How to Open a Personal or Business UK Bank Account as a Non-Resident

With just a bit of planning, opening a UK personal or business bank account as a non-resident is a relatively easy process. Here’s everything you to know.

How to open a UK bank account as a non-resident

Dear Old Blighty. The United Kingdom. Despite Brexit, it’s still Europe’s leading financial centre, home to the most successful startups, and one of the best places to run a business. But banking there can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not a resident. You’ll need to go through a few steps to get yourself up and running, but it’s not nearly as difficult as you’d think.

What’s in this guide?

In this guide, we’ll go through everything you need to know to open a bank account in the UK if you’re not living there. We’ll discuss the different banking options available in the UK for people who are living abroad and for businesses that are based outside of the UK. We’ll also discuss which banks offer services for UK limited companies with foreign directors.

Key takeaways

  • The easiest solution: If you need a GBP bank account but reside outside the UK, Wise’s multi-currency account is probably the easiest solution right now. If you live in the EU/EEA, Monese is a viable alternative.
  • High-street banks: Traditional big UK banks like HSBC occasionally accept non-residents on a case-by-case basis. They have a high minimum balance requirement, and your account will be held in the Channel Islands. In most cases, you have to be a high-net-worth individual to bank with these institutions.
  • Business bank: You can open a business bank account in the UK as a non-resident through Wise, Airwallex, or Tide. All three accept business customers from outside the UK, including directors of UK-registered companies who reside abroad.

Why open a UK bank account?

Truth be told, most people probably don’t need one. However, certain activities are only possible with a UK bank account. Here are some good reasons to open one when living abroad.

Investments in the UK

Many foreigners are investing in the UK real estate market, either by buying a property or operating a buy-to-let. As a foreigner, you can own property in the UK, even if you don’t live there. But if you have tenants or have to pay taxes to the HMRC, these transactions must be settled in pound sterling.

Another type of overseas investor is putting money into European startups through crowdfunding platforms located in the UK. The UK is the leading hub when it comes to the number of successful startups, but you’ll need an account in GBP if you want to own shares in these high-growth businesses.

A third type of investor sees potential in buying or selling shares in publicly-listed British companies. Again, you’ll need a UK account if you want to trade GBP-denominated shares. Of course, you may leave the currency exchange to your local bank, but you’ll probably receive a terrible rate.

Family in the UK

Around 3.5 million EU citizens live and work in the UK, many of whom remit money to their families and friends back in Europe. If you’re the person living outside the UK, your relative’s financial situation may be such that they only have GBP available to them. Having a UK bank account yourself to interact with them solves a lot of problems. You can send money to them in the UK, and they can send money to your GBP account without incurring expensive transfer fees.

UK business customers or clients

A lot of companies and freelancers have customers in the UK that want to pay for products or services in pounds sterling. To receive these payments, you must have a GBP balance or rely on your bank’s exchange rate. If your company has a UK bank account, clients will be more comfortable paying you, and it adds credibility to your brand.

If you’re selling to British retail customers online, payment processors like Stripe will display prices in pounds to them. When you withdraw money from your Stripe account and it’s not in the same currency as your bank account, Stripe charges a fee of about 2%. To avoid the unfavorable exchange rate, you can instead open a GBP account and receive payments in that currency.

UK-registered business

A lot of foreigners own or manage UK-registered companies (a surprising 7% actually). By trading through a UK LTD (private limited company) or LLP (limited liability partnership), foreigners can access the reputation that comes with the UK name. Furthermore, UK businesses are shielded from legal liability and offer significant leeway in terms of structure, financing, and ownership.

While a UK limited company can be registered from anywhere in the world and have foreign owners, opening a traditional UK bank account as a non-resident owner be problematic. Luckily, new internet banks like Wise and Airwallex make it easy for people in these circumstances to open a UK business account from outside the country.

Excurse: How UK banks work

The UK banking industry started in the 17th century and is today one of the most advanced in the world. Every day, billions of pounds flow in and out of the UK financial system, and most transactions are made electronically. Behind the scenes, there are three payment systems: Bacs, CHAPS, and Faster Payments.

Bacs was created in 1968 and is the oldest of the UK payment systems. Despite its antiquity, Bacs is still responsible for the vast majority of UK payments. In 1984, CHAPS was created, allowing for same-day clearing of high-volume transactions in the UK, but it was not until 2008 Faster Payments was introduced to instantly settle high and low-volume payments.

Bacs, CHAPS, and Faster Payments are settlement and clearance systems. When you send money from your bank, the transaction takes place in the background. Your account is debited and a request is transmitted to the receiver’s bank, asking them to credit your recipient’s account.

