In this post, I’m going to walk you through the best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés in the EU. Banking has become a pressing problem for many British EU residents, because of Brexit. These solutions will allow you to handle cross-border payments, bill clients in multiple currencies, and benefit from the best exchange rates available.
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Best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés
After the Brexit transition period ended in December 2020, UK banks are no longer allowed to serve customers in the EU – unless they apply for the necessary banking licences.
Known as passporting, this licensing system allows banks in the EU to trade freely in any other state in the European Economic Area (EEA), with no additional authorisation.
As a result of Brexit, some UK banks, including Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Coutts, announced they planned to stop offering accounts to British customers resident in the EU. Thousands of people received the bad news, adding to the never-ending pain of Brexit.
Keeping your existing UK account after moving abroad is a grey area that confuses many people. For some, having a bank account registered at a permanent UK address (such as that of a relative or trusted friend) is the key to maintaining that account indefinitely.
Many travellers and ‘digital nomads’ use the address of their family home. In theory, there’s no reason why a more permanent émigré can’t do the same.
According to research from ExpatMoneyChannel, keeping your UK bank account depends on a number of factors:
- Which bank you bank with
- How long you’ve banked with them
- Whether you still have a UK address
- What type of account you have
Despite having emigrated, perhaps permanently, you might not want to cut all financial ties to the UK. Perhaps you’ve got a UK property that’s providing you with rental income to support your EU residency application, e.g. for Portugal’s D7 visa. Or perhaps you still have a UK mortgage or student loans to pay off.
In such situations, having a UK-based bank account is essential. It also allows you to stay within the safety net of the UK’s regulatory authority and compensation scheme.
Brexit and its fallout have created worrying times for British citizens living in the EU. This include issues with banking.
Fortunately, a number of the new digital-first ‘challenger’ banks are very well-suited to UK residents in EU countries.
Best UK bank accounts for Brits living in the EU:
- Wise (formerly known as TransferWise).
Here, I’ll discuss their pros and cons, so you can decide which one makes the most sense for your individual situation.
I’ve already contacted the customer service teams of Starling, Revolut and Transferwise to enquire about passporting. Each one has assured me that they will continue serving British customers in the EU, post-Brexit.
These institutions can make this promise because they have access to a wider array of cross-EU banking licences compared to the more traditional UK banks.
All banks in this section are app-only. They don’t have physical branches.
I have accounts with all these banks. I use them regularly for my personal and business banking needs in the UK and EU.
Wise (formerly TransferWise) started life as a money exchange provider. It quickly became one of the most trusted names around. In 2017, Wise moved into online banking with the launch of its new multi-currency borderless bank account and debit card.
The account works alongside Wise’s regular money transfer and exchange services, offering the same low fees and exchange rates.
Here we’ll take a look at the Wise account from a digital émigré’s perspective, so you can decide if it’s right for you.
Benefits of using a Wise Borderless Account:
- Free MasterCard debit card, which can be used everywhere that accepts MasterCard.
- Use your debit card to pay in foreign currencies, with much lower fees than your regular bank. E.g. HSBC marks up the exchange rate by 2.75% when you pay with your card in a foreign currency. In contrast, Wise charges just 0.35% for major currencies like the euro, US dollar, or Swiss franc.
- ATM withdrawals are free for the first £200/$250 every month, with a 2% fee thereafter.
- Get your own international bank details to receive money like a local from over 30 countries, including all of the EU, without paying any fees.
- Hold over 40 currencies in your account and easily switch between them whenever you need to
- Wise Business Borderless Account is also available. If you’re planning to receive USD payments from US clients, this account is essential. It allows them to pay you with US local bank details – creating a streamlined experience for your clients. It also gives you access to many other currencies.
I’ve had a Wise business account now for the last 12 months.
I originally opened it to accommodate a US client who needed to pay me ‘like a local’ in US dollars. Wise was the only provider that offered local US bank details, without charging a monthly fee for maintaining a USD account.
I’ve since received all my USD payments into my Wise account without any hitches or delays. I also use the account to easily exchange my business funds between US dollars, euros and pounds.
I’ve been impressed with the exchange rates and the speed of transfer – instant, in most cases.
All in all, Wise offers one of the best multi-currency bank accounts for British expats and émigrés in the EU. It’s a great way to overcome one of Brexit’s many annoying challenges.
A key player in the challenger bank scene, Starling launched its first account in 2017. Since then, Starling has received consistently great reviews for its ease of use and wide range of features, making it one of the best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés in the EU.
Starling’s mission is to provide customers with all the essentials for convenient 21st century banking, with none of the unnecessary stuff – such as physical branches. Starling has a huge amount of features, so I’ve picked out only those directly relevant to digital émigrés.
Starling key features:
- Offers fee-free personal and joint current accounts in GBP and EUR
- Free business account (GBP)
- Business account in EUR (£2 per month fee)
- Business account in USD (£5 per month fee)
- All eligible deposits covered to £85,000 (or equivalent) by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme
- Free cash withdrawals abroad
- International fund transfers
- Paperless statements – access them within the app and as PDFs (convenient when you’re moving countries and between addresses)
- No transaction fees – spend money abroad without extra charges or an exchange mark up fee.
- Desktop access. Sick of squinting at your phone? You can access your Starling account from your laptop.
To open a Starling account you’ll need proof of a UK address, so it makes sense to set the account up before cutting ties with the UK.
You could open the account using the address of a trusted friend or relative, as long as you can still produce proof of address that ties your name to that address (e.g. driving licence, utility bill, other bank statement). Pro tip: Your UK family home is often a good bet.
