As noted yesterday, I visited my local banker on the anniversary of my arrival in the UK to try and get some help in the grown-up banking situation. Apparently I am now officially qualified for a proper (normal!) Visa debit card for my checking account. This is good: up to now I have been functioning on a mostly cash basis because all they would give me is a “Visa Electron” card. Wikipedia notes regarding this card, “In the United Kingdom, the card is not as widely accepted as the sister Visa Debit card, but is often issued by banks as a debit card for children’s accounts (although Barclays appears to have gone back on this, and started issuing full Visa Debit cards to customers under the age of 18)”. Right. I can verify that the thing is not accepted very many places, including ticket machines at rail stations. I am annoyed to hear that Barclays are giving normal Visa Debit cards to children under 18 but Visa Electron cards to adults with graduate degrees and substantial income. THIS IS COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS! For more on the Visa Electron saga see this BBC article. It’s discrimination, pure and simple. And while perhaps the banks can justify it on the basis of the young and poor for business reasons, they have absolutely no reason to discriminate against foreign nationals whose income is clearly stated on their work permit. This is just flat-out xenophobic behavior and should not be condoned in the UK.
So the good news is that the Visa Debit card is on the way. The bad news is that the UK is currently having a series of postal strikes so this arrival could be delayed by a substantial period of time.
I had been feeling quite optimistic that with this transition done, and the second phase of my one-two punch was an attempt to get a UK credit card. Again, I had been told that after a year in the country, I should have some sort of UK credit record established and be able to get a credit card, even one with a miniscule limit. I have applied and am now waiting for the result. I had been rejected on my first attempt, immediately after my arrival. I had been feeling quite confident that this would work this time, until I chatted with another expat who was rejected a second time after his year anniversary. So now we wait.
Again, this is completely ridiculous. Why one could not get a credit card with even a few hundred pounds limit — I would put cash to secure it — or based on a transcript of an American credit record is inconceivable. And yes it matters. My (now very well-used) American Visa is not “Chip and Pin” so it is not accepted everywhere in the UK. I cannot do any online shopping. I have to continually transfer funds back to the US, to my checking account there, to pay my US credit card. This is perhaps where the banks have us: they are earning a great deal of “fees income” from my wire transfers. So why on earth would they want me to get a local card? They’ll lose money on it!
I hate to act all American about it but some times it is tempting to think about a lawyer in cases like this.
Update: see an interesting banker perspective here (many thanks for the link and I hope someone does manage to think of a creative way around this problem in this increasingly global economy!)