Every account is given a unique sort code and account number to determine how much money each individual has. While many individuals incorrectly believe that their name is linked to a stash of real cash hidden in a vault, modern bank accounts are simply computer records. Think of them as spreadsheets on steroids, only a thousand times more complicated. Put differently, money in the modern UK is digital money.

All of the major UK banks are linked to Bacs, CHAPS, and increasingly also Faster Payments, which means there are no fundamental distinctions in terms of their underlying infrastructure. However, how banks implement these technologies into different user interfaces determines what you experience as a customer.

High-street banks

We can distinguish between traditional brick-and-mortar banks, also called high-street banks, and online-only banks. High-street banks are the conventional face of banking in Britain, with branches found in most major cities and long histories to show for. These are the likes of the Big Four: HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays, and NatWest. But chances are, none of them will onboard you as a customer. But why is that?

Why is it difficult to open a bank account with a high-street bank?

Most high-street banks only take customers who reside in the UK. The reason is the strict AML regulations that banks are required to comply with. For high street banks like Barclays or Lloyds, it’s time-consuming and resource-intensive to run background checks on people residing abroad.

If you live in the European Union, only a very few would want to accept you as a client. Following Brexit, UK banks are no longer able to “passport” their services to customers in other EEA countries without first obtaining a license in every single state. As a result, most banks have chosen to cease onboarding clients from the European Economic Area and throw out existing customers.

So are there no UK banks that accept overseas clients? There are, but the majority of these won’t deposit your money in a UK branch, but they will work with you through one of their Channel Islands-based entities. However, if you’re an average Joe, don’t get your hopes up: the majority of these banks will only serve high-net-worth individuals for asset and wealth management purposes.

Online banks

Online banks, often known as “virtual banks,” are financial firms that provide banking apps and websites but lack physical branches. For individuals who are unable to get a regular bank account with a high street bank, online banks provide an excellent alternative. As with a regular UK bank account, you’ll get a personal UK bank account number and sort code, as well as an IBAN, to send money internationally.

If you open an online UK bank account, you can send and receive payments in GBP using a personal debit card or bank transfer just as with a regular bank. Non-residents who can’t get a regular UK bank account can instead use a virtual bank like Wise, which provides UK bank details and debit cards as part of their multi-currency accounts.

How to open a bank account in the UK as a non-resident

To open a bank account in the UK as a non-resident, you must provide proof of address and a valid ID. You can meet these requirements with utility bills or official documents from your home country, which show your name and current residential address.

The easiest way to open a UK bank account from abroad is to use Wise or Monese. Both services do not require you to have a UK address: Wise accepts customers from almost every country, whereas Monese is limited to people who live in the European Economic Area (EEA). They are both online banks, meaning you get to use an app and website, but they don’t have physical branches.

If you want to open an account with a traditional bank, HSBC, Lloyds, and Barclays are among the few that accept non-residents. However, they have very stringent criteria, and the list of nations that are acceptable to them varies considerably. You must qualify as a high-net-individual, and your account will usually be held overseas, in Jersey, Guernsey, or the Isle of Man. To complete the process, you must visit the bank in person with your identification documents and other paperwork to verify your identity and finish the application procedure.

If you want to open a UK business bank account for your non-UK company or as a non-resident director of a UK company, there are several banks available. More on that further below.

Wise (formerly TransferWise)

Wise provides UK accounts to non-residents. Image: Wise. Modified.
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  • Unique UK account details
  • Free to open
  • Available worldwide
Fees
  • Account opening: £0
  • Ongoing fees: £0
  • In-kind card spending: 0%

Wise (formerly Transferwise) is a free-to-open digital bank that operates entirely online and has no physical branches. It is an authorized electronic money institution regulated by the FCA, meaning it’s supervised in all relevant areas of its business, including protecting your funds.

Wise lets you open a UK bank account as a non-resident. You can receive and send British pounds with zero fees from an account in your name. You get a personal British account number, sort code, and IBAN to transact in pounds with and outside the UK. Local transfers are typically instant or settled within 1 business day, while international transfers take around 3-4 days but are often instant as well.

Wise: Features

  • A free UK bank account that can be opened from almost anywhere in the world 🇬🇧.
  • A personal UK account number, sort code, and IBAN. Meaning, ingoing, and outgoing transfers are made in your name.
  • £0 fees for account opening and maintenance, for receiving and holding sterling pounds, for spending pounds with the Wise card.
  • It’s free to set up Direct Debits with your GBP account details to pay for monthly subscriptions like phone or energy bills.
  • The free personal UK account is part of Wise’s multi-currency account which lets you can hold and convert money in 54 currencies. Besides GBP, you get unique account details for USD, EUR, GBP, AUD, NZD, SGD, RON, CAD, HUF, and TL.
  • A physical and virtual multi-currency debit card that allows you to spend currencies from your account fee-free. If you don’t have the currency in your account, there is a conversion spread, starting at 0.24%.

