Moving to Edinburgh – Banking

Whew! After 4 visits to the bank, 3 visits to Old College, a misspelled named, and a wrong address, we’re finally set up with our bank (almost)!

First of all, I have to point out how awesome the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is. For our wedding, we decided to get a new credit since we were going to be spending a lot. We got 40,000 points just for opening up the card and spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Then, I got another 5,000 points for adding a second user (Andrew). Annual fee is free for the first year and $95 every year after….but it’s totally worth it! You get double points on all restaurants & travel (BART tickets, parking fees, airline tickets, etc.) and 1:1 points for all other purchases. When we bought our tickets, we transferred about 20,000 points each to Virgin Atlantic paid about $180 each in fees (which we still got double points on) and we were all set to go from SFO to EDI. So basically, our $1000+ flight here was only $180 since we got 45,000 points just as a bonus for opening the card! Oh, and there are no international transaction fees with this card. AWESOME.

Secondly, I already had a bank account & debit card that has no international transaction fees and reimburses any ATM fees. Thanks Charles Schwab!

So we left San Francisco with my Chase Sapphire Preferred & Charles Schwab Debit card and no fees!

There are ways to open an account remotely, but Andrew and I had no time and the process seemed way too complicated, so we decided we would just do it when we arrived.

Step 1: Get a Bank Introduction Letter

Andrew and I arrived in Edinburgh a week before his program began so he wasn’t fully matriculated yet. Yes, I had to look that word up. It means “enrolled at a college or university.” Since he wasn’t fully matriculated yet, we had to go to the Student Information Point (at Old College which is super beautiful). Andrew gave them his CAS letter and passport, and they printed out a bank introduction letter on university letterhead.

Tip 1: You need to have an address to provide when you ask for your Bank Introduction Letter. This is a super annoying Catch-22 because you need a UK bank account to pay rent, but you need a UK address to get the bank account. We used a friend’s address, but changed it later.

Tip 2: Make sure you check the spelling of your name and details on the Bank Introduction Letter. The banks won’t accept you if part of your name is wrong. Andrew’s bank introduction letter had his name Andrew Andrew Ong and the bank staff refused us after waiting an hour to be seen.

Tip 3: Bring your CAS letter (if you don’t remember your student number) and passport.

Step 2: Pick up Biometrics Card

As mentioned in my earlier post, Moving to Edinburgh: Visas, if you’re an American, you’ll need to pick up this pink blue residence permit card from your collection place.

Tip 4: Make sure you pick this up before going to a bank. We got turned away from the bank because we didn’t have this cause the US to UK visa is only valid for 1 month. The residence permit basically allows us to stay here for about 4 years.

Step 3: Pick and go to a bank.

Now, there are lots of banks to choose from, but we decided that we wanted to go with an international bank with an office in San Francisco…not that it really matters, but I just have a sense of security knowing that I can go into an office at home and they’ll have to connect me with someone that can help me. We decided to go with HSBC because Barclays doesn’t allow a joint account with a student. There are some banks that offer free international transfers between accounts. HSBC has this option with their HSBC Premier Account, but we would have to pay monthly fees since we don’t qualify for it so we only opened up a standard joint-checking account.

With the bank introduction letter, you are a little bit more limited in the bank selection, but they are all are on Princes & George Street so it’s easy to check them out.

Tip 5: If you arrived to Edinburgh a few days before school starts or the first week of school, the banks will be crazy busy. They don’t set up appointments, so you should arrive to your desired bank at opening time. We got turned away cause they were too busy.

Tip 6: Almost everything here is done electronically, online, or through mobile banking. It’d be best to have a phone number and a working phone before opening up an account. HSBC has quite a process for privacy to use their online and mobile banking features.

Step 4: Know your budget.

When opening your account, the bank staff needs to know how you’ll be funding the account, how much money will be going in and coming out of it on a monthly basis. It felt weird to be providing so much of this information, but we had to be “approved” by the bank.

Step 5: Wait for your debit card & PIN.

In the States, I’ve been able to get a debit card the day I opened an account, but here you need to wait for it. Do not fear because you can still use your account to draw money out and deposit without it, even at an ATM. They give you a Sort Code and Account Number that you can use, even though I don’t feel as secure using it. You will receive your debit card in the mail and a separate mailing for your PIN. Andrew received his quickly, but I never received mine. So I called HSBC and they sent the card to my address in the United States. As they were trying to cancel that card, they cancelled Andrew’s card, so we had to wait another week for 2 new debit cards to arrive to the bank branch since both were cancelled. And yes, they needed to send it to the branch for security reasons which was really annoying.

When I received a letter saying that our debit cards were ready, Andrew and I went to the bank where we had to wait in another line to meet with a banker to “validate” our identity. During that meeting, we found out that there was a glitch in the system that didn’t give me any UK correspondence so I still needed to wait for a PIN that may or may not be in the mail.

Tip 7: Make sure they set up your addresses and correspondence correctly and that they know to send your debit card to your UK address.

So after 3 weeks, our bank and cards are still not completely set up, but I can live without using a debit card.

Something else that I wanted to share about living in Edinburgh is that you should always have cash on hand for restaurants and stores since many do not take credit cards or require a minimum amount to spend. Andrew and I love using our credit cards because we like getting points. Also, I hate having too much cash in my purse cause I always think someone will steal it or I’ll lose it. You can save a lot of money through using direct debit with your debit/bank account (like bus passes and mobile plans), but the American in me hates using our debit card. Our internet also requires a direct debit instead of “bills” in the mail which I have to get used to. Of course all the big stores take credit cards, but the process is not as friendly. If you go to a “self-checkout” line, a staff member still needs to check your credit card, get your signature, and check the signature on your card. It makes me feel bad using our card for a purchase of one item, but if I’m spending money, I might as well earn some points (haha).

Anyways, that’s it. Our HSBC process has not been that great, but for some reason I can’t “get mad” at them the way I might threaten them at home… maybe it’s the accent so it makes me think that they’re being polite… haha


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