When moving to the UK I had no idea I would be starting from scratch with my credit score (totally naïve of me!). No matter how good or bad your credit score is in your home country you will be starting from zero when you move to the UK.
Whether you’ve just moved to the UK or been here for a couple of year this article will cover who the credit agencies are, what they generally look for and how to build your credit score as a new resident.
Stay tuned until the end to hear about the drama I had getting a phone contract and contactless card.
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Who Are the Credit Reference Agencies (CRA) in the UK?
The UK has three Credit Reference Agencies (CRA) that lenders generally use to verify you when you are applying for credit. Just to keep us on our toes the credit scores are not standardised so each one will score your credit differently.
Here is Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (the three CRA’s) score breakdown from very poor to excellent:
TransUnion (formerly Callcredit)
Here’s what my basic credit report looks like with Experian:
What is Included and Not Included in my Credit Score Rating?
Even though your credit score will be totally blank as a new resident of the UK it’s good to know the factors that you are measured on.
- Name, address and date-of-birth.
- Past credit applications.
- Credit repayment history, including late or missed payments.
- Your existing debt.
- Your electoral register presence.
- Any joint credit cards or loans.
- If you’ve been declared bankrupt or have an IVA.
- Any county court judgements (CCJs).
- Current account turnover.
What’s not included:
- Student loans.
- Medical history.
- Council tax arrears.
- Criminal record.
- Parking or driving fines.
What Credit Scores Affect
Here’s a quick overview of how your credit score can affect major finance areas:
- Mortgages – Poor scores will simply get you rejected. Work to improve this before you look at buying a property.
- Credit cards – whether you will be accepted and the rates you will be offered,
- Loans – same as credit cards.
- Utility bills – as they share data between themselves it’s important you pay your bills on time.
- Mobile phones – generally as you are spreading the price of the handset so this is counted as a loan. If you are rejected you won’t get a contract and will need to pay as you go.
- Car and home insurance – Opting for monthly payments means that the insure is giving you a loan for the money over the year and generally charging you interest. They will run a credit check for this. It’s cheaper to get yearly insurance due to this. Even when you use comparison markets for insurance they will run soft credit checks to provide you quotes from insurance companies.
Here are 12 Simple Steps You Can Do to Build Your Credit Score as a New UK Resident
1. Get a UK Address
As a new UK resident finding accommodation will be high on your list anyway as you need somewhere to live! Having a UK address is one of the few common denominators that is shared across your credit accounts. Therefore, you do need a permanent address in order to get credit as it forms part of the data shared with credit agencies.
What do credit agencies use your address for?
- to confirm your identity.
- to match all your credit information to you.
When providing your address it’s important to always write it in the same format. For example, Flat 5, 64 verse 5/64 can impact some of your applications. It’s best to keep it consistent so you don’t have any issues with your credit reports.
Another thing to be mindful of is any type of credit, the lender will ask you to address history over the past three years. For example, if you apply for a sim-only contract on a phone companies website you might get rejected whereas going into a store you can be accepted. This has happened to me, I was accepted in store but rejected online as I was unable to provide the address history.
How Does Your Address Affect Your Credit Score?
Credit agencies use your address to determine how you have handled credit in the past.
ClearScore states that things like what area you lived in and who lived at your address before you shouldn’t have an impact on your score.
The one thing to be careful of is how much you move could indirectly affect your ability to get credit. Lenders look for stability in people’s credit scores so moving can indicate that you have a number of issues.
At the end of the day, you can’t avoid moving so don’t worry too much but be mindful if you move 3 or 4 times a year then lenders will be cautious about lending money.
2. Open and Manage a Bank Account
Opening a bank account can be challenging in the UK and a bit of a catch 22 as a new resident. You need proof of address to open a bank account but then you don’t have the proof and so on it goes.
Get a Bank Account Before Moving
To make things simpler before moving to the UK, see if you can open a bank account for the UK in your home country, banks like Citibank and HSBC offer these services. Just be aware that this could cost you money to open an account internationally.
Allow at least one month before you leave to open one of these.
Get a Traditional Bank Account in the UK
To get an account with one of the high street banks like Lloyds, Santander, Barclays, HSBC or NatWest you will need to do this by attending an interview and bring the following information:
- Your passport (mandatory).
- Biometric Residence Permit (mandatory if you are on a UK visa).
- A letter of employment (bank-dependent), proof of address which can be a rental contract or bills in your name to a UK address (mandatory) and potentially a letter from your current bank advocating you as a customer (bank-dependent).
When I struggled to get a bank account, I used Britbound service to help me. They have a package for a UK Bank Account and Sarah makes the process really easy. The only downfall is the appointments must be in London with the bank they have the relationship with. If you are moving somewhere else in the UK this might not be the best option.
