Moving on up

Just had a discussion on Twitter with @npanayotopoulos and @kosmopolit about the problems faced when someone moved from one European country to another. Moving to the UK, you are often required to provide referees to rent – how do you get those if you lived in your own home, or your landlord doesn’t speak English? I have had my own problems getting credit because I haven’t got 3 years of addresses in the UK. Would really like to hear what else has come up. These are the nitty gritty issues of being in the EU and are in their way far more important to many people than the intricacies of the co-decision procedure as amended by Lisbon!


Filed under European news, Living in London

24 responses to “Moving on up

  1. Thanks for starting this blog post. Here is my case: I am 47, single, good US and European degrees, have lived in 3 US states and 3 EU states, but spent the last 14 years back in my native one. Now that I am able to move anywhere within the EU (speak 3+ langs, I am not “poor” and I am employable in a few types of jobs, I have come to realise, via inquiries to authorities and to ordinary people the practical difficulties of any such move. Which are different, should I decide to move/relocate to London, Brussels, NL, etc etc. Different requirements (can expand in later comment), very cumbersome processes for transferring my money to a bank to another EU state, etc etc, different reqs to rent a flat, etc. The types of issues Commissioner Reding mentioned, IMO, in her EP hearing. Specifically re London, I am quite surprised by the nature of practices eg letter of reference for renting that IMO are not compatible with the mentality and practices one would expect from such a lovely cosmopolis such as London!

  2. Indeed a very important issue. I lived in Germany, Romania, Belgium and the UK.

    However, especially in the UK I came across some very strange rules especially when it comes things like bank accounts, mobile phone contracts, funding issues, identification…

    Wrote about 2 strange issues in my blog here: and

    In the UK lots of problems are generated by a “3 years rule” – if you cannot prove that you have lived in the UK for the last three years there are problems:

    – No research council funding for MA or PhD programmes.

    – no credit card, in my case not even a proper debit card with a modest overdraft (you do not have a “credit history” in the UK!), only solution seems to be to come across an inexperienced bank employee…

    – if you rent a place you run into problems with landlords as they like to see letters from your former UK landlords (although some are rather flexible here…)

    – A bad idea is also to top up your UK sim card with a foreign credit card. The provider might block your account without warning because of “security concerns”.

  3. The UK has so far been the most troublesome country to move into. When I first came here to study it was amazingly difficult, at 19 it wasn’t the kind of first month I wanted to have, trying to set up a bank account or get a decent deal with phones. They all wanted 3 years worth of addresses.

    When I moved to Denmark it was probably easy because it was only for three months. What proved problematic there was the insistance on using either Danish cards or cash, regular debit cards were practically useless for anything else except cash withdrawals.

    Netherlands was easy because my university had experience with the troubles foreignes faced. Opening a bank account was a matter of bringing a letter from the uni and passport.

    Netherlands had the same problems as Denmark though, it only except certain kind of Dutch cards (I will forever hate the word chipknip) or cash.

    Also going to the doctor was weird, I should’ve registered with a doctor and gotten some sort of insurance. Very confusing as I was used to British NHS or the Finnish system which make it really easy and cheap. I tried to use my European Health Insurance card but so far nobody has known anything about it and it hasn’t helped me in the least.

    But aside from the first move, I know now what to expect so it gets easier every time. Also when I inform Finnish officials that I’m moving abroad I get a letter from the association of expat Finns who provide information about moving abroad.

  4. Only real trouble I’ve had is with the ‘garant’ in France.

    I lived in France (Bordeaux) for a year for my year abroad and had troubles sorting accommodation as the landlord wanted me to provide ‘garants’ who lived in France, which I did not have. However after lengthy discussion I managed to get around this by offering to pay the rent up front 🙂

    Returning to France (Paris) a year later for a semester abroad, I opted for a CROUS place in a hall where they seemed to just ignore my need for a referee…

    And now in Belgium (Brussels) I didn’t need a referee at all and the landlord is very trusting, which is nice.

    That’s the only real issue I’ve encountered when moving around Europe, the travel is so easy of course and bank accounts were possible to be set up using my permanent UK address…

  5. I want to thank the host blogger for starting this post. I have read Kosmopolit’s two posts and they are interesting, I feel like EU mobile EU citizens need a “support group”, I think that Mia is “lucky” that she has access to an association.

    Does anyone know how much max cash one can carry over inter-EU borders (with proper docs as to their source of course)? Enough to rent a place (+ down payment), then gets an interview for the NI (I estimate 3+3 weeks until number given), then go to bank in London and open account and then move savings from other EU country to UK/Lon bank. Does this flowchart sound right?

  6. Patrick Renner

    When I moved to Berlin, I had to register with the local authorities, but that’s common practice for everyone. Once I had my slip showing that I was a registered resident, everything flowed seemlessly from there. I could open a bank account, open a video rental account, and so on.

