Thousands of people have family, work or property interests in both Ireland and the UK. Many hundreds of people live in Ireland but work in Northern Ireland or other parts of the UK. Those people will be dealing with payments in both Sterling and Euros on a regular basis.
This article looks at how you can open a UK Sterling Bank Account when living in Ireland. The ability to have a UK Bank Account allows Irish residents to send and receive payments to or from the UK, possibly avoiding the need to convert to Euros. Opening a GBP Sterling account while living in Ireland can sometimes be long-winded and messy with the “main” banks.
Wise Multi-Currency Account
One option we can recommend is a “Multi-Currency Account” from Wise. (Formerly Transferwise) . It is not a full bank account – but this electronic money account provides you with a valid UK account number and sort code that can be used in the same way as a normal UK bank account. They are authorised by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) and in Europe, Wise is licensed and regulated by the National Bank of Belgium.
Funds are not covered by any bank guarantee.
You can use a Wise account to accept bank transfers from UK banks in Sterling such as rental payments, wages or self-employment earnings, pensions etc.
You could also send Sterling payments to the UK bank accounts of friends/relatives or suppliers/utilities etc in the UK.
You can also link your Wise account to their debit card for spending.
You can sign up for a Wise account here.
The Wise accounts are not full bank accounts – so you can’t lodge cash or cheques or set up direct debits.
You can easily convert GBP to Euros within Transferwise and transfer it back to your “main” bank in Ireland if you need to. The exchange rates they use are the “mid-market rates” – (the real exchange rate).
Transferwise charge a percentage fee for currency conversions which reduces for larger amounts. For example – converting £1000 GBP to Euro you will be charged a 0.42% fee (£4.22) . Converting £100 to Euro will have a fee of about 0.9% (90p). For larger amounts, it might be possible to get better exchange rates from a specialist currency broker. See below for some examples.
Your bank might say they charge no conversion fees – but the exchange rates used by the main banks will typically be 3% or 4% away from the mid-market rate. This would mean you are nearly always better off not using your bank.
For example – on the day this was written – a £1000 GBP conversion and transfer to Euro using Transferwise would end up with €1186.87 Euro.
If you used Barclays Bank in the UK – doing the same transfer – you would end up with €1158.52 (€28.45 less).
If you have weekly or monthly transfers of pensions or rental income – those differences would become very significant over the course of a year.
If you need to transfer larger amounts of Sterling to Euro (over £10000) you may be able to get a better deal from one of the currency specialists listed further on in the article below.
Opening a Sterling Bank Account in the UK with the “mainstream” Banks
If you have larger sums of money to transfer you might feel safer with the guarantee of a “proper” “bricks and mortar ” bank.
You will probably find it easier to try one of the Irish banks that have branches in Northern Ireland. Some of these banks may allow you to open a UK Bank Account From Ireland. They will usually want you to attend in person – so you should ring around the various banks that are the easiest for you to get to – and arrange an appointment (Try Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Allied Irish ). They might even let you open an account through the post without having to travel in person.
AIB does offer a Sterling current account in Ireland – but it comes with a £10 standing charge every quarter – plus transaction fees and fees on incoming payments. It doesn’t come with a debit card.
It is probably best to open a Sterling account with a small amount of GBP, to begin with. You could use Sterling cash, if you have it, or do a small electronic transfer from your Irish Bank to the UK Bank. You could send Euros and it will be converted into Sterling by the UK bank (at a poor exchange rate) . But don’t go drawing out hundreds of Pounds in cash at an ATM.
Once you have the UK sterling account opened you can then arrange for any larger currency exchange and transfers from your Irish Euro account into the Sterling account. (See below for conversion and transfer options)
Currency Exchange and Transfers
If you want to transfer Euros from your bank in Ireland and convert it to Sterling to be sent to a UK bank account – don’t assume you have to do it through your own bank in Ireland. You don’t.
The exchange rate from the main Irish banks will not be the best – and they may also charge some additional fees or commissions too.
You might be able to send Euros straight to your Sterling account – but the recipient bank will convert it to Sterling also using a poor exchange rate which could end up losing you as much as 2 to 3% of the value. Some UK banks may also charge a fee or refuse to accept incoming Euro payments.
There are a few specialist currency exchange brokers that you can use – and their exchange rates will typically be better than the banks. Even a difference in the exchange rate of just 1 per cent would save you €1000 on a €100,000 Euros transaction
For example – we did a check on the exchange rates offered in early 2020 and found that on a transfer of just €10,000 Euro into Sterling using AIB would have got you £8272 Pounds but using a specialist currency exchange company (see below) would get you £80 more (£8350) . So the savings can be substantial.
Some Currency Exchange Companies
Fexco is an Irish firm that can exchange your money and transfer the funds to your chosen bank account overseas. Fexco was established in 1981 in County Kerry and now employs over 2,300 people in 29 countries. They are authorised as a payment services provider by the Central Bank of Ireland and are also regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for the conduct of payment business in the UK.
Fexco can provide personalised advice to reduce your exposure to fluctuating exchange rates. You can get a quick quote online at the Fexco Website
A UK based company we recommend that specialises in money transfers is Currency Solutions. They are based in London and regulated and authorised by the UK Financial Services Authority and HM Revenue. They can carry out currency transfers from Euros to Sterling as well as most other major currencies. You can make a no-obligation enquiry about your currency requirements online here . If you prefer – you can telephone the Money Guide Ireland contact: Ernie Enver direct on their Irish number 01 431 1344 or on a UK number 0044 207 740 0000 .
Compare Rates and Fees
Of course – always check with your own bank first to see what exchange rate they will offer you so you can be sure you really are getting a better deal by not using the bank. The rates are usually better on larger amounts. Don’t just ask for the exchange rate – get the bank to confirm exactly how much Sterling you will get after conversion – and after any fees have been deducted.
If you just compare the raw exchange rates – the difference in those figures may look insignificant and you may feel it’s not worth the bit of extra hassle. But when you see the difference in the total amount you will get after the exchange – it could easily amount to hundreds of pounds. Not bad for a couple of phone calls and a bit of online form filling.
If you are worried about the fluctuating exchange rates – you can reserve an exchange rate up to a year in advance. This is useful when your money might be tied up in a fixed rate account or in a property.