Best UK bank accounts for British expats

Best UK bank accounts for British expats in Europe

Here we review four of the best UK bank accounts for British expats moving to Europe, perhaps on a quest to get an EU passport.

These accounts have been tried and tested by long-term EU expats, so you can be sure they’ll be a great fit for your new life abroad. 

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Best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés 

These are my top picks as the best UK bank accounts for Brits living in the EU: 

  • Wise Multi-currency 
  • N26  
  • Starling 
  • Revolut 

I’ll examine them in depth in the rest of the article, including my personal experience with each.  

But first, some quick background.  

After the Brexit transition period ended in December 2020, UK banks were no longer allowed to serve customers in the EU – unless they had the necessary banking licenses. 

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.

Can I keep my UK bank account if I move abroad after Brexit?

Keeping your existing UK account after moving abroad is a grey area. 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 keeping that account active. 

Many UK digital nomads use their family home address. 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, a UK-based bank account is essential.  

What are the best UK bank accounts for British expats and émigrés? 

Several of the digital ‘challenger’ banks are a great fit for UK citizens living in EU countries. In the next section, we’ll look at the best UK bank accounts for British expats.  

Best UK bank accounts for Brits living in the EU:

  • Wise (formerly known as TransferWise). 
  • N26
  • Starling
  • Revolut

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 Wise to enquire about passporting. Each one has assured me that they will continue serving British customers in the EU.

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, and I use them regularly for my personal and business banking needs in the UK and EU. I’m confident they represent some of the best UK bank accounts for British expats in the EU.

Wise Multi-currency Account

Best bank accounts for British expats and émigrés

Wise (formerly TransferWise) started life as a money exchange provider, but quickly became one of the most trusted names around.  

In 2017, Wise moved into online banking with the launch of its new Multi-currency 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 Multi-currency 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 the whole EU, without paying any fees.
  • Hold over 40 currencies in your account and easily switch between them whenever you need to
  • Wise Business Multi-currency 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.

Personal experience of using Wise

I’ve had a Wise business account now for around two years.  

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 a USD account.  

I’ve since received all my USD payments into my Wise account without any problems or delays. I also use the account to easily exchange business funds between USD, EUR, and GBP.

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 bank accounts for British expats and émigrés in the EU.  

N26 Current Account

Launched in Germany in 2015, N26 is one of the original app-based online banks. It previously had a presence in the UK, but closed operations in 2018, thanks to (yup) Brexit. 

N26 is now only available to EU residents and the only currency it uses is the euro.  

Nevertheless, N26 is still an excellent choice for people already resident in one of the EU 27 countries, which is why I’m including it in this roundup. It’s my primary bank account, which I use every day while living in Portugal. 

To open an N26 account, you’ll need an EU address where they can send the card. I opened mine in the Netherlands, using a friend’s address. It’s quick and easy to open a free account, either via the app or on the website. 

If you use the website, you’ll 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.  

You can feel just as confident holding large sums in your N26 account as with any of the traditional UK banks. 

Benefits of using an N26 account: 

  • Fully-fledged bank with Germany’s deposit protection up to €100,000. 
  • 100% mobile banking 
  • 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). 
  • Free and unlimited card payments worldwide, in any currency  
  • Excellent customer support, via in-app chat 
  • Instant notifications when money goes in or out of your account. 

N26 now offers a range of account options, with different benefits. N26 Smart, for €4.90/month, N26 You, for €9.90/month, and N26 Metal, for €16.90/month. 

(N26 Standard is still totally free to open and use) 

The Smart option offers sub-accounts for better budgeting, the option to share sub-accounts with other users, purchase roundups to help you save, and a dedicated phone support hotline.  

The You option adds on a range of travel insurance policies, including pandemic travel coverage.  

The costlier Metal option comes with an eye-catching metal debit card (it’s heavy!) plus a dedicated support line just for Metal customers. It offers the same travel insurance policies as N26 You, with several added options. 

N26 You: Travel and Lifestyle Insurance 

  • Medical travel insurance: Cover of up to €1,000,000 for you, your partner and kids, including dental emergencies 
  • Trip insurance: Up to €10,000 compensation in case of trip cancelation or curtailment (if the event is covered)  
  • Pandemic travel coverage: Cover for medical emergencies and trip cancellation or curtailment due to COVID-19  
  • Flight insurance: Claim compensation of up to €500 for flight delays over 4 hours  
  • Luggage coverage: Claim compensation of up to €500 for baggage delays over 12 hours, and up to €2,000 if it goes missing 
  • Mobility insurance (for shared vehicles) 
  • Winter sport insurance 

N26 Metal: Extra Insurance Options (and a fancy card!)