    When I moved to London it took me about six weeks to get a bank account even though I had a permanent contract. Banks told me once I had three to six months of banking information, I would then be eligible to open a bank account with them. In the end I needed to get a letter of recommendation from my HR department just to open an account without any kind of overdraft.

    Luckily I found a room to rent that didn’t require any contract to sign as it was month-to-month. I had to get my name put onto the electricity bill even though utilities were included in the rent. This was to prove residence, which most kinds of account opening will require here.

  7. Re Andrew: I tried to open a bank account in a bank in NL back in 1997 using my address in my native country, I was escorted by a Dutch friend who is actually politically active, and they would not open one for me! My friend, who is pro-EU, almost fainted from teh surprise! lol (got to take these EU-labyrinth probs with humor, I do, else 1 may blow a fuse! lol, where is the EU of my dreams when I would hear Delors speak in the late 80s? Ou? En Amerique?)

  8. A bit of humor (true story though): A few weeks ago I called a bank in London (shall not mention name or nationality of bank) to inquire info – requirements about opening an account there (one of the many frustrating . They only handle “large account” ie not very retail, from what I could tell. Their exec started to “interview” me about my CV, my bio, etc. “I am not applying for a job with you or a loan” I commented, with a dose of humor. The guy went on. He asked me the following Q – comment: “Are you not a bit too old, at 47, to start a new life – move to another country?”

    I was astounded, flabbergasted!

    He then proceeded, at the end, to tell me that my money was under the min they accepted for clientele. Oh well!

    I narrated this story, in passing, to an exec from an “FSA” type of body a few days later, who was explaining to me that via the anti money laudering directive(s) of the EU, banks in the EU have to “know” their clients. He too was astounded when I told him about the “too old” comment I had received.

    Oh well. C’est le UE!

  9. It also takes a while to open bank account in NL (before they send you all the docs, numbers, cards, etc) and imho their customer service is very bad. Forget about getting anything in English. Plus if you have Visa you won’t be able to pay with it. True, you can open it with the letter from uni and then you do not need a passport or Dutch address. At least the uni sorted this out.

    But getting a post paid mobile is a problem if you don’t have a passport. Even though my ID card containts more information (like address in my home country) than passport itself. No. You hit the wall.

    Other discriminatory issue: you can only pay the university fee in instalements if you have Dutch bank account.

  10. Trust me as a Brit these things are not easy in the UK either! I recently changed doctor’s surgery in the UK and the NHS asked me for 2 types of utility bills! I don’t pay those bills… and so asked whether my driving license – with my address on it – would suffice. After an argument it did. Where else in Europe would that be an equally complicated transaction?

    Rather alarmingly, getting myself onto the electoral register was a lot easier…

    In Brussels things are not too bad, especially for banking – the banks are used to dealing with internationals, and let you establish accounts with a non-Belgian listed address initially while you look for a place to live. Landlords want references, but I’ve found that a 20 minute conversation face-to-face is normally adequate as a solution instead.

    My real gripe with all of this is transnational small business though – the procedures are hell, and things like decent mobile phone contracts for small firms operating internationally just don’t exist… but that’s enough for a blog post in its own right.

  11. James Burnside

    UK banks are notorious for their ludicrously strict interpretation of the UK’s implementation of EU anti-money laundering legislation. As a Brit abroad, even though I’ve had an account with a given bank (the same branch even) since I was about 8 years old, they won’t let me open a new savings account or buy a bond, unless I lie to them that I’m still UK resident. And as for going to another bank, forget it. Basically, as with so many other services these days, if you don’t fit into their model customer profile, you’re too much trouble for them.

    In reply to Nick, 3.18pm, there is no limit for intra-EU cash movements, but in some member states (but not the UK) you have to declare large amounts. In DE, for example, any sum greater than €10k has to be declared (entering or leaving). That is the same threshold for obligatory declaration when bringing cash into, or taking it out of, the EU.

  12. antonia

    Has anyone tried talking to their home bank about whether they have any links with banks in the new place and getting a reference letter from them? I did that when I moved to Belgium and it helped v much especially when my card couldn’t be used for payments in shops (like, durrr?!). I wrote to my UK bank saying “you’ve always been great, why did you recommend these idiots” copied it to the Belgian bank and everything got sorted out very quickly.

    When moving from Brussels to London, sharing may seem odd, but it’s not only a way to get a nicer place, it’s a great way to settle in to what can be a big, lonely place.

    For people moving to Brussels, I always got great service from the Brussels Europe Liaison Office, they can really help navigate the maze of Belgian officialdom.