Challenger Bank/App Focused Bank Account
Challenger banks were created as digital-only banks in the UK. They are an alternative to the traditional high street banks. They will provide you an app as the base to run your banking needs.
I recommend looking into Starling, Monzo and Revolut as options for your banking needs. Both Starling and Monzo are FSCS protected which means if they go out of business your money is protected up to £85,000.
Revolut and Wise use safeguarding as their means of protecting your money which means they have to hold the equivalent amount of money in a safeguarded account. If they went under then this money is used to return your money.
I currently use Monzo for my everyday spending and Wise for all of my international transfers, plus parts of my business banking. Most of my income is paid in USD so this is a perfect solution as in between the bank and saves on exchange fees.
To open an account with a Challenger Bank:
- Have a UK phone number (you generally will get rejected if you don’t have a UK number).
- Download the app of your prefered bank.
- Provide proof of your identity by taking a photo of your passport.
- An address where you can receive the debit card.
How Does Your Bank Account Affect Your Credit Score?
Bank accounts will affect your scores if you do things like switch banks too regularly or if you switch before you apply for a big loan, an overdraft or credit card when you don’t need it.
As a new resident, you may end up with a bank account that wasn’t exactly what you wanted to start off with. Once you’ve got yourself settled, shop around until you find the right bank or financial institution and then switch.
If you plan on switching bank accounts look for the seven-day switching service. This means that you are not stuck in limbo when switching bank accounts and if you forget to change a payment like your salary or direct debits and standing orders these will be transferred into your new account.
3. Show Proof of Employment
Getting a job is probably high on your to-do list when! The benefit of having a job is to show that you have a regular income and a salary to pay for things like debt.
How Does Your Employment Affect Your Credit Score?
When you first arrive, you may struggle
4. Get on the Electoral Roll
When you register to vote, your electoral details are recorded on your credit report. The confirmation of your name and address boosts up your credit rating after 30 days.
This is only applicable if your nationality allows you to be eligible to vote. For example; EEA citizens and Commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
If your nationality isn’t one that allows you to vote,
You can register vote two ways, either online or by post. The local council will send a letter to your household each year requesting you to confirm the voters at that address.
How Does Your Electoral Roll Affect Your Credit Score?
You could be missing out on additional points which will boost your overall credit score rating.
Voting isn’t mandatory in the UK so if this isn’t something that you don’t wish to do then it’s fine.
5. Manage Small Credit Accounts
Building credit through forms of credit such as a mobile phone contract or credit card will help build your score steadily. When you have no credit history the types of credit cards you can apply for will have higher interest rates and lower credit limits.
With mobile phone contracts, you may find you can only apply for a SIM-only contract while you build your credit score (I have a funny story about this which I will add to the end).
Showing lenders that you can manage a line of credit and pay those bills on time is key to level up to kick-a** adulting skills/ building your score. Once established you can move on to the actual type of credit cards or phone contract you wish to have.
Just to answer questions on forums like:
Can I get a credit card on a Youth Mobility Visa or UK Ancestry Visa?
Yes, you can! Being a resident, you will be able to apply for a card, you just may need to start with a credit builder credit card as it’s likely you have no credit score.
At the moment I only have one credit card with American Express and a phone contract which I will be changing to a SIM-only contract. I did have an overdraft which I cancelled as I no longer need to after having a credit card. This was all while I was on my UK Ancestry visa.
Credit Builder Credit Cards
Here are a few options for cards to start off building your credit with are:
- Capital One Balance Transfer Card
- Chrome Credit Card
- Tesco Bank Foundation Clubcard Credit Card
- Chrome Credit Card
- Aqua classic Credit Card
Find out more about Credit Builder Credit Cards at uSwitch or Money.
American Express makes the move abroad seamless for 20 countries. This is a great option if you’re an existing member or look at applying for one a few months in advance so you can make the switch. Once you move, let them know and they will transfer your card across.
What you must have:
- An eligible American Express Card.
- A home address.
- A phone number.
Don’t have an Amex Card? Use my referral link to get started. I currently have the British Airways points card. This is great for collecting air miles and if you meet the companionship vouchers these are amazing for long-distance flights. I’ve flown to Mexico for £300 return in the past.
How Does Your Small Credit Accounts Affect Your Credit Score?
Several factors can affect your credit score when it comes to credit like payment history, length of credit history, types of credit and new credit lines. It all comes down to managing your credit lines, so:
- Making sure your payments are on time and you don’t miss any.
- Establishing a longer-term credit line so getting accounts you actually want in the long run.
- Type of credit you have has an impact so having a mortgage, student loans, credit card debt, medical bills or retail accounts will be factored in when applying for credit.