All the same options as above, plus: 

  • Car rental insurance: Cover for rental car hires abroad and further away from home for up to €20,000 
  • Phone insurance: Cover up to €1,000 for mobile theft and damage (if the event and phone are eligible) 

These are great options, especially the pandemic coverage. Using N26 You or Metal to replace a range of your existing travel and lifestyle insurance policies would be well worth the monthly fee. The metal card is very striking too! 

Personal experience of using N26 in the EU 

I originally opened at my N26 account in the Netherlands. I now use it as my main account in Portugal.  I’ve also got a local Portuguese account with ActivoBank, which gives me access to Portugal’s internal banking network, MBWay.  

But I find N26 much easier to use, so I keep the ActivoBank card for situations where MasterCard isn’t accepted, such as in small shops, restaurants, or salons.  I still use Wise and Revolut as backup accounts, mainly to exchange currencies. But N26 is my favorite for daily use.  

Revolut

Founded in 2015, Revolut began life as a prepaid card and smartphone app, allowing travelers to exchange different currencies at cheap rates. 

Since then, Revolut has gained a reputation among digital nomads and crypto enthusiasts. It’s a decent choice for digital émigrés too, especially Brits moving to the EU.  

Revolut doesn’t have a UK banking license (although the paperwork has been filed as of early 2021) so it’s not yet technically a bank (at least in UK terms – it’s a fully fledged bank across 11 EU countries).  

That means that, 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 has an EEA banking license in Lithuania, regulated by the Bank of Lithuania. You can still hold GBP funds in a Revolut account free of charge, along with EUR, USD and a ton of other currencies. 

The account is free to open and great for foreign exchange. I’d recommend it for everyday use alongside an FSCS protected account, 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 
  • Set up direct debits to organizations in the eurozone, such as gyms 
  • Instant in-app spending notifications 
  • 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 
  • Buy stocks, cryptocurrency, and commodities from within the app  

Personal experience of using Revolut 

Revolut has been invaluable for me during my relocation to Portugal. Portuguese local bank accounts can be a hassle to set up, as they need a lot of documentation. 

Update: Since this post was first published, I’ve opened a Portuguese bank account with ActivoBank, one of the best options in Portugal for foreigners. I’ll write a review of my experience soon. 

During my first few months in Lisbon, my Revolut debit card bridged the gap nicely. I could easily convert GBP to EUR, and make everyday transactions, such as setting up a direct debit for my Lisbon gym. 

One downside of Revolut is its 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’re dealing with a tricky problem.  

Revolut is a convenient way to manage your money on arrival in the EU, without the hassle of opening a local account.

Starling Personal and Business Accounts

A key player in the challenger bank scene, Starling launched its first account in 2017. Since then, Starling has received 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 all the essentials for convenient 21st century banking, with none of the unnecessary stuff – such as physical branches.  

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 markup 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 leaving the UK.  

You could open the account using the address of a trusted friend or relative, as long as you have proof of address that ties your name to that address (e.g., driving license, utility bill, bank statement). Pro tip: Your UK family home is often a good bet. 

Personal experience of using Starling 

I’ve been using Starling as my main GBP business bank account since late 2019. So far, I’ve had a great experience. The app works smoothly and efficiently, giving real-time notifications of money coming and going.  

Also, it’s easy to export statements to send to my accountant. When contacting customer service, I’ve always had quick and efficient help from a real person, rather than just a chatbot. 

As Starling only offers its GBP business account free of charge (it also has EUR and USD for a fee), I use the Wise 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. 

Conclusion

  • Wise is the best account overall if you need to hold funds in multiple currencies /make frequent cross-border transfers. 
  • Starling has a great interface and is a solid UK bank, with GBP and EUR options. It also offers a great business bank account. 
  • N26 is the best EUR bank account for daily use in the Eurozone. Its premium accounts include useful insurance options, such as pandemic travel coverage. 
  • Revolut has a decent app but poor customer service. It’s still worth having as a backup, with interesting features for buying stocks, crypto, or commodities, as well as currency exchange.

Having one of these accounts will give you peace of mind while living in the EU, even if you just use it as a backup alongside your existing account. 

Got questions about relocating to the EU?

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