  13. Interesting discussion!!
    James wrote: “UK banks are notorious for their ludicrously strict interpretation of the UK’s implementation of EU anti-money laundering legislation.”
    a) The public policy – EU policy dimension: To be fair, the UK in spite of its “grumpiness” at the EU law making stage does indeed tend to transpose EU law in a “stricter” (and thus better?) way. And that gives it a fair premise IMO for complaining about the “lawmaking happy” (as a metaphor from “trigger happy”) continental approach that had led to national legal labyrinths of fuzzy laws even w/o the EU ones in many (if not all) continental EU states. Which in certain countries has created a tradition of a more “liberal” implementation of laws by admins (but is that fair, either???)
    b) At real ppl level: In the case at hand, indeed, from the experiences laid out in this discussion, this seems to make the banking organisations operating in the UK more red tape fested and “unfriendly” towards new clients, be they mobile British, other intra-EU mobile or third country persons. I wonder what the Mayor of London has to say about that and whether he should complain to Brussels about that too (in addition to his views on the EU bills on derivatives I mean). IMO he should. Because it undermines London’s (and the UK’s in general) place as a cosmopolitan and financial “hub”. And it “punishes” (see examples described under this blog post) the law abiding persons in order to contain the unlawful minority of money launderers.
    I have savings in another state of sources that are legit (and with proper documentation) and I want to bring and deposit them in a bank in the state I will reside, ie the UK. That is the rational thing to do (and simpler in terms of potential inter-state tax issues). If it’s going to take me months to be able to open a bank account, then I may have to bring in and keep “under my pillow” (!!) a large amount in cash to carry me thru until I get a job (for which I will need an NI # for which I will need a place to rent first etc etc – or set up my own professional practice (free lance)) and/or qualify for opening an account!!!??? Especially since using frequently a debit card from a bank in another state as someone else pointed out can potentially lead to a “block” in the card and being left out in the cold!!!
    OMG, it sounds like a Gordian Cord! Should I relocate to ……. instead? Any ideas?

  14. Re what Antonia wrote:
    1) “My banker” ie the head of the branch I keep my savings at has recently been transferred to a place far away. Plus I never borrowed money or had a credit card, only debit (a matter of personal philosophy). And never took out a loan or overdraft. So I do not have much of a credit history. What is the branch manager of “my current bank” going to write in his/her letter? Really! I am at loss.
    2) “When moving from Brussels to London, sharing may seem odd, but it’s not only a way to get a nicer place, it’s a great way to settle in to what can be a big, lonely place.” Makes sense but what happens when one needs utility bills with his/her name on them in order to subscribe (I expect) to internet and other private services one tends to need these days?

  15. I can recommend – they provide info and advice on being an EU citizen but also document problematic areas.

    As for me, I have moved from the UK to Belgium to the Netherlands and have personally found the Dutch to be the most helpful!

  16. antonia


    re 1) I just had a letter saying “antonia has been a client at this bank for x years and we are happy to recommend her to you” I took it into the nearest branch of their partner bank and they opened an account for me. It was just a suggestion of an approach that might work in some circumstances

    re 2) my housemate and I shared out the bills so that we both had our name on at least one for exactly that reason. Also ensured that it wan’t one person paying for everything. Now that I’ve moved in with my boyfriend we do the same thing – some utilities are in his name, some in mine and some are joint.

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  18. Nick Panayotopoulos

    thanks for the replies!

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  20. This is my reply/comment to/re: “Diskriminering saboterar fri rörlighet i EU « Grahnlaw”

    Dear Ralf,

    I do not blame the practical problems re relocating to the UK – London on the UK or London. I think that these are the results of the non-uniform laws that exist in the EU and make the EU Single Marker more a theory than a reality for micro and small companies, as well as the EU-wide provision of Services as well as relocation and job search (eg how many member states have not yet Transposed the EU Services directive)?

    The practical issues that I and other are facing or have faced when intra-EU relocating are IMO a result of the above. After all, many are due to the red tape resulting from the anti money laundering EU directives. If the UK is enforcing them ”strictly” and that causes problems, is that the UK’s fault or the Directives’?


    PS. I have set up an ongoing blog to discuss those practical intra-EU relocation issues:

    PS2. Any ”fault” of the UK IMO in in opposing a deeper EU but I do not see any discrimination re other intra-EU citizens since the same problems seem to trouble re-patriating British citizens, not only non-UK EU citizens.

  21. Llani

    A lot of the practical difficulties in the UK are because of the lack of a National ID Card System. It means that for many things (bank accounts, phone contracts) where you need to prove your identity, you are asked for your passport + an assortment of documents showing previous addresses. British people are used to this, but it causes a lot of problems for people moving to the country.

    I personally had few difficulties moving to the UK because I was a student – many things were sorted out by the university, and landlords who were used to dealing with international students were understanding about things like references.

    My mother moved to Switzerland two years ago, which involved a great deal of bureaucracy and hassle when it came to everything from getting a telephone line connected, to insuring her car. Fortunately her employer paid a relocation agency to help her out with most of it.

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