- Opening too many new credit lines, this will increase your risk factor and flag to lenders.
6. Set Up Direct Debit Payments
Look at setting up direct debits for your personal loans, credit cards, phone bill, rent or household build as it allows you to pay your bills on time.
As each accommodation arrangement is different this will depend on how your bill arrangement is set up, live in or private landlords may want to manage the household bills whereas renting or owning your own bills means you can manage it however you want. The more you establish yourself in the UK you can build on establishing direct debit payments.
How Does Direct Debits Affect Your Credit Score?
Late payments will damage your credit score, even one late payment can affect your credit score. Direct debits help ensure that you always pay your bills on time and don’t have to worry about remembering all those dates.
7. Don’t Apply for Credit too O
Hard searches (when credit is applied for) are noted on your report so applying for credit you are not ready for will have an impact. It’s best to wait until you have built a credit score before applying for bigger credit lines.
Check with Experian, Equifax or TransUnion before applying to see if you will make the cut and be successful with that credit line. See if you can find any information about what the lenders are looking for as well.
You can run soft searches for credit that you are likely to be accepted for. This is used in things like when you get a quote for car insurance and it doesn’t affect your credit score.
How Does Applying for Credit too Often Affect Your Credit Score?
I’ve mentioned this just above it will be noted on your report so having 10 hard searches on your report won’t make you look favourable to lenders.
When I was having issues getting a mobile phone I only tried twice over the year before I was successful the third time. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t have too many marks on my score.
8. Close Accounts You No Longer Use
Keeping nice and tidy accounts shows to financial companies your suitability for credit and how much credit you already have available to you.
This is a balancing act as you don’t want too many short relationships and it can be better to leave them inactive. It can give you a short-term boost closing them when you need it.
How Does Having Too Many Account Affect Your Credit Score?
A bit of a balancing act is needed as the length of the accounts also is factored into your credit score. Have a look at your report before closing accounts. Potentially you could see a dip in your credit score but nothing that should stop you from getting credit.
9. Check Your Credit Report and See If There Are Any Errors
After you’ve been here a while and are established, start looking at ordering a copy of your credit file. These can be ordered online for a small fee from the websites of the three main credit reference agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Alternatively, you can sign up to the websites to monitor your score (some do come with a monthly fee).
Check if you have any errors and ensure any notice of corrections are added to your file.
I currently use Experian to check my credit scores as they offer a free report to see how my score is growing and then a paid service if you want to dive deeper into your records.
10. Consider Tools like LOQBOX To Improve Your Score
Companies like LOQBOX help build your credit score. Think of it as a digital piggy bank but it’s reported as loan repayments to the credit reference agencies. This shows that you can handle credit and improve your score.
When using this option make sure you can make the payments, if you are unable to make the payments then do cancel your account and avoid any impacts on your reports.
Read the fine print before joining these companies. Here’s some feedback from a friend on their experience with LOQBOX:
For LOQBOX make sure you currently have income and your credit score is high enough to apply for an overdraft. There’s nothing to imply the account they link you to set up does a credit check but it does. It is a savings account with TSB that has an “optional overdraft”, however in their experience this was not optional. Since the “savings” account required a credit check and she was unemployed their application got declined and their credit score went down.
They thought from LOQBOX was only a savings account and didn’t require employment for using the service.
12. When Applying for Credit
Here are some things to be mindful of when applying for credit.
The application form – fill in the form correctly with your key details, one slip such as entering your salary wrong can impact your application. Also, inconsistency can raise your fraud scoring like different job titles, the way you write your address, phone number, etc.
Previous dealings with the lender – companies will assess your past data/dealings with them. For example, you may find your bank is more willing to lend you money than an alternative bank as you have a rapport with them. However, if you’ve had problems then they might make it harder to get accepted there as well.
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit files – I’ve detailed at the start of this article what credit agencies will look for but in summary:
- Electoral roll information.
- Court records.
- Search, address and linked data.
- Utilities such as gas and electricity firms (as they do hard checks).
- Account data. Banks, building societies, credit cards etc.
Fraud data – if you have committed fraud or someone has stolen your identity and committed the fraud then this will be held on file.
Why I Couldn’t Get A Mobile Phone and How It Was Resolved
A couple of years ago I tried to get a phone on a contract and I was rejected! I couldn’t understand why it was so I mentioned this to my boyfriend and he’s like have you checked your credit score? I had not even considered that I needed a credit score to get a phone! I look at my credit score and it was fair but not good or excellent.
I spoke to my boyfriend again, he’s like have you register to the Electoral Roll? Nope, I had not done and at the time had no idea it would affect my credit score so much. Off I go to apply to be on the Electoral Roll. Waited a couple of months for it to apply on the credit report (it takes around 30 days) but during this time I had been given a new work phone so I just switched over to that one for a while.
