The Canadian’s Guide to British / UK Credit Cards

In the following post, I will detail the steps I took to establish a credit presence in the UK and acquire my first UK credit card. While credit card signup offers in the UK are subpar compared to Canada or USA, there are still some pockets of value out there. Furthermore, the UK has lots of manufactured spending opportunities, partly enabled by its budding fintech space. I won’t say any more on the latter, however, as I wouldn’t want to break the number one rule of manufactured spending

I will say that it probably doesn’t make sense to go through the following process if you haven’t already gone through the steps to getting a US credit card and/or an ITIN number. Getting US cards will be more lucrative more quickly for you, and also slightly less convoluted than the UK method outlined here.

Step 1: Setup Mail Forwarding

Register for a mail forwarder to use as your permanent address. I’ve linked several below after doing some very preliminary vetting. There are others, including ones with cheaper rates. However, as with US mail forwarding, I am not going to spoon-feed or publicly post the provider I use, in the interest of not having it be overwhelmed and ultimately shut down.

ForwarderSubscriptionCost Estimate for Lettermail
Reship$5 one time signup fee$5 per item handling + postage
myUKmailbox£18.97 (untracked)
Forwardvia£22.40
Ghost Mail Drop£19 p/.a.£2.50 per item handling + postage
simple formations£100 p.a.30 letters w/ postage included in subscription
Coventry Virtual Office£100 p.a.50 letters included in the subscription, pay postage

In addition, I have ruled out the following as viable mail forwarders due to their terms and conditions prohibiting currency, ‘official documents’, or credit cards: 

* A note on PO Boxes. In the UK, you will sometimes be requested to enter House Name, House Number, and Line 1 in address fields.

Step 2 (Optional): Join the UK Electoral Register

Register on the Gov.uk website to add yourself to the Electoral Register. The UK’s credit scoring systems are very different from those in North America. It is much more difficult to establish a credit history without being registered on the Electoral Register. 

Note: This is technically legal for people with Commonwealth citizenship, legally living in the UK. So if you’ve applied for something like a global transfer for a US Amex credit card without actually living in the US, this is an equally gray area. However, you also wouldn’t want to be suspected of committing voter fraud, so tread carefully here.  

Also, you won’t be able to sign up using a PO Box as your address. This was what ultimately stopped me. However, I still felt that is worth mentioning as an optional step.

Step 3: Open a First Bank Account with a Challenger Bank

Register for a bank account with a challenger bank. These are ambitious fintech disruption-type banks that offer competitive online-only services. We’ve already seen these types of companies try to break into the Canadian market – for example, Revolut which has a prepaid credit card offering actually also offers banking services in the UK where it originates from.  

Importantly, many of these challenger banks won’t ask you for proof of address. Start with Monzo, Starling, N26, Monese, etc. 

We want these accounts for two reasons: (1) once you have an account with one bank, you can then use statements from that account as proof of address for other types of accounts, and more importantly, (2) so that we can start to establish a credit profile. 

See the table below for which challenger banks report to which of the three operating UK credit bureaus (current as of 02/2020).

BankExperianTransUnionEquifaxRequire UK Address Verification
StarlingNoYesYesYes
MonzoYesYesNoNo
Monese????

I personally chose to open accounts with Starling and Monzo, to cover all credit bureaus. 

I opened Monzo first, which was a painless process. You need to download the mobile app to create an account. It is available in Canada, so there is no need to use VPN. I signed up using my Canadian phone number. Then I was asked to enter my SIN, and upload a picture of my Passport (Canadian). Debit card was sent 2 days later to my virtual postbox address. 

Starling Bank had more stringent verification. I entered my PO Box Number in the ‘Building Name’ field and the district of London (West Central) in the ‘Line 1’ field. I then submitted a photo of my Canadian passport. However, this time, I was asked for proof of the UK address entered on the application. You’ll have to get creative when this is requested but there are many ways to verify: a statement from another bank account, phone bill, etc.

Step 4: Apply for Your First UK Credit Card

I recommend you start by signing up for a lower-tiered ‘credit builder’ credit card. You can also give Amex Global Transfer to the UK a try, using the same steps as the US method. Furthermore, to expedite the establishment of your credit profile, you can use innovative credit building services like LOQBOX. These will help you build your credit score up quickly. 

Once you have a UK credit card, definitely use it regularly. Consider getting the Curve card as well so that you can avoid foreign exchange fees when using your card in Canada.

Step 5: Check Your Credit Scores

After about one year, check your credit scores. You can use the following services to check each of the three credit bureaus in the UK.

Credit Scoring AgencyAccess Your Score for Free WithWhat is a ‘Good” Score?
EquifaxClearScore>420 (out of 700)
ExperianMSEs Credit club>880 (out of 999)
TransUnionCredit Karma4 (out of 5)

Note that for signing up for MSE and Credit Karma, you will need to enter a mobile number. There are several ways to go about this. One I looked into was Sipgate, which provides a free UK landline number. Certain services require you to load money into your Sipgate account, such as sending/receiving SMS.

Instead, I opted to use a real SIM card service called giffgaff which operates using Britain’s O2 network. They will send you a SIM card to any international address for free, which you can then load with a prepaid, monthly, no-contract plan for as low as £6 (unlimited calls and texts).

Matt Astro

Matt Astro

Contributor at Frugal Flyer
Matt is a technophile and math nerd who discovered travel hacking in 2015. His favorite points-powered trip to date was visiting Estonia. Matt takes no shame in being far too frugal. In fact, he would probably go as far as calling himself cheap. Seriously, if there is a way to get something for free, Matt will find it and take advantage of it (and then maybe write about it here).

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9 comments on “The Canadian’s Guide to British / UK Credit Cards

  1. Hi Matt, wondering if you had any plans on articles for effective MS opportunities in the UK?
    Currently running into a dead end on online forums for effective UK churning strategies, especiall7y for MR or Avios.

    Thanks

    Reply
  2. Hey Matt – This thread is dated but hoping you can read this/and provide details.

    Similar situation as you:
    • Canadian citizen attempting to churn in the UK
    • So far, I’ve been unsuccessful in signing up for UK bank accounts
    • Whenever I upload my ID, I always get a prompt of failed to verify ID
    • This has been the case with Monese, Monzo, Revolut, etc.

    Can you provide more context over how your process was with opening UK bank accounts?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Hassan,
      Are you uploading Canadian passport?
      Perhaps speak with their support and see if they still accept foreign passport as ID verification, or what they want instead.

      Reply
  3. Thanks Matt, I need to do some reading but it looks like there may be some AMEX personal cards exempt from the 24-month rule and the business cards are only 6-months. I’ll try and get P2 set-up on the UK side as well for referrals. I have Curve already, it’s a great product (it was even better during the short period that PayPal Key suported AMEX).

    Reply
    • Yes Amex UK policies are quite harsh. It serves as a good starting point via global transfer, but that’s about it. If you already have some credit history, keep an eye for the Virgin Atlantic Rewards+. Combined with the Curve card and you’ll be able to avoid forex fees too.

      Reply
      • Thanks Matt, I need to do some reading but it looks like there may be some AMEX personal cards exempt from the 24-month rule and the business cards are only 6-months. I’ll try and get P2 set-up on the UK side as well for referrals. I have Curve already, it’s a great product (it was even better during the short period that PayPal Key suported AMEX).

        Reply