My wife recently got a part-time job, so we needed to open another bank account in her name. (I got a Barclays international student account just after arriving, but they won’t add spouses to it at Barclays.) So being fairly pleased with Barclays we decided to head back there again hoping to open a regular joint account, now that we’re more settled and have utility bills and such to prove we are ‘residents’.

The process here is so much different than in the states. There, if you have a wad of cash and a social security number, banks are as happy as they can be to open an account in your name. I suppose the only question they’ll ask is what’s your address to send the statements. Do it all online, and you’ll never even have to talk to someone. Here, you have to be approved for even the basic ‘current’ account (~checking acct in US speak). It was like applying for a loan. What’s your address, do you have proof by a paid utility bill (not just a letter from the utility company), what’s your previous address, how long have you lived here, what do you do, what’s your employer’s address, how much do you expect to make monthly, how much do you expect to spend monthly and in what categories, do you have any other bank accounts, how much do you have in savings,…. I suppose if you answer enough questions correctly, you’ll be approved.

So the problem we had is that my wife is not listed on any of our bills. Since I’m the only one with the bank account to pay the bills, I was the only one they added on the bills. I had heard that was an issue, so I originally had British Gas add her on the account, which they did. But somewhere in the 8 calls and numerous letters they sent (see previous post), she fell off of the list. Barclays didn’t even care that the letter from them has her full name on it, all that is required is a ‘Mrs. Blackwell’ near an address. We had one of the original BG letters with her name on it, but the letters have to be a paid bill within the past 2 months. That was never going to happen (at least in the next few months), so someone there came up with the idea of using the council tax bill. Taxes are good for something. They come out annually in March, and they have each adult resident listed on it. So we just made an extra trip there and that solved the issue. Moral of the story: 1) Set up all accounts in both of your names. 2) Don’t go paperless. I know it’s bad for the environment, but as an international you want as much current paperwork as you can get. 3) Make sure you sign the application with the same signature as your passport (that was trip #3 to fix that). 4) Expect to jump through hoops compared to the US.

With all that they said she would be approved to get an account. However, since they have me in the system already as a student, they said I’d have to make an appointment with the student banker guy to get it sorted out to join her account. All in all not too bad, but it is a culture shock with all the hoops you have to jump through. Kevin Bywater, a fellow paulinist here, has a fun story of a 3-week ordeal of shuffling paperwork, getting copies from the states, and then at the end the bank told him that he’d need the same info for his wife, which would take another 3 weeks. A small fact that it would have been nice to know up front. Needless to say they found another bank. But when you are moving to a different country, getting hung up on the bank account is super frustrating because so much other stuff depends on it.

So here are a couple of other tips we’ve come across. Apparently, Lloyds will open a student account with a spouse attached. So if you want to go that way, it may be easier. Any high street bank (Natwest, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, etc.) seem to offer similar benefits and options, so you should be alright with any of them. (Building Societies are similar to credit unions.) Remember to only deposit in £’s because a $ denominated check will take 6 or more weeks to clear. We found it easiest (and most cost effective) to just pull £’s from our US account using our ATM card. For larger amounts I believe a wire transfer would be necessary. See my Settling In post for a few more details on banking.