Fast forward a couple of months I was trying to pay my credit card and the payments were failing. My bank calls me and asks me to confirm my details, but they kept failing. I had no idea what was going on, I was getting my birthday right, after all, it’s my birthday.
After back and forth with the bank, I have to go into the bank to show my ID to prove who I am. Turns out that my birthday was out by 5 days! All this time my birthday had been incorrect, super strange.
When the whole birthday sager settles down I reapply for the phone and it was successful.
Not Being Approved for Contactless
My sister moved here a couple of years after I had been living here. She applies for a bank account and upon opening an account she was given a contactless card but I wasn’t. I ask my bank to switch me to contactless and they just tell me I’m not eligible for one with no explanation. As she didn’t have any credit score yet again I am confused why I can’t get contactless.
I ask a couple of times confused why I couldn’t get one and still no answer. I forget the whole issue for while, after all, it stops quick spending.
Then not long ago I lose my wallet (after the whole birthday incident) and ask for a replacement card. Open the mail a couple of days later and to my surprise, there was a contactless card. It seems that the birthday issue had been affecting my finances this whole time.
Do you have any tips building your credit score in the UK? Any disastrous stories that impacted your score? Let me know in the comments below.
More Living in the UK Articles
- Exchanging a Foreign Licence for a UK Drivers Licence
- A Helpful Guide on How to Find a Flat in London
- Cost of Living in London
- Essentials Items You Need for a New Apartment or Home
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.
Wednesday 21st of October 2020
Just a few things I noticed. Your 'score' is only an indication. Banks etc. Do not see a 'score'. Each institution scores you differently on different criteria. One bank may not give someone a card because they only use it for 12 months (obviously abusing interest free periods and balance transfer deals for example) however you can nearly always get eligibility checked without a hard search going on your report.
I seen that you said rejections get noted on your report. This is not strictly true. Hard searches (when credit is applied for) go on your report, rejected or not. Important to bare in mind.
Also, about closing accounts you no longer need... This is more of a balancing act. Too many short relationships on your file turn lenders off. Sometimes it's best to leave them inactive and then take the short term boost after closing when you need it.
Some really handy info here, though!
Wednesday 7th of October 2020
I have been living in the UK for 2 years 9 months, have been emplyed since then, have a bank account, got a mobile phone contract, and still I am not getting a credit score, I was told there was not enough info to built the credit score. Not sure what to do
Wednesday 7th of October 2020
The only credit tool that works for me is Experian, the others don't pick up my details for whatever reason. If the UK allows you to register to vote then this will really bump your score (if you can't tell the credit score provider), if your bank account is with someone like Monzo consider getting a high street bank, look at getting an entry credit card to help build. There are quite a few items on this list it doesn't sound like you have completed.
Wednesday 22nd of July 2020
I just moved to the UK from Germany. There I lived for 10 years, got a good credit score, got a decent loan, etc...
Now that I am in the UK for about 6 months, my credit score looks horrible. It is evaluated as VERY POOR although I have a decent job from the beginning, openned a bank account in HSBC and set a direct debit for council tax.
As I applied for a sim card contract it was rejected. The same for a credit card and overdraft.
Friday 24th of July 2020
Hi Ali, I found when I went into the phone store they were more willing to give me a SIM only phone contract then online as they require 3 years of address for the online forms. You can also request an exemption re the voting rule from the credit suppliers if you don't meet that.
I have seen other people use services like https://www.loqbox.com/en_gb/ to build their score.
Then I would look at credit cards for people that have bad credit ratings (I know you are still building yours) but it will be more likely to be a successful applications. https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/bad-credit-credit-cards/ Kat
Tuesday 23rd of June 2020
I have lived in the UK for almost two years now and have been employed for just over a year now. I have checked most of the boxes of what I need. Electoral register, direct debit ( phone ), utility bills in my name, address, work ( full time ) yet none of the main credit score websites can verify my identity they say. So I can’t see my credit score. what do I do?
Wednesday 24th of June 2020
Hi Sabrina, Have you tried reaching out to Experian on why they are not logging your score? I've had some issues in the past where some just won't register my details and it just takes a conversation with them to understand why. Kat
Sunday 8th of March 2020
Hi, would I be able to get a credit building credit card as an international student even though I'm not eligible to vote and recently moved? I do have a UK bank card however
Monday 9th of March 2020
If you are unable to vote, then you can ask the credit companies to give you an exception which will help your score. You should wait at least 3 months after moving before applying for any credit cards. You would have to look at the rules of each company to see whether you can apply. Even if it's one that you have to pay back at the end of each month it helps with your score.