for you to make the process easier.

Please note that the following advice doesn't apply to students or non-European people; I also opened my account in the beginning of last year (2005), and what applied to me might be slightly different if you open an account now.

1. Make sure you really need an account

If you plan to stay in the UK for less than 6 months, it isn't worth opening a bank account. You should better use traveller cheques or withdraw money from your home bank during your stay. You also normally have to live in the country to open a bank account, and you cannot do it before leaving your home country, even if you know where you are going to live.

2. Be sure you have a passport beforehand

Being Swiss or from a European country, you are entitled to work and live in the UK for any period of time, as long as you can provide for your own needs (see link below for more information). All I needed to move in to the UK was my Swiss ID card. However, I should have known better, and obtained a passport before everything, as it is commonly used as the one and only proof of identity. When I wanted to open my account, most banks refused to even start the process without a passport. Believe it, I was able to rule out quite a few of them - most of them, actually.
I did manage to open one with my ID card as a proof of identity eventually, but it took me longer than it should have.

3. Officially notify the authorities back home about your change of address and get registered with the Embassy

As I had just made up my mind about staying in England for some time (more than two years, at least), I unregistered with the village I used to live in in Switzerland, notified some relevant places back home about my new UK address, and got registered with the Swiss Embassy in the UK (highly recommended!), which went surprisingly smoothly.

4. Get a proof of your UK address

The next step I was asked to take was to provide the UK bank with a proof of my UK address. That could be done by asking my Swiss bank (previously notified about my change of address) to send me an annual and official statement through normal post to the address I was staying at in the UK.

5. Ask you employer for a letter that proves your employment

I then had to provide the UK bank with proof of employment (which was a letter from my employer, stating the date of my start of employment, and a few other details) - which they didn't need after all, as far as I remember. But make sure you have one anyway, as it can help (if you're an au pair, I assume that a letter from the family you're working for can do as well).

6. Wait, cross your fingers, and get on with the next steps

At that point, which was roughly two months after I had first started the process, I thought I had finally got to the end of it, as I was asked to fill in the forms with my details; but I then had to wait for about another month, as the bank I opened an account with had to send a letter to my Swiss bank themselves, and ask them for an annual statement. Don't ask me why they had to do that, I was so upset at that point I didn't really care what was happening anymore, all I wanted to know was when it was going to happen.

Moral of the story? None, really, but some advice: get a passport as soon as possible if you haven't got one yet; I still haven't and struggle to find the money for it right now. Also, be patient, and make sure you have some time ahead, as it is not a straightforward process.

>> To find out about your rights to live and work in the UK and for all sorts of other general advice, is a very useful website. Have a look on this page of same website to see what nationalities allow you to work and live in the UK without a permit or visa.


Blogger Stan said...

Opening a Swiss bank account took me some time also. And I totally agree that getting an account open as soon as possible is the right idea.

I like Switzerland a lot. I've had some ups and downs, as everyone does moving to a new country. One of the challenges has been language. Oddly, the problem is that everyone speaks English so well that I haven't learned as much Hoch-Deutsch and/or Schwieze-Düütsch as I had hoped. But I am learning some!

12:24 pm, June 07, 2006  

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