Monese

Monese is available to residents in the EU/EEA and UK. It was one of the first UK online banks. Image: Monese.
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  • Unique UK bank details
  • Free account in GBP and EUR
  • Available the EU/EEA
Fees
  • Account opening: £0
  • Ongoing fees: £0
  • Local transfers: £0

Monese was one of the first mobile banks in the UK and has developed a solid customer base among residents and non-residents. Norris Koppel, a former EU resident, launched the service after becoming frustrated with setting up a UK account when coming from abroad. To make a long story short, his aim was to make it possible for every European to open a current UK account in minutes.

Monese lets you open a UK bank account as a non-resident without proof of address in the UK. However, you must be a resident of an EU/EEA country to qualify. There are paid tiers available, but it’s free to open a basic account, and there are zero monthly/yearly fees along the way. You can hold different currencies, mainly GBP and EUR, in your own name and send and receive transfers from a unique, personal IBAN.

Monese: Features

  • A free UK bank account for residents in the EU/EEA.
  • £0 fees to send or receive sterling pounds and euros, with support instant transfers through the Faster Payments network.
  • Personal and unique EUR and GBP bank details to send, receive and hold money in your name.
  • You can sign up from your smartphone with just an email, phone number, and passport at hand.
  • Direct Debits to handle your monthly payments, such as rent and bills
  • A free virtual debit card that can be added to Google Pay, Apple Pay, or the Curve Card.
  • Refer your friends and earn £20 for each new person who signs up to Monese with your invitation

HSBC

HSBC Bank
HSBC is the largest bank in the UK by market capitalization. Image: HSBC. Modified.
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  • Offshore UK account in Jersey
  • High-net-worth individuals only
  • Available in select countries
Fees
  • Min. balance: £50k/£15k
  • Maintenance fees: £0
  • Per GBP transfer: £4 – 6

HSBC is one of the world’s largest banks and has been operating in the UK for more than 150 years. It was founded in Hong Kong in 1865, hence the official name Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and now has over 40 million customers and 3,900 offices across 70 countries. In other words, it’s a globally-minded bank, and it’s one of the few institutions that cater to non-residents.

HSBC offers current accounts to non-UK residents in pound sterling, US dollar, and euro. Your bank account will be kept in Jersey, one of the world’s top financial centers, meaning it won’t be located in the UK per se.

Eligibility

You can apply for HSBC “Expat” or “Overseas” offshore account if you fulfill the following requirements (see full details here). These requirements can change at any time, so visit HSBC’s website for the latest and most accurate information.

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Maintain a minimum of GBP50,000 (or currency equivalent) in deposits or investments, OR have a sole salary of GBP100,000 (or currency equivalent), OR already be qualified for HSBC Premier in another country;
  • Be located or reside in an eligible country: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, mainland China, Cyprus (Republic of), Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey (including Alderney and Sark), Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Isle of Man, Israel, Japan, Jersey, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Macau SAR, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Virgin Islands (British).

Lloyds

Lloyds Bank
Lloyds is one of the oldest banks in the world. Image: Lloyds Banking Group. Modified.
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  • Offshore UK account in the Channel Islands
  • High-net-worth individuals only
  • Not available for EU residents; only available in select countries
Fees
  • Min. balance: £100k
  • Monthly fee: £0 – 7.5
  • Per GBP transfer: £4 – 6

Lloyds Bank, or Lloyds Banking Group, is another UK mega-bank with over 30 million customers and 65,000 employees. It dates back to 1695 and has since grown to be the largest retail bank in the UK. The Group also has extensive overseas operations in the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It features a full range of financial products and services for personal, business, commercial and corporate customers.

Eligibility

Lloyds International, the offshore branch of Lloyds, offers two types of accounts: the standard International Current Account and the Premier International Current Account. These international accounts are available to people who do not live in the EU. The list of accepted countries is extremely limited. You can check if your eligible country is on their list here. Non-residents can apply for an international current account in sterling, euro, and US dollar, with a Visa debit card for each currency.

