From January 2021, any Hong Kong British National (Overseas) will be eligible for the new Visa route recently announced by the Home Office. Put simply, it makes permanently moving from Hong Kong to the UK a lot easier.
Opening a bank account as a BNO (British National Overseas) isn’t difficult on the surface and, depending who you already bank with, can be a case of filling out extra paperwork to allow you to use it in the UK. However, if you’re starting from scratch after moving, banking one of the biggest headaches.
Something as simple as proof of address can be difficult to provide and stop you from opening a bank account for weeks, even months.
Here’s a bit more information about moving to the UK from Hong Kong and what to expect if you want to promptly open an account when you get here.
Background – BNO Status
BNO status was created in the ‘80s and allowed anyone in Hong Kong who applied before 30th June 1997 or was born before the end of that year to have BNO status. This gave them certain rights in the UK whilst being usually resident in Hong Kong. Anyone after that point doesn’t qualify for the status.
This was done as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration during the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, anyone could apply for BNO status before the deadline giving them a special UK passport that could continue to be reissued years later.
The new rules announced in July will allow BNOs and their immediate relations to stay in the UK for an extended period of time before being able to apply for British citizenship after five years.
To Qualify, Hong Kong Residents Must:
- Provide a valid BNO passport (in date or expired)
- Normally live in Hong Kong
- Have the funds to support yourself for at least six months
- Get a tuberculosis test certificate
- Be clear of major criminal convictions (with special dispensations for those involved in protests)
If you’re a BNO who’s already planning on moving to the UK, you’ve probably already done the research, but there is more information on the gov.uk website.
The site gives guidance about visa applications and about special conditions for those planning on moving before January next year.
Banking within the UK
Opening a UK bank account is one of the first housekeeping activities when anyone arrives in the country. This won’t be an issue for numerous BNOs who have access to international premium banking with providers such as HSBC.
But not everyone can access premium accounts like these. If you’re truly starting in the UK with a clean slate you can open a basic current account which every traditional bank will off which, in theory, is easy to open. To open an account the banks will require:
- Proof of ID; When completed, online banks will typically ask for a photo ID such as a national ID card, driving licence or photo passport. In a branch, they may accept official documents issued by a government department.
- Proof of Address; This can be an address on a UK driving licence or a bank statement or UK utility bill. Official government documents would also be accepted here.
Providing proof of address is a problem for a surprising number of people. If you’re staying in a friend or family members home you won’t be able to easily get a document with your name on it, at least not right away.
If you’re living in rented accommodation you might face a vicious cycle, you need a UK account to pay rent but cannot because you need to confirm your address first using documents you’ll only get by renting somewhere.
In both situations, new migrants to the UK have to pay using a foreign account for a substantial period of time so you could face high fees.
Alternative UK Banking Solutions
As a BNO who’s just moved you could find yourself in this awkward situation. However, there are alternative banking solutions providing accounts that aren’t on high street which can help you out.
In response to the 2008 financial crisis, it was made easier to set up banks and banking solutions to challenge their well-established counterparts. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) referred to this new environment as the regulatory sandbox, allowing more innovation in British finance.
Recent migrants to the UK can take advantage of all the alternative banking solutions that have emerged since then. Online-only accounts have existed since 2011 and, amongst other things, can allow you to open a basic current account without confirmation of address.
They’re all regulated by the 2011 Electronic Money Regulations which provided new fintechs the room to develop their product as well as granting the FCA further powers to control them. This mitigates the risks of the new online accounts, giving them the same levels of security as larger banks. For more information on how they work and how Suits Me follows the regulations, please check our information on Protected Accounts.
Is Alternative Banking Right for BNOs?
The regulations set out in the Electronic Money Regulations are strict enough to give challengers similar protections to traditional banks, but loose enough to allow for a massive variety in services and requirements to open an account.
Certain companies have earnt their own banking licences and, despite still being online only, operate very similarly and therefore require stricter verification processes including confirmation of address and longer set up times.
Others, like Suits Me, don’t require this. That’s because we don’t offer credit, such as interest, overdrafts or credit cards, meaning there’s no risk in offering accounts to customers who cannot confirm their address or have a poor credit score.
For BNOs who need an account when they first enter the UK this can be a perfect stop-gap before they can open their regular account or a perfect addition to their banking arsenal.
Opening a Suits Me Account
You don’t need to wait for your card, you’ll instantly receive your account number and sort-code with instant access to your online banking account and mobile banking apps to start managing your finances, making payments, send transfers, setting up standing orders and direct debits and receiving payments.