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Opening a bank account in the UK: a step-by-step guide

Great Britain welcomes entrepreneurs and investment into its economy and it is easy for anyone, even without British citizenship, to register a UK company or a representative office of a foreign company provided you comply with all requirements. A bank account in the UK is not mandatory for a company to enter a local market, but you will need it to carry out transactions with local partners. Here is where foreign nationals encounter certain difficulties that they are unable to solve on their own.

Restrictions for opening a UK bank account: what an entrepreneur must know

British banking system is rather conservative and even a foreign investor with a high potential might find it hard to open a bank account in a UK bank for the following reasons:

  1. Neither foreign companies nor their UK representative offices can open bank accounts in the UK.
  2. Even a UK-registered legally trading company would not be able to open a bank account if it is directed by a non-resident.
  3. A bank will open an account for a UK company if its director has a long-term visa or a settled status in the UK. It means they can legally stay in the UK long-term and run a company from here including subsidiaries of a foreign business.

Как открыть счет в банке Великобритании

Opening an account in a European bank

Sometimes it takes a lot of time, money and personal effort to open a bank account in the United Kingdom. If it is not worth the hassle, a UK company can open a bank account in a European bank, for example in Latvia, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Estonia, Cyprus, etc. It is often much easier to start banking with one of them than with a UK bank. Though European bank accounts can be more expensive to maintain, they also offer a lot of benefits not available in UK banks:

  • Dealing with offshore companies.
  • Transactions available in different currencies.
  • Personal account manager.
  • Client-friendly online banking and much more.
Read this article to learn more about pros and cons of opening an account in a European bank.

Anyway, before applying for a bank account, assess the situation from different perspectives; do you really need a bank account in a UK bank, or it can be opened in a more friendly European bank? If you do need to bank on the British Isles, let’s have a look what’s needed to open a UK bank account.

Pluses and minuses of opening a bank account in the UK

British banks are traditionally perceived as one of the most trustworthy and reliable in Europe. Many have been operating for centuries as a family business, with its customs and traditions. Besides, a stable economy and transparent legislation open up great opportunities to grow a business both in the UK and globally.

However, without a UK residence permit or a British passport it is often impossible to sign a contract with a UK bank. Your application most probably be refused at the initial stage of applying for a UK bank account. To succeed, you need help from qualified lawyers and advisers that have relevant experience and can help you achieve your goal.

Открытие счета в европейском банке

How to open a bank account in the UK: top 3 tips

If you have made up your mind to open a UK bank account irrespective of all the hurdles, here are the phases that you must go through.

1. Provide identification of a director of a company or a representative office and their proof of address

It is a straightforward procedure. You identify yourself with a foreign passport and relevant UK residence permits or a British passport. As a proof of address, provide utility bills (gas, water, power, council tax) but not older than 3 months. A bank statement from another UK bank will also serve as a proof of address.

2. Submit information and necessary documents about the business

UK banks conduct very thorough checks on their prospective clients. Apart from doing due diligence on a director, they will require evidence that your business is real, trading and can generate profit – they need to see that there will be constant activity on account. Besides, your company should be clean of any scandals and illegal activities and have all taxes paid.

The bank would be asking for the following details:

  • Detailed description of business activities with examples (it might be best to provide a business plan) including a list of existing and potential clients and partners, how you settle payments with the clients and suppliers (cash or electronic transfers), which currencies you will operate in, etc.
  • Evidence of contracts or invoices to demonstrate incoming and outgoing payments.
  • Estimated turnover.

All documents must be in English or accompanies with a certified translation. There is no need to send incorporation documents, because a bank will be able to check them on a public register of companies registered in the UK.
Преимущества и недостатки открытия счета в банке в Англии

3. Address additional queries from a UK bank

Based on a bank and its KYC procedures, you might be asked to do something extra. It is mainly to do with meeting a bank manager (unfortunately, it is almost impossible to do it remotely) and speaking fluent English to be able to communicate with a bank officer. You can also bring an interpreter with you, but not all banks will accept that.

UK banks have strict rules when it comes to opening bank accounts for companies. It is a riddle that you might not be able to solve on your own, especially if you are not a UK resident.

UK bank account: all services in one place

Imperial & Legal offers services of opening and also managing a bank account in the UK. Imperial package is a comprehensive business solution for entrepreneurs that do not want any headache in dealings with UK banks.

Our qualified lawyers will prepare a full set of documents, help you choose the best bank for your business and negotiate with a bank on your behalf. Once opened, we can manage a bank account in your name to make sure all payments are made in time as per your instructions.

FAQ about opening a bank account in the UK

Do UK banks' rules apply to foreigners?

There are no laws in the United Kingdom that prohibit financial institutions from working with foreigners. However, many banks prefer not to deal with non-residents because they have to follow Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures. Your application will most probably be refused in some financial institutions such as the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) without explanation, even if you have a long-term visa.

Other respectable banks, such as as Barclays, Lloyds and HSBC, are more flexible in working with foreign clients. However, irrespective of this flexibility, they will not overlook movements of funds on your bank account. When you get a large sum of money, they may check if the source is legal.

Can I live in the UK without a bank account?

Unfortunately, no. Cash is rarely used in the UK today, at least much less than in other countries. It is almost impossible to live in the country without using the services of local or European banks, as some payments are not expected to be made in cash at all.

In daily life, British people buy their goods and services withplastic credit or debit cards and online. Some of them may write checks in the old-fashioned way.

What documents does a foreigner need to open a bank account in the UK?

The standard set of documents includes:

  • An identity document. It can be a foreign passport or a UK residence card.
  • A proof of address: a tenancy agreement, utility bills but not older than 3 months.
  • A university acceptance letter for students.
  • A bank statement from another UK bank, if you are opening another bank account.
  • An application form for opening a bank account.
  • A UK visa must be presented in most cases.

You can open a UK bank account online or in person by making an appointmentwith a bank manager. At a branch, you may need to provide clarifications about the documents you have provided and the reason for opening an account with their bank. If you don’t speak fluent English, you should bring an interpreter or a consultant with you.

What is the best type of bank in the UK for opening a corporate account?

Commercial banks in the UK can be divided into two large groups – retail and private. Retail banks include the country’s largest and best-known banks: Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, Metro, RBS. They work successfully with both individuals and companies. Retail banks have plenty of great offers for companies, from those with no account fees to online banking and convenient accounting tools for business. Unfortunately, it is difficult for a foreign company to sign a service agreement with UK retail commercial banks. However, if you purchase the Imperial package from Imperial & Legal, opening a UK bank account will be only a matter of time.

What Imperial package options will help me open a UK bank account?

As part of this package, your company will get a business address for UK bank purposes. Imperial & Legal advisers will help you prepare and translate the required documents, fill in an application form to open a UK account, prepare your company director for and accompany them at a meeting with a bank manager.

In other words, our qualified specialists will advise you on how to apply and deal with bank representatives correctly and will personally manage every stage of the process of opening a UK corporate bank account.

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