  • Aged 18+
  • A deposit of £100,000 (or currency equivalent) to save and maintain within 6 months; Or, an annual income of £100,000 (or currency equivalent) and a balance of £100,000 (or currency equivalent) to save and maintain within 12 months
  • You need to make an initial deposit into your account within 30 days of opening

Barclays

Barclays traces its history back to two goldsmith bankers, John Freame and Thomas Gould. Image: Barclays. Modified.
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  • Offshore UK account in the Channel Islands
  • High-net-worth individuals only
  • Not available for EU residents; only available in very few countries
Fees
  • Min. balance: £25k
  • Monthly fee: £0 – 40
  • Local transfers: £0 – £15

James Barclay became the first Governor of the Barclays Bank in London in 1736 – and his legacy continues to this day. The bank was founded back in 1690 in London, making it one of Britain’s oldest banks. It currently has around 50 million customers worldwide, 156,000 employees and operates from about 900 branches across England & Wales, Europe, the United States, Africa, and Asia.

Barclays offers their International Bank Account to non-UK residents in several jurisdictions. Your account will be based in the Channel Islands rather than the United Kingdom itself but will still be denominated in pounds (GBP). Fees and tariffs for the account are complex, so make sure to visit the Barclays website for the most accurate information.

Eligibility

To open an International Bank Account, you must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum balance of £25,000 (or currency equivalent) in your Barclays International Banking Accounts. You can apply for an International Account with Barclays if you meet the following requirements (see the full list here):

  • Not available for EU residents but open to international applications
  • Accounts are available in US dollars, sterling, and euros.
  • You’ll need to deposit more than £25k within the first three months of opening your account. You can do this in any currency equivalent.
  • There are no fees to use the account. However, if your average balance in savings and/or investments falls below £25,000 (or currency equivalent) for two consecutive months, you will be charged a monthly fee of £40.

Natwest

NatWest non-resident bank account
NatWest Group operates internationally and accepts non-residents from a number of countries. Image NatWest. Modified.
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  • Offshore UK account in Jersey
  • High-net-worth individuals only
  • Only available in a few select countries
Fees
  • Min. balance: £25k
  • Monthly fee: £8
  • Local transfers: £0 – £23

NatWest, officially National Westminster Bank, is another UK banking giant that’s been around in different shapes since 1658. It is partially owned by the British state and has approximately 7.5 million personal customers and 850,000 business accounts onboarded. NatWest doesn’t have the same global presence as the other big four banks but focuses on banking in the UK, Jersey, Sark, Guernsey, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar.

Eligibility

Non-residents can apply for a NatWest International Select account under NatWest’s Jersey arm. The account is based in Jersey and not the UK, but it is still denominated in GBP. There is a monthly account fee of £8. Here are the general requirements to apply for a NatWest non-resident account (read all the rules here):

  • Be aged 16 or 18+ (depends on account type)
  • Meet the minimum balance, receive a yearly salary of £40,000, or deposit requirements of £25,000
  • Be resident in one of the following countries: Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, China (Expats only), Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom or the United States of America.

How to open a UK account without proof of address

What if you’re new to the UK and want to set up a bank account, but you don’t have any documents proving your residence in the country and no credit history? This is a common scenario for a lot of people.

Perhaps you’re sharing an apartment with other persons or living with a family member but don’t have a utility bill with your name on it. A typical proof of address is a utility bill, bank statement, council tax bill, tenancy agreement, or credit card statement. But what if you don’t have any of these?

Luckily, there are a few workarounds. While I would recommend you open a “real” account with a traditional bank at some point when you have settled, there are temporary solutions worth considering. If you are an EU/EEA resident, you can open an account with Wise or Monese even if you don’t have proof of address in the UK. For those outside the EU, Wise’s multi-currency account is available in most countries, and it comes with bank details for GBP.

If you want a “real” UK bank account straight away or simply don’t like online banks, there are other options worth exploring. You may need to check exactly what your preferred bank accepts. The big high street banks are usually more accommodating and you may be able to provide alternative documents such as the following:

  • A letter from a government institution in your home country or embassy
  • A letter from your bank in your home country verifying your name and UK address as the recipient
  • A letter from your UK university, college, or school
  • A letter from your UK employer confirming your address
  • A letter from your UK landlord confirming your address
  • A letter referring you from an existing customer of that bank, who can verify your address

Solutions

  • First solution: A temporary solution is to open a GBP account with Wise using proof of address from the country you’re arriving from. This can be before or after you arrive in the UK. Later on, you can always update your address to your new residence, or open an account with a normal high-street bank.
  • Second solution: Before you depart for the UK, contact your bank and request them to change your correspondence address to your new UK home. Once you’ve updated your address, ask your bank to send a bank statement to your new location by post and receive a document that verifies your residence.
  • Third solution: If you have acquired a National Insurance Number, you can contact Jobcentre Plus and have them produce a document that verifies your address
  • Fourth solution: A more durable solution is to contact one of the largest UK banks – Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, or NatWest. These banks have been operating for a long time and serve millions of foreigners, so they also have a lot of international experience and can be sympathetic to your situation.

