The best credit cards for expats in the United Kingdom

Planning to move to the UK? Use this guide to find out which credit cards are the best for expats and learn what you need in order to apply for a credit card in the United Kingdom.

Xe Consumer UK

June 28, 20219 min read

Expat using her credit card in London, England in the United Kingdom

If you're a new United Kingdom resident and you're trying to get a credit card, you'll quickly discover that it's not very easy to get one without a credit history. Even if you have a stellar credit history in the last country you lived in, you might not automatically be eligible for a credit card if you have recently moved to the UK.

There are numerous credit cards to choose from as an expat in the UK, and the eligibility conditions vary according to the provider. However, all they have in common is the requirement to have at least some credit history in the UK. Here’s what you can do to make it easier for yourself to get your first UK credit card.

How to get a credit card if you're new to the UK

The good news is that there are multiple ways to build up a credit history in the UK, and this is what you should focus on in order to become eligible for a credit card as an expat in the United Kingdom.

Here's what you need to look at to build a credit history in the UK quickly:

Get on the electoral roll

If you're moving to the UK and plan on staying there for more than a couple of months, it's a good idea to get on the electoral roll as soon as possible. In the UK, being on the electoral roll is not only crucial for voting, but it's also essential for accessing credit. Lenders are using the information on the electoral roll to verify your identity and address, and in the vast majority of cases, it's not possible to access credit if you are not registered.

If you're only in the UK for a short period of time and you can't get on the electoral roll but still need a credit card, you can try to get in touch with the credit reference agency your lender uses and ask them to add a note explaining why you aren't registered to vote. The three main credit reference agencies in the UK are TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.

Open a bank account

Open a bank account in the UK as soon as possible because this can help you establish a credit history in the country. Most banks in the UK ask for proof of address and income before they open an account for you, so make sure you sort out your accommodation in the country before applying for a bank account.

Pay your bills on time

Once you're settled in, make sure that you are paying any of your utility bills, including gas, electricity, water, and a mobile phone bill on time because this works towards improving your credit score.

Start with other forms of credit

One of the easiest ways to start building your credit score is to sign up for a UK mobile phone contract. Even though some companies won't offer mobile contacts to people who don't have any credit history in the UK, some of them offer their cheapest contracts to anyone who has a UK address.

What are the eligibility criteria for getting a UK credit card as an expat?

Before applying for a credit card in the UK as a new resident, it's important to check and see whether you meet all the eligibility criteria.

The eligibility criteria might vary from one bank or financial provider to another, but the you should expect to be asked to fulfil the following criteria:

  • Age. You need to be aged 18 or more to apply for a credit card in the UK.

  • Proof of ID. You will need to be able to prove who you are when applying for a credit card. Your passport is the best option, but your national identity cards from your home country may also be accepted.

  • Proof of address. All credit card lenders will ask for proof of address when you apply for a credit card. You can prove your residential address in the UK with a council tax bill or utility bills in your name.

  • Visa. Not all banks will ask for your visa, but be prepared to show that you're allowed to live legally in the country for the foreseeable future.

  • Proof of income/employment. This can vary between lenders, but some of them will want to see that you're in full-time employment and sometimes earning over a certain amount per year.

The best credit cards for expats in the United Kingdom

Once you have established credit history in the UK, you may start to look at the best credit cards available for expats. It's important to understand that most of the time, the only credit cards that will be available to you are those intended for people with a limited or poor credit score.

Here are some examples of the best credit cards that you have a high chance of being approved for as an expat in the United Kingdom:

Chrome Credit Card  

This credit card is available from Vanquis Bank, and it has one of the lowest APRs available for people who are building their credit history in the UK (29.5% APR variable). You get a starting credit limit of up to £1,500 and you will be eligible to get your first increase after five months, provided you make all your payments on time.

Capital One Platinum Card

The Capital One Platinum card has no annual fees and allows you to see if you are preapproved without hurting your credit score. You will get your first credit limit review in just six months and get fraud coverage in the event your card is lost or stolen. Other benefits include account alerts, setting up monthly recurring transactions, and 24/7 customer service.

Aqua Classic Credit Card

One of the most popular credit cards that help people repair bad credit in the UK, the Aqua Classic Credit Card is also an excellent choice for people who don't have much credit history in the country. You can get an initial credit limit between £250 and £1,200, with the potential to increase the limit after six months if you manage your account well. You will get a MasterCard with no annual fees and access to a UK-based customer helpline.

Barclaycard Forward Credit Card

Another card that can help you build your credit history in the UK, Barclaycard Forward Credit Card offers personalized credit limits between £50 and £1,200. One of the benefits of this credit card is that if you make all your payments on time in the first year, you get a 3% interest rate reduction in the second year and another 2% in your third year. This card also comes with 0% interest on purchases for the first three months from the day you open your account.

Marbles Classic Credit Card

You can check your eligibility for the Marbles Classic Credit Card with no impact on your credit rating. This is a card with no annual fee that allows you to choose your repayment date, manage your account online and receive text alerts when you are approaching your credit limit.

Important factors to consider when taking out a credit card as an expat in the United Kingdom

Just like in any other country in the world, there are multiple factors to consider when choosing a credit card in the UK. Here's a quick checklist to look out for when shopping around for credit cards.

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR). This refers to the cost of borrowing on the card if you don't pay your balance in full every month. Try to compare the APR for different credit cards so you can choose the cheapest one, but this shouldn't be the only deciding factor.

  • Annual fee. Some credit card providers charge an annual fee for the use of the card. The good news is that this is not very common in the UK, and you can get multiple credit cards without an annual fee even if you're new to the country.

  • Minimum repayment. In most cases, you will be asked to repay a minimum amount that's approximately 3% of the balance due or £5, whichever is higher. You need to make sure you pay at least the minimum amount if you don't pay off the balance each month because late payments can really hurt your credit score.

  • Introductory interest rates. Many credit card providers in the UK offer introductory interest rates, which means that you start off paying a lower rate of interest or sometimes even none at all. The rate will then increase after the introductory period.

  • Loyalty points and rewards. You may get loyalty points or rewards for shopping in particular stores.

  • Cashback. Some credit cards allow you to get the money refunded to your card depending on the amount you spend. In most cases, if you qualify for cashback, this only applies if you pay the balance in full every month.

Can you use your new UK credit card to make overseas payments?

Technically, yes. However, the fees on foreign transactions can add up quickly, and make your payments just that much more (unnecessarily) costly. If you want to transfer money to or from your old bank account or send money back to friends or family, your best bet would be to use an international money transfer provider.

Moving to another country is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful, particularly when it comes to arranging your finances. Xe can take the stress away from the international money transfer aspect of relocating into another land. You can send money to over 130 countries quickly and at competitive rates, and use your new UK credit card to provide funds for the transfer. Furthermore, you can save even more money by setting rate alerts for when your currency pair hits desirable exchange rates.

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Expat credit cards in the UK: final thoughts

If you're looking to get a credit card when you move to the UK, there are multiple options available for people with no credit history in the country.

If you've only recently moved into the country, your lack of credit history might be an issue because lenders won't have evidence to determine whether you would be a good borrower, so follow the tips above to start building your credit history in the UK.