I’ve been using Starling for my main GBP business bank account for the last 12 months. My experience has been nothing but positive. The app works smoothly and efficiently. It gives real-time notifications of incoming and outgoing funds.
It’s easy to export statements to send to my accountant. I’ve contacted customer service a couple of times. I always received quick and efficient help from a real person rather than a chatbot.
For me, the only downside is that Starling lacks functionality to connect its feeds to my accountants’ bookkeeping system. I have to manually send statements to my accountant each month. Also, I bill my various clients in three different currencies, GBP, EUR and USD, which can get complicated.
As Starling only offers free business accounts in GBP, I use the Wise Borderless Business Account to handle my EUR and USD transactions.
If you need a business bank account in EUR or USD, and don’t mind paying a monthly fee, then Starling is one of the best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés in the EU.
Founded in 2015, Revolut began life as a prepaid card and smartphone app, allowing travellers to exchange different currencies at cheap rates.
Since then, Revolut has gained a reputation as the financial institution of choice for digital nomads and crypto enthusiasts. But don’t let that put you off. It’s a decent option for digital émigrés too, especially Brits moving to the EU.
Revolut doesn’t have a UK banking licence yet, so it’s not technically a bank. It calls itself an ‘e-money institution’. Although Revolut is regulated by the FCA, money held in its accounts isn’t protected by the FSCS, as it would be in a UK bank.
However, Revolut does hold an EEA banking licence, in Lithuania, regulated by the Bank of Lithuania, which it obtained in December 2018. You can still hold GBP funds in a Revolut account free of charge, along with EUR, USD and a whole host of other currencies.
Because of the lack of FSCS protection, we don’t recommend Revolut for holding large amounts of funds. The account is free to open and maintain, and great for foreign exchange. So we do recommend it for day to day use alongside a more robust option, such as Starling.
Benefits of using Revolut:
- Open a current account in GBP or EUR with no paperwork, credit checks or proof of address – perfect for digital émigrés in the EU. (Revolut verifies your account once it’s open, by asking you to top it up from another account held in your name)
- Rapid account opening – do it in 60 seconds via the app
- Multi-currency business account, Revolut for Business, with a basic version available for free. (But the feature set is limited so you’ll likely want to upgrade to the paying version).
- Ability to set up direct debit payments to organisations in the eurozone (e.g. gyms)
- Instant in-app spending notifications for money going in and out of your account
- Transfer money abroad in over 30 currencies at the Interbank exchange rate (transfers are fee-free up to £1000 per month, then 0.5%)
- Fee-free spending abroad without hidden fees (limits apply)
- Earn interest on your money using the Vaults feature
Revolut has been invaluable for me during my relocation to Portugal. Portuguese local bank accounts can be a hassle to set up, as they require a lot of documentation.
During my first few months in Lisbon, my Revolut debit card bridged the gap nicely. It enabled me to convert pounds to euros and make everyday transactions, including setting up a direct debit to my Lisbon gym.
One downside of Revolut is its less than stellar customer service. Customer service reps rely too heavily on set scripts and lack the autonomy to help customers solve tricky issues.
Customer service is delivered via in-app chat only, which can be frustrating when you’ve got a complex problem to solve and just want to speak to someone.
But Revolut still a very convenient way to manage your GBP and EUR on arrival in the EU, without all the bureaucracy of opening a local account. And with accounts free to open and maintain, there’s really nothing to lose in having one.
Launched in Germany in 2015, N26 is one of the original app-based online banks. It used to operate in the UK, but closed its operations as of 2018, thanks to (you guessed it) Brexit.
N26 is now only available to residents of the Eurozone, and the only currency it uses is the euro. Nevertheless, N26 is still an extremely solid option for those of you already resident in one of the EU 27 countries, which is why I’m including it in today’s roundup.
All you really need is an EU address where they can send the card. I opened my N26 account in the Netherlands, using the address of a friend I was staying with at the time. It’s quick and easy to open an account, either via the app or on the website.
If you use the website, you’ll still need your smartphone to complete the setup process. N26 asks for details including your first and last name, date of birth, your country of residence and your address.
N26 is a proper banking institution headquartered in Germany. Your money is protected by Germany’s deposit protection scheme up to the value of €100,000. So you can feel just as confident holding large sums in your N26 account as you would with any of the traditional UK banks.
Benefits of using an N26 account:
- Fully-fledged bank with deposit protection up to €100,000.
- Offers direct debits and standing orders.
- Choice of Mastercard or Maestro debit cards (the latter is useful in certain EU countries, like the Netherlands, where Mastercard is less commonly accepted).
- Fee-free spending abroad.
- Excellent customer support, via in-app chat.
- Instant notifications when money goes in or out of your account.
I opened my N26 account in the Netherlands in 2018. They originally sent me a Mastercard only. But I asked for a Maestro card as well, for easier use in the Netherlands. Now, living in Portugal, I use N26 daily as my main Euro account.
I’ve also got a local Portuguese account with ActivoBank, which gives me access to Portugal’s Multibanco internal banking network, MBWay. But I find the N26 interface and setup much nicer to use. So I keep the ActivoBank card for situations where Mastercard doesn’t work, such as in small shops or restaurants.
I still use Wise and Revolut to handle foreign exchange transactions from USD or GBP into EUR. But overall, if you only need to bank in euros, N26 would be my top pick for use in the eurozone.
Despite the worrying news about banks closing down services for Brits in the EU, good solutions are still available. Having one of these accounts will give you peace of mind, even if it’s just as a back up alongside your existing account.
Digital Émigré is available to answer your questions about working online and relocating permanently to the EU.
Get in touch here, and we’ll reply as fast as possible.