It’s also possible to open an account with a small bank, but you’re likely better off opening one with these big banks. Around 9 million foreigners live in the UK, and the banking system is well-geared towards serving them. Many foreigners live in the UK temporarily, so there should be a solution for you.

Documents you need to open a UK personal account

Let’s start by going through what you need to open a UK bank account from abroad. This applies to individuals. If you want to open a UK business account, see further down.

  • Proof of identity: A passport, driver’s license, or national identification card are all acceptable forms of identification, but many banks now prefer a passport scan.
  • Proof of address: This is usually a utility bill or bank statement less than 3 months old. If you’re a nomad and don’t have a permanent residence, using a virtual mailing address occasionally works, but utilizing a C/O address at your relatives’ may be preferable.
  • Selfie of you with your ID: Although this is not always required, many banks demand a photo of you holding your identification card. Although you might be concerned about your privacy, there’s little you can do about this procedure.

Some banks also require

  • Your latest tax return
  • A statement from your current bank
  • Proof of financial solvency

Opening your UK bank account remotely is often very straightforward. However, it can take some time, so plan ahead. Some banks may ask you for more information than others, and they might refuse your application.

How to open a business bank account in the UK

A UK bank account is an essential part of doing business with UK customers. The pound sterling is one of the most traded currencies in the world, and there’s a good chance you’re already trading with the UK or will want to do so in the future. That’s why opening a business account is essential, even if the UK is not your primary market. A local British bank account will inspire trust in your brand, make doing business much easier, and help you save a ton of money in currency conversion fees.

The UK is also one of the best locations to start a business, in part due to strong legislation, excellent reputation, and attractive corporate structures such as the Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) and Limited Company (LTD). Even if the directors or shareholders are not residents in the UK, it’s very easy to set up a UK limited company and leverage the reputation that comes with it.

In this section, we’ll take a look at the best business bank accounts in the UK for non-UK companies and for UK-registered companies with foreign directors.

It’s usually the case that businesses have fewer good choices available than retail customers. But when it comes to opening a business bank in the UK for non-residents, company owners have more alternatives than they think.

If you’re a small fish with a turnover of less than £6.5 million (the UK’s Companies Act 2006 official definition of a small business, not mine, so please don’t feel offended), you’ll have trouble finding a conventional brick-and-mortar that will help you grow.

Luckily, there are now several online banks that allow foreign companies and non-resident owners to open a UK business account. Most offer multiple currencies, debit cards, low exchange fees, and integration with popular accounting software such as Xero and QuickBooks.

Wise Business

Wise (TransferWise) Business Bank Account
Wise Business works for almost every business form, country, and structure. Wise offers UK accounts to non-resident companies and directors. Image: Screenshot of Wise.com.
Quick take
  • Unique UK account details in your company’s name
  • Available worldwide
  • Hold 50+ currencies
  • Integration with Xero/Quickbooks
  • E-commerce friendly (Stripe, Amazon, etc.)
Fees
  • Account opening: £16 one-time fee
  • Ongoing fees: £0
  • Receive debit and virtual card: £0
  • In-kind card spending: 0%
  • Per business transfer: 65p

Wise is a UK-based electronic money institution that allows your business to send and receive transfers in more than 50 currencies with zero or meager transaction fees. It’s the easiest way by far to open a business bank account and transact in pounds sterling and other currencies if you’re living overseas. If you own a UK limited company but reside abroad, Wise is also one of the few providers that offer business bank accounts to non-resident directors.

I’ve been using Wise for my companies for about three years and can only say it’s the most pleasant business banking experience I’ve had, and that the features of their platform are a million times better than my local bank offers. You can open a business account from almost anywhere in the world, have multiple accounts (one for each of your companies and yourself personally), and use the same login for all of them. Your company will have its own UK sort code, account number, and IBAN, so all outgoing transfers will have your company name written as the sender (unlike with Paypal, Skrill, and Payoneer).

There is a negligible £16 fee to open your account, but after that, you will be able to access account details for many different currencies. Among the 50+ currencies you can hold, you get unique bank details in 7 different countries/currencies. I’ve found that having local payment details on my invoices is a powerful but simple instrument that breaks down many psychological barriers when dealing internationally.

