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UK banks to shut thousands of British expats' accounts – what to do if yours is being closed

UK banks to shut thousands of British expats' accounts – what to do if yours is being closed

Thousands of Brits living abroad in Europe are being told their UK bank accounts or credit cards will be closed by the end of the year as a result of Brexit. We've full help below on what you can try if your account's being closed, plus the latest on what all the major banks are doing.

Lloyds, Halifax and Barclaycard are among the big names who've started telling customers that due to rule changes linked to Brexit they will be closing accounts – though in some cases the situation depends on which European country you live in. Many other banks have refused to rule out closing accounts, saying they're closely monitoring the situation.

If your account is being closed, you may still be able to open another with a different UK bank or may be able to use a local bank instead – see more help below.

For more on how Brexit affects your finances and consumer rights, see our 20 Brexit need-to-knows.

Why are UK banks closing expats' accounts?

Some UK banks are closing accounts now because of how Brexit is likely to change 'passporting' arrangements at the end of this year.

'Passporting' is when UK banks are allowed to provide services to customers in other states in the European Economic Area (EEA) – that's the European Union plus Iceland, Liechenstein and Norway – without having to get direct authorisation in those states. Current passporting rules are set to end on 31 December 2020 unless a new agreement is reached with the EU.

What that means is that, as things stand, from 1 January 2021 each UK bank will need to have separate authorisation in every EEA country it wants to operate in. This would mean applying for a licence in any of those countries it doesn't already trade in. As a result, some banks have decided to simply close accounts in countries where they no longer wish to operate.

The issue has been flagged by the Treasury Committee, with its chair Mel Stride this week calling for people to be given 'sufficient warning' if their account is being closed. He has written to the financial regulator asking it to set out how much notice banks should give.

Which banks are closing expats' accounts?

It's not immediately clear how many are affected by the closures. Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland have said they plan to close 13,000 accounts in total, though others haven't given figures. But it's possible larger numbers may be affected in due course, with many Brits resident in Europe – according to recent estimates from the United Nations, some 1.4 million people born in Britain live in the EU.

While a few banks have already started writing to customers to notify them of closures, many more have said they're still monitoring the situation. Here's what the big providers have told us – if you've been told your bank's closing accounts and it's not on this list, let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com:

Bank or credit card provider Is it closing expats' accounts? What does it say?
Amex Unclear Yet to respond – we'll update this story when we hear back
Bank of Scotland Yes Closing accounts from November for Brits living in Germany, Republic of Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia (exact date depends on country and account)
Barclaycard Yes  Closing accounts on 16 November for all those living in EEA countries who haven't linked their account to a UK residential address
Barclays Not yet  "We continue to review the services we offer to customers within the EEA"
Co-op Bank Not yet "We continue to review our approach for our customers in EEA countries"
Coutts Yes Closing all accounts for Brits living in the EEA – date TBC
First Direct Not yet No current plans, but monitoring the situation
Halifax Yes Closing accounts from November for Brits living in Germany, Republic of Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia (exact date depends on country and account)
HSBC Not yet  No current plans, but monitoring the situation
Lloyds Yes Closing accounts from November for Brits living in Germany, Republic of Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia (exact date depends on country and account)
Nationwide Not yet "There is currently no certainty as to any actions we will be required to take"
NatWest/RBS Not yet No current plans, but monitoring the situation
Santander Not yet No current plans, but monitoring the situation
TSB Not yet No current plans, but "may find that in some EEA countries we do not feel able to continue providing certain TSB banking services"

What should I do if my account's being closed?

British expats often choose to keep a UK account open if they receive a pension, salary or other income, such as rental payments for a UK home, in pounds, as many non-UK accounts have fees or poor exchange rates for converting pounds into local currency.

If your bank's told you it's closing your account and you really want to keep it, there a few things you can try:

  • Check with your current bank if there's any way of appealing the closure. In most cases, this won't be possible – you'll need a UK residential address to keep the account, and the banks we've spoken to have said it'll need to be your main residential address. But it may be worth checking with the bank what, if any, options you have, depending on your circumstances – for instance, if you do have a suitable UK address which meets the banks' requirements, that might be a solution.

  • Switch to another UK bank instead. It's worth checking which other UK banks are still operating in the country you live in – some may let you open a new UK account without needing to go into a branch back in the UK. The big warning here is that even if you can open a new account with another UK bank, it is always possible it could later decide to close expat accounts – none of those we've checked with have ruled out doing so in future. But if you need a UK bank account and can't keep your own, this may still be your best option.

    HSBC, for example, has confirmed you can open its 'HSBC Bank Account' online while living anywhere in the EU and, as above, says it's monitoring the situation but currently has no plans to close accounts. We're checking which other banks are still accepting new customers living in Europe and will update this story when we hear back. For more on how to switch a bank account, see our Best Bank Accounts guide. 

  • See if you can use a local bank. An alternative may be to open an account with a bank in the country you live in, though you'll need to check if you can still receive payments you were getting into your UK account and also factor in fees. (A UK state pension, for example, can be paid into an overseas bank account, but the money you get will be subject to currency conversion.)

    If you're legally resident in the country you're living in, as a minimum banks in that country have to let you open a basic bank account. These come with most of the features of a standard current account, except for overdrafts, though you may be charged fees for using them.