The level of bureaucracy in London is huge. It took me almost 2 months to open a bank account here. You might think that all you need to do is just walk into a bank with some ID an voila they’ll open your new account. Not that easy.
Banks here want two things: ID and proof of address. The ID bit is easy – a passport will do fine. Proving your address is difficult. I’ve already lived in 4 different places in London – I couchsurfed, stayed with a friend’s friend’s friend, shared a room in North London and now I’m living in Chelmsford, Essex.
I had several options for proving my address:
A utility bill (can’t be a mobile phone bill) – it takes time to get and in my case was a hard sale. I kept moving from one place to another. My landlords weren’t too excited about this idea.
National Insurance number letter – Barclays bank allows to use this letter as proof of address. It took me 4 weeks after the interview to get my NI number (I also had to wait 3 weeks for the interview in the first place). They posted the letter to my old North London address. Since it wasn’t my current address I didn’t use it. Might work, might not.
Tenancy agreement – my current landlord in Chelmsford provided me with a tenancy agreement but that wasn’t good enough for the banks. Since it wasn’t from a housing association they treated it as a private agreement and thus it was insufficient.
Bank statement – All I needed to do was change the address in my current bank and order a paper statement. On the downside it might take a while until you receive the statement (I had an Australian bank – CBA). I actually got my statement in about 5 working days – two days too late because I found another way to open a bank account. So I’m not sure if this option works or not for proving your address.
Letter from employer – this one worked for me. Obviously you need to find work first. All you need is a signed paper where your employer confirms you work for him/her with your current address. It needs to be printed on the company’s official paper (with logos, addresses etc).
This marvel document enabled me to book an appointment to open my bank account. Mhm… you can’t just walk in and open one – even if you have all the documents. My Chelmsford HSBC branch’s first available appointment was in 2 weeks time. So I asked them to schedule an appointment in any other branch in London to get it done ASAP. I got an interview for the next day on Oxford St.
I went to the branch and gave the guy my documents. He went to a backroom, scanned my papers and a bit later said he can’t open my account. It was because the letter from my employer had some pixelation problems in the bottom area – the address was printed in a small font and some dots were missing – “anybody could’ve printed it” – a ridiculous reason to stop this process. It felt a lot like “I can’t open the account because I don’t like your face”. I rang my employer and she had a word with the bank’s representative. Then the man went to the back again, spoke to his auditor and five nervous minutes later he was happy to open my account.
You might think I was happy about that…but in reality I was just very annoyed. It was such a pain in the ass to open the account though I’m glad this bureaucratic nightmare is over.
I was listening to a podcast the other day. A guy was talking about helping people relocate to other countries. Anywho he said that it usually takes about 2 months to get over the humps of living in a new country. After that things will get better.
If I look at it that way I’m doing quite well. I’ve got a job (woohoooo positive cashflow!!!), have a NI number, UK bank account and a place to live. Soon I’ll have a social life as well – I took 2 Latin dancing lessons earlier this week, met a bunch of people and had a good time. I’m glad the venue is only a 10 minute walk from home. I can’t wait to go back again.