British banking 101

Bank cards sitting in a ladies wallet.

This week I’ve opened my own U.K. bank account, two months after my arrival in the country. Given the nature of my visa, the fact I had a residency card and the ease in which Adam was able to open a bank account in Australia we made the assumption it would be a similar straight forward process in England. However, as we discovered, it was a little more complicated than that!

Visa cards sitting on top of a ladies wallet

The bank where I’ve opened my account required multiple forms of identification as well as a proof of address. My passport, visa stamp and residency card covered the identification requirements. Normally I’d whip out an old phone or electricity bill as proof of address – but as I’d only been in the country a few weeks I didn’t have any letters of that nature.

Adam suggested I apply for a National Insurance Number (similar to an Australian Tax File Number) as I’d need it to be able to work in England. That required a phone call to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), an application pack was sent out where I had to fill out a number of forms and send away copies of my identification documents. We’d been advised the application letter wasn’t a suitable proof of address, but that the letter with the actual NIN would be.

My NIN was issued on a letterhead from Jobcentre Plus (a privatised section of HMRC), and couldn’t be accepted by the bank so I had to ring HMRC again explain the situation and ask them to reissue my NIN letter on a HMRC letterhead.

After four in-branch appointments I finally had success and now feel like a fully functioning adult again! Thankfully I had Adam, who had his accounts and we were able to get by with him using his bank cards and me using cash.

After so many years of relying of my ‘plastic’ it was a bit unusual going back to using physical money again. I became a lot more aware of what I was buying, but it was a hassle at times making sure I always had enough cash on me to cover expenses.

Two twenty pound notes

I am aware of services set up to help people who are applying for visas in the U.K.  Many of them, as part of various packages, offer setting up a bank account.  If you’re considering a similar move to me and Adam, I would seriously consider investigating such deals. You obviously pay for the service, but it might save you a good amount of time and effort when you arrive.  If you don’t have a partner, friends or family in England with an already set up account, I imagine it would be even harder. It was a lesson I’ve certainly learnt the long way, but it feels good to finally have another bit of life maintenance complete!


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