Wise Business: Features

  • 🇬🇧 Unique UK account number, sort code, and IBAN to send, hold and receive GBP in your company’s name.
  • Support for 50 different currencies, with unique account details for your business in 7 foreign currencies, including GBP: 🇪🇺 Euro bank code (SWIFT/BIC) and IBAN; 🇺🇸 US dollar routing number and account number; 🇦🇺 Australian dollar BSB code and account number; 🇳🇿 New Zealand dollar account number; 🇸🇬 Singapore dollar bank code, bank name, and account number; 🇨🇦 Canadian dollar institution number, transit number, and account number
  • £0 yearly/monthly maintenance fees, for receiving and holding sterling pounds, and for spending pounds with the Wise card.
  • Virtual and physical MasterCard debit card to spend fee-free from the currencies in your account; if you have employees, you can create cards for them as well (they can only see their own activity).
  • Accepts applications from non-UK companies (sole traders and limited companies) and UK limited companies with foreign directors.
  • Xero and Quickbooks accounting integration. You can connect your currency accounts to automatically sync your activity, and reconcile transactions. Wise also has an open API so you can build customized accounting tools for payments and workflows.
  • E-commerce and payment processor support: You can use Wise to receive payouts from Amazon, Stripe, etc. into the different currency accounts.

Airwallex

Airwallex offers free-to-open multi-currency business accounts including UK bank details for non-resident companies. Image: Airwallex. Modified.
Quick take
  • Unique UK bank account details in your company’s name
  • 9 unique currency accounts
  • Available worldwide
  • Integration with Xero
  • E-commerce friendly (Stripe, Amazon, etc.)
Fees
  • Account opening: £0
  • Ongoing fees: £0
  • Receive debit and virtual card: £0
  • In-kind card spending: 0%
  • Per transfer: £0, except for SWIFT transfers

Airwallex is an Australian/Hong Kong-based business banking provider that’s very similar to Wise but more popular in the APAC region. The company was founded in 2015 but is already valued at $4B and has raised $700m in venture capital. From the outside, it seems to be only a matter of time before Airwallex reaches the popularity of Wise.

Airwallex offers a multi-currency account called a Global Account. It includes a free-to-open GBP current account. You can have multiple Global Accounts, each with a different bank located in various jurisdictions. This lets your business hold foreign currencies like GBP, EUR, USD, AUD, and HKD, in locally-based banks in the UK, US, Hong Kong, etc. There are zero monthly/yearly account fees, no minimum balance requirements, and you can create multiple virtual debit cards at zero cost.

Airwallex: Features

  • 🇬🇧 Unique UK account number, sort code, and IBAN to send, hold and receive GBP in your company’s name.
  • Supports 31+ currencies, with business accounts in 🇬🇧 British pounds, 🇪🇺 euro, 🇺🇸 US dollar, 🇦🇺 Australian dollar, 🇨🇦 Canadian dollar, 🇯🇵 Japanese yen, 🇭🇰 Hong Kong dollar, 🇨🇳 Chinese yuan, 🇸🇬 Singapore dollar, 🇳🇿 New Zealand dollar, and 🇨🇭 Swiss franc. Most accounts are in your company’s name.
  • £0 fees for account opening, as well as zero fees for account maintenance, for receiving and holding sterling pounds, and for spending pounds with the Airwallex debit card.
  • Free Airwallex business cards to spend money in your account from any currency. These are virtual Visa debit cards that you may generate in limitless quantities for yourself and your employees (they just see their own transactions, and you can set limits).
  • Ability to connect your account to major e-commerce sites like PayPal, Amazon, Shopify, or payment processors like Stripe, to receive payments in multiple different currencies
  • Accepts applications from non-UK companies (sole traders and limited companies) and UK-incorporated limited companies with foreign directors (soles traders, limited companies, and partnerships)
  • Xero integration: You can set it to automatically sync transactions for each currency, making it easier to reconcile transactions.
  • Except for SWIFT interbank network payments, where its standard fee is $10, Airwallex does not charge a transfer transaction fee for international transactions. There is a small currency exchange markup of 0.3% for the 11 primary currencies it supports and 0.6% for other currencies when exchanging money.

Tide

Tide accepts non-resident applicants if they are directors of a limited company registered with the UK Companies House. Image: Tide YouTube channel. Modified.
Quick take
  • Free UK bank account
  • Available for UK companies with non-resident directors
  • Accounting integration with Quickbooks, Xero, Sage
  • Free UK incorporation service
Fees
  • Account opening: £0
  • Card fees: £0 (single)
  • Per transfer: 0 — 20p

Tide.co is a UK-based online business bank account for small and medium-sized companies. Tide was founded in 2015 by a former banker and has grown a customer base of 350,000+ UK businesses and employs 500+ employees. Like Wise, they’re one of the fastest-growing fintech companies in the UK.

