Once you’ve sorted out visas and made your plans to move to the UK, you’re going to need a plan to move your money. Setting up UK bank accounts and gaining access to your money in local currency is more difficult than you may expect.
Opening a Bank Account
A common obstacle faced by expats coming to the UK is discovering how difficult it is to open a bank account. Most high street banks such as Barclays and Lloyds will not open an account for you until you have a UK address.
Consider that you’ll need access to money to put down rental deposits and you see how this becomes a circular problem. No address means no account means no renting to secure an address, and begin again.
Several online banks have stepped in recently to provide a digital alternative to high street banks, including Wise, Starling and Revolut.
I’ve personally used Wise and hold Wise accounts in US Dollars and UK Pounds. They are frequently noted as the best all-around option for expats. I’ve found their rates much better than traditional banks and transfers process quite quickly. They also offer a multi-currency debit card and can be used for payroll deposits just like any other bank. Start with Wise here.
If you really want to stick with an in-person banking experience, you may be able to obtain a high street bank account with some extra effort. When I moved to the UK as a student in 2014, I was able to open a Lloyd’s account after obtaining a letter certifying my status from my university.
If I was looking today, I’d prefer to maximize online banking options and skip the in-person banking steps entirely.
Converting US Dollars ($) to UK Pounds (£)
Once you have an account set up in local currency, it’s time to move money across the pond. There are two important things to consider when you are converting money. You want your money to retain the highest possible value, and you don’t want to wait ages to access your money.
I use Wise for all of my money transfers. Thanks to already having open accounts with them, my money moves sometimes within seconds and always within a few hours.
Be conservative with your initial money transfers to the UK. Yes, you will need to pay some things in local currency. But, you don’t want to move all of your money over and realize you have outstanding bills in the US due in a month. Money transfers should not be expensive, but they aren’t free. Make sure you maintain a cushion in US funds for any ongoing or final expenses.
Using US Credit Cards in the UK
When I first moved over, I found it convenient to use a US credit card for day to day purchases. Even though I moved here for my husband’s job, it was about a month before he received his first paycheck. In the meantime, I didn’t want to move all of our money to the UK when I was still figuring out what our regular expenses would look like.
Using a US credit card was a convenient way to make early purchases. If you want to do the same, make sure that your card does not charge foreign transaction fees. Convenience gets expensive if you have to pay extra for every purchase.
Building UK Credit
After you move money to the UK to start your life and start to settle in, you’re going to want to consider ways to build your UK credit score. Unless this is a short-term move abroad, you will want a strong credit score eventually.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to set up and pay utilities in your name. If you’re in a couple, divide utility accounts if possible so that you both have the benefit of building payment history.
Securing a mobile phone contract is often impossible when you first move over, but switching from pay as you go to a contract as soon as possible is a good idea. Like utilities, a positive payment history with a mobile phone provider will boost your credit.
Credit cards can be secured with most high street banks, though you will likely need to start with a credit builder option until your credit improves. In general, your US credit score will not be considered when applying for a credit card.
One notable exception is American Express. If you have an existing US Amex card, you may be able to open a UK card account based on your US card history and credit score. You can find more about this process here.