As the third-largest eCommerce market globally, the UK is an attractive option for eCommerce business owners. By opening a bank account in the UK, you’ll avoid expensive foreign exchange fees and be able to get paid by customers and suppliers within the same market where you’re selling to reduce cross-border fees.
Yet, setting up a UK-based eCommerce business is no easy task. You’ll need to create a merchant account to accept online payments and a business bank account to send payments. Before you read our guide to merchant accounts, check out our earlier one on setting up a UK business bank account as a non-resident.
In this guide, we’ll help you better understand merchant accounts, discuss your options for accepting online payments and explain the application process.
Why Should eCommerce Companies Get a UK Bank Account
The UK is an attractive option for eCommerce entrepreneurs looking to expand their global presence. Ranking 3rd, behind China and the US, the UK’s B2C eCommerce market accounted for over €222 billion in 2020. COVID has further accelerated online shopping growth with eCommerce expected to account for more than 50% of the UK’s total retail sales by 2028.
With so many British people keen to shop online, many foreign eCommerce business owners have set their sights on expanding to the UK. Whether you plan to sell Turkish wedding dresses or electronics on Amazon, setting up an eCommerce business in the UK can unlock many commercial opportunities.
What is a Merchant Account?
To accept credit and debit card payments in the UK directly through your website or physical premises, you’ll need to set up a merchant account. Merchant accounts are essentially a holding account, where a customers’ payment is held while their bank approves the transaction. Once confirmed, the payment goes to your business bank account.
Some more digital merchant account providers, like Stripe, also act as a bank account so you can receive, send and process payments from one place. With others, you need to have a business bank account to take advantage of more traditional payment services.
Regardless, it’s important to note that you cannot accept payments via debit or credit card without a merchant account.
Do You Need Residency to Set Up a Merchant Bank Account?
Most banks will ask for proof of residency, such as a utility bill with a local address, to open a bank account. You can meet these requirements by renting or buying a local residential property –– it can’t be an office or business address. You’d then need to stay in the UK for 183 days before you’d qualify as a UK resident.
You don’t need to go through this process to open a merchant account as a non-resident. Non-residents can often open an international bank account and apply from their home country. However, non-residents are often subject to more bureaucracy and extra security checks due to anti-money laundering regulations.
How to Set-up a Merchant Bank Account
Before you can set up a merchant account, you’ll typically need to open a business bank account with a High Street provider. Most High Street banks will offer merchant services, making the process easier, especially for non-residents.
The process for opening a merchant account can vary depending on the providers, but you’ll typically need to provide the following information:
- Financial statements. You’ll need to show your business is financially stable by providing recent bank statements (from the last three months). Don’t worry if you have a new eCommerce business or only process a small number of transactions. This might work in your favour as you’ll be holding less money in your merchant account so the bank will be assuming less risk.
- Processing history. Some merchant account providers will want to see six months of processing statements containing the total number and volume of transactions, refunds and chargebacks.
- Business and personal information. As part of your application, you may also need to provide business and personal information such as your business name, corporate structure, business address, name and contact information, total annual sales, average transactions and banking information.
While this may sound like a lot of information, opening a merchant account will allow you to accept payments online and are essential for running a successful eCommerce business.
Best Bank for Merchant Account
Once you’ve set up a business bank account, you’ll then need to set up a merchant account to accept online payments via debit or credit card. Setting up a merchant account involves a unique process with different paperwork like a certificate of incorporation and a merchant-specific application