Applicants who are not based in the UK may apply for a Tide business account, as long as they are directors of a UK company registered with the Companies House (partnerships are not accepted).

Tide also offers UK company formation services, so if you want to open a business in the UK and get a business bank account at the same time, this is something worth exploring. You will get a central London correspondence address for your business, something which can help strengthen your brand’s reputation from the get-go.

Tide: Features

  • 🇬🇧 UK business bank account.
  • Non-residents are accepted if you are registered as the director, meaning you can apply for a business account even if you don’t live in the UK.
  • You get a complete UK bank business account with a sort code and account number. Funds are stored in e-money accounts or FSCS-protected bank accounts (all accounts are being migrated to insured accounts).
  • Tide’s standard business bank account is free and has no monthly/yearly fees but a 20p fee per transfer. But if you’re serious about your business, Tide’s premium Plus account might be worth considering.
  • The platform has a built-in invoicing system. You can generate, send, and track bills using the platform. You can link Tide to other accounting programs, such as Xero, Sage, and QuickBooks, to automatically sync transactions. However, I would recommend invoicing through Xero, etc. directly to make things easier.
  • Tide’s company formation service includes a UK limited company, registration with the Companies House, a business bank account, and a London correspondence address.

Monese Business

To open a business account with Monese, you need a UK-registered company and an existing personal account. Image: Monese.
Quick take
  • UK bank account
  • Accepts UK-registered companies with non-resident directors in the EEA
Fees
  • Account opening: £0
  • Monthly fee: £9.95
  • Local transfers: £0

Monese is well-known for its personal banking service, but they have also provided UK company accounts since 2019. You must have a personal account with Monese before you can open a business account. To open a business account, you need to be a resident of the UK or EEA, and your company must be registered with the UK Companies House. If you don’t already have a UK limited company, you can easily register one.

Monese’s business accounts are only available in GBP, so if you need to manage multiple currencies, Wise or Airwallex could be an addition. Monese is one of the few banking choices for non-UK citizens with a UK incorporated company, besides Tide and Wise. The monthly charge is £9.95, making it less attractive than Wise, Tide, or Starling (the latter is only available for UK residents).

Overall, Monese’s business product doesn’t stack up too well against the competition. It’s not free, it doesn’t integrate with any accounting software, it’s 100% mobile (it’s annoying and desktop access is a must in my book), and there’s a maximum account balance of £50,000 (which limits the room for growth).

Monese Business: Features

  • 🇬🇧 Cheap UK business bank account.
  • Non-residents are accepted if you are registered as the director, meaning you can apply for a business account even if you don’t live in the UK.
  • You get a complete UK bank business account with a sort code and account number. Funds are stored in e-money accounts or FSCS-protected bank accounts (all accounts are being migrated to insured accounts).
  • Tide’s standard business bank account is free and has no monthly/yearly fees but a 20p fee per transfer. But if you’re serious about your business, Tide’s premium Plus account might be worth considering.
  • The platform has a built-in invoicing system. You can generate, send, and track bills using the platform. You can link Tide to other accounting programs, such as Xero, Sage, and QuickBooks, to automatically sync transactions. However, I would recommend invoicing through Xero etc. directly to make things easier.
  • Tide’s company formation service includes a UK limited company, registration with the Companies House, a business bank account, and a London correspondence address.

Neat 🇭🇰

Neat is a Hong Kong-based online business bank. It also offers company formation services.
Quick take
  • Collect payments in GBP, EUR, USD, and HKD, but no “real” GBP accounts
  • Accepts international and offshore applicants
Fees
  • Account opening: $0
  • Monthly fee: $0
  • Local transfers: £0-1

Neat is a Hong Kong-based digital bank-like service provider that has been in operation since 2015. They’re backed by venture investors like Visa and have been growing fast since inception. Neat is digital-only and can be accessed online or through the mobile app (there are no physical locations).

Neat is available for limited companies incorporated in the following jurisdictions: Australia, The British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, Singapore. These countries have difficulty finding a bank to support them, especially one that will accept GBP transactions. Fortunately, Neat gives your company accounts in GBP, as well as USD, HKD, and EUR.

