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A Quick Guide To Moving To The UK

Moving to the UK can be a trying experience. It certainly feels like banging your head against a brick wall at times - you end up with a headache, and probably didn't make more than a tiny dent in the problem. So let me break down this guide into 5 areas:


1. Before You Move


Before you move, try to open a bank account with a bank that has branches in the UK. Banks like HSBC, Citibank (although to be fair, I've never seen a Citi retail banking office here), and so on come to mind. They will serve as good references to help open a bank account, or even help transfer existing or set up new accounts. In my case, I had banked with Chase, and Bank of America, neither of which were of any use as a reference.


Carry plenty of cash (securely, of course), as ATM withdrawls from accounts outside the UK will be costly. It'll take time to open a bank account, and some more time to get a wire transfer or cheque cleared. Be prepared to go a month (or more) without easy access to funds. Make sure you have some way of paying the apartment application fees & getting bankers cheques for the apartment security deposit & 1st month's rent. My agents didn't accept cash, and I'm pretty sure others wouldn't either.


2. When You Arrive


The first thing to do is get a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile phone. Or get a SIM if you're married to your old handset. You need a local number to give out to everyone until you can get a contract-based number, or home phone provisioned. You may have to do some research into what provider has the best coverage in your home & office neighborhoods. For example, I would have thought that ALL providers would have had good service in a place like Isle of Dogs (it's only Zone 2), but I've definitely had better experience with Vodafone than with O2 (not to say O2 is bad, just that Vodafone is better for my needs).


Luckily, I'd found estate agents to be a bit more flexible than other organizations I've dealt with. Although they technically state that they cannot release your keys until they have proof of a standing order with your bank*, they will work with you to resolve any issues. Once you get the lease signed, gather all the phone numbers you'll need - the local council, utilities providers (gas, electricity, phone, internet, cable/ satellite). Now some companies will need a land line to activate services (internet & cable, specifically), so do the research into how to go about setting things up.


Most importantly, stop by the bank with which you want to set up an account, and schedule an account opening appointment. It might not be as easy as you think. I had to wait almost a week to get mine. That's because opening an account can take an hour to fill out all the forms and questionnaires. I'm not sure why they need all that information. I suspect my bank manager needs to know as much as he can about me. Either that, or the UK has some serious Big Brother issues to work out.


Also buy a PAYG mobile broadband stick for your laptop or computer. I've used Vodafone, since they had better network coverage where I stay, and seemed to have better commercials than other providers (30-day, 3GB data transfer for £15). You'll need it to check personal email, Facebook, etc. until you get your residential service set up.


3. Just Before Moving In


A couple of days before moving in, contact the local council and let them know you're going to be the new resident at your address. That will trigger them to send you a breakdown of local council taxes payable monthly. That bill schedule is going to serve as proof of address until you get regular bank statements. Generally speaking, mobile phone bills, and out-of-country bank statements are not accepted as proofs of address, which makes things very, very difficult.


Also call the phone, internet, and cable companies (if you're lucky, you'll be speaking to just one provider) to schedule an installation/ activation date. This could be a week or two out, and if you need to provision the phone line before you can provision anything else, you may be looking at a month before everything's set up to your satisfaction.


Another important thing to do would be to look up local NHS practices to see which ones are registering new patients, deciding which one looks the best, and giving them a call.


4. The Day You Move In


As part of the move-in inspection, conducted by a 3rd party, make note of your gas & electricity meter readings. Give these utility providers a call, and set up your account. They will need your meter readings as part of the process. Chase up with any other utility companies to give them updated information, as needed.


5. A Few Notes About Opening A Bank Account


Pay attention to what documentation the bank will require before they allow you to open an account. I had to wait to move in, and get my council bills. I also had a bank statement from a small private UK bank as a backup, but I never used it.


There are special bank accounts available to those moving to the UK for the first time. My bank, HSBC, offers something called a Passport account. It charges you £8 per month, and gives you access to a debit card. It does not require the more onerous proofs of local address as a regular account would. However, it will NOT allow you to apply for a credit card. This seems to be idiotic, since essentially, you could wait till you get your first bank statement, and then take that to another bank to open a regular account. Yes, there is a sunk cost of £96, and that might be an issue if finances are tight. Regardless, it's as if HSBC is essentially telling folks it doesn't need their business, and would they please go to another bank.


In any case, once you open your bank account, the bank will automatically send you a debit card and cheque book. You might not be eligible to apply for a credit card right away, and may need to wait a few months.


Obviously, this rough guide only scratches the surface of the topic. I've used my experiences, and help from a good friend, to form the basis of this post. If you have any other tips or hints to share, please do leave them in the comments below.


* A paradox that would stump the best logical thinker. Essentially, you won't have a mailing address (get keys by providing bank instructions) until you have a bank account, and you can't get a bank account unless you have a mailing address.

Reader Comments (1)

How about this as an important tip - don't leave your wife behind in the US :-p

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternamrata

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