How to open a bank account in France, Spain, USA and more


Updated on 14 June 2017

If you’re relocating, studying, retiring or working abroad you will need a bank account. Here’s everything UK citizens and expats need to know about opening a current account abroad.

Resident vs non-resident

UK citizens opening a current account abroad are either classed as residents or non-residents.

If you’re relocating for work, retiring or are planning to study abroad you’ll probably qualify as a resident, but if you have a holiday home you only occasionally visit you'll fall into the non-resident category.

Some banks will offer better deals for residents and impose more restrictions on non-resident accounts like minimum monthly deposits and withdrawal limits and not all banks will allow UK citizens to set up a non-resident account.

In Spain for example it's relatively easy for non-residents to open an account, but Norway simply doesn't allow non-residents to open a standard bank account.

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What documents do you need?

The documents you need to open an account will vary by bank and country but generally you will need to make sure you have:

  • Proof of identity – like a passport or driving licence;
  • Proof of address –  showing UK address if non-resident or address in country you will reside in;
  • Proof of earnings –  payslips, P60, etc;
  • Proof of status –  like work visas or study permits.

Some banks will need more details or extra documents before you can open an account so it's always best to check and prepare everything you need. In Italy, for example, you will need a ‘codice fiscale’ or a tax code, which you will need to get from the Italian tax authorities or the Italian embassy, to open an account.

You should check if you need to get your documents translated for them to be accepted. In France, for example, it is common for banks to want documents in French, so you may be required to have them officially translated or notarised. 

Can you open an account remotely?

Lots of overseas banks will let you apply for a bank account online or by post but in some cases you will need to hand over your documents in person at a branch.

Santander in Spain, for example offers current accounts like the 123 to residents and non-residents, but the peson applying must be go to a branch in Spain to present a valid passport, proof of residence and proof of income to open the account.

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How to get over the language barriers

If you’re not fluent in the language of the country you’re opening a bank account in, try using Google Translate to do your research online. It's not perfect but it can help you understand the basics.

If you’re opening an account in person at a branch you may want to bring a translator or ask for an English-speaking employee to help you.

How to open a bank account abroad

Fees, charges and taxes

Bear in mind that some banks abroad will charge fees to use their current accounts that you might not be used to, so make sure you investigate the charges thoroughly before opening an account.

In Norway, for example, all banks charge an annual VISA card fee. ATM fees also apply so you could be stung if you take cash out using a rival bank’s machine. 

Which bank is best?

You should shop around and compare fees, what accounts you can get as a resident or non-resident and how easy it will be to open one remotely or once you are there.

Here are some of the major banks to consider abroad to start your research.

Country

Biggest banks

France

-BNP Paribas

-Britline (Crédit Agricole)

-ING Direct

-La Banque Postal

Spain

-Santander

-La Caixa

-BBVA

-Bankia

Germany

-Deutsche Bank

-Commerzbank

-Postbank

-HypoVereinsbank

Switzerland

-Post Finance

-UBS

-Credit Suisse

USA

-Bank of America

-Citibank

-Wells Fargo

Canada

-Royal Bank of Canada

-TD Bank

-Scotiabank

-Bank of Montreal

International bank accounts

Some big UK banks like HSBC and Lloyds offer the chance to open an international bank account in countries they operate in, which can be useful if you want to open one remotely.

HSBC, for example, offers the chance to set up an overseas account in 37 countries including Australia, France, Canada and Hong Kong or open an HSBC Expat account which acts as a central location for your money as you move around the world.

However, these accounts are generally targeted at high net worth individuals and can be pricey to open and maintain, so they may not be the right choice for you.

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‘Borderless’ accounts

Traditional banks generally only allow you to hold money in one currency.

So it can be expensive when you try to use them across borders as banks mark-up the cost of currency exchange and transfers. Plus, it can be a headache to open and manage lots of different accounts, which require lots of different documents each time.

If you're looking to save money and hassle you might be better off with a non-traditional account.

Ipagoo is a new service that allows you to open accounts in multiple countries and currencies. Your accounts are linked to one prepaid debit Mastercard (though you can have more if you need) and you just use the app to switch accounts you want to use for payment.  

The app will soon be able to manage Direct Debits and Standing Orders so you will be able to use it for your everyday banking needs abroad. Each account you open and each prepaid debit card you hold will attract a monthly fee.

But the accounts offer unlimited free internal transfers, unlimited incoming transfers from the Single European Payment Area (SEPA) and three free international transfers each month.

There's also TransferWise, which offers a range of 'borderless' accounts.

You’ll get bank details like an account number and sort code, be able to hold and manage money in 15 currencies and move money to over 50 countries. It’s free to use you just pay a transparent fee for converting money (at the mid-market rate) or withdrawing to a bank.

Avoid rip-off fees when sending money abroad: compare international money transfers

Deposit protection

Wherever you decide to open a bank account, make sure you check how deposits are protected.

In the UK, deposits of up to £85,000 per person, per institution are protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) and similar schemes operate in the European Union up to €100,000.

However, non-traditional account services won't come with this sort of protection. 

TransferWise for example is an Electronic Money Institution and not an official deposit taking banking Institution, so your money is not guaranteed by the FSCS.

The firm stores money from UK and European customers in Barclays accounts in the UK and says this means that if it were to become insolvent, your money would be unaffected and will be refunded to within 10 working days. However, if Barclays was to become insolvent,  you may not be guaranteed the return of your funds.

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