Neat: Features

  • GBP, HKD, USD, EUR wallets with zero monthly fees and no minimum transaction requirements. But note that transactions display as originating from Neat, rather than your company’s name.
  • Available in countries that have traditionally had a hard time getting access to online banking services
  • Physical and virtual Visa credit cards for you and your team members, with built-in limits & controls. You can earn 1% cashback on every transaction, access Visa’s real currency rates, get discounts and other perks.
  • Xero integration for simple payment collaboration and the ability to link your multi-currency transactions, including who conducted the transaction and when
  • Company formation service in 15min and a fully ready Hong Kong company within 7 days, with a business account and a corporate VISA card. Neat offers all of the services you need, including a local corporate secretary, a Hong Kong legal address, mail forwarding, and more. And it can be set up from abroad.

Other business banks

Most of the banks listed so far are relatively well-established and have been around for several years. If you’re looking for a more “up and coming option,” here are three small but interesting alternatives. 

  • Fire (Ireland): Fire is an Irish digital bank accepting non-resident clients of UK limited companies. Accounts are available in GBP and EUR, with a sort code and account numbers for Sterling Accounts and IBANs for Euro Accounts. Your company must be formed and incorporated in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Its directors/owners must be residents in the European Union (other countries are accepted on a case-by-case basis).
  • Payset: Established in 2020, Payset is an electronic money institution offering bank details in 38 currencies, including GBP. They accept business clients from the EU, UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Israel, Belize, BVI, Cayman Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • Aspire (Singapore): Aspire only supports Singapore-based firms, but they plan to release a multi-currency account that will allow GBP transactions. Aspire can assist you in forming a business in Singapore if you want to register it remotely.

Bonus: How to open a UK limited company from abroad

It’s perfectly legal to form a company in the UK if you live overseas, and no, you can’t do it to avoid taxes in your home country. So why would you want to open a company in the UK?

Primarily, a UK LTD has a solid reputation that builds trust in your brand. A UK company signals to your customers that you are a serious, international, and professional business. If you live in a country with a poor reputation, trading through a UK LTD can increase your credibility, help you to attract more clients, and get access to payment gateways like Stripe.

A UK LTD is straightforward and cheap to set up, has very low maintenance costs, and offers excellent legal protection, and comes with structural adaptability. It’s an ideal company type for startups and entrepreneurs, and it can be managed from anywhere in the world. You can start a business in the UK as a non-resident, and there are numerous professional formation services to choose from when incorporating.

The easiest way to form a UK limited company is to use a full-service company registration that will also act as a secretarial agent and provide a virtual office address.

You can use 1st Formations, an authorized Companies House formation agent, or any other reputable provider. Just make sure to consult with a professional tax advisor regarding the process.

Pro tips: Important rules for using your account

There are unfortunately some people who had their bank accounts closed in the UK with money in it. The bank typically will not inform you why your account has been suspended, but it is frequently because the individual has dealt with “high-risk” industries, such as

  • Trading of cryptocurrencies
  • Trading of precious metals and stones
  • Money services (such as foreign exchange, loan providers, money transfers)
  • Casinos and other betting or gambling activities

Every modern bank has algorithms scanning transactions for patterns common in these businesses. Ironically, the majority of the difficulties I’ve seen people have been with online-only banks. Traditional banks with physical branches, on the other hand, have often worked better, but some of these “real” banks are also more paranoid than others.

FAQ

After Brexit, UK banks are no longer obligated to serve EU citizens. Meaning, there’s no law forcing them to take you on as a customer if you live in the EU/EEA. If you live elsewhere, your chances may be better. But unless you’re a high-value client, your chances of being approved are slim. Some banks are more approachable if you’re a high-net individual, or moving to the UK soon, e.g., for studying or work.

More and more people live a nomadic-type lifestyle, but this doesn’t always fit with the conservative requirements of banks and other institutions. If you don’t have a fixed address, you can try using a virtual mailing address in the UK. If this option doesn’t work, a C/O address at a friend’s or family member’s home will suffice in most situations. The bank usually only asks for address documentation once. A VPN or VPN router to connect to the UK is also something worth considering.

Potentially, yes. There are online virtual phone number services that would work for opening a UK bank account. As long as it’s able to receive SMS messages, you should be fine in most cases. There are some banks that reject VOIP numbers. The solution is to visit the UK (or Amazon.co.uk) and buy a real SIM card and phone number with a pay-as-you-go subscription. Just keep the phone on flight mode or switch the sim card so you don’t rack up charges.

Closing thoughts

If you are living abroad and want to open a bank account in the UK, there is no need to worry. There are many different types of accounts that can be opened depending on your needs. With this guide, you will know how to set up an individual account for personal use as well as opening a business bank account in the UK; both options should work well for non-residents who live overseas. I hope this article has helped make life a bit easier for you too, but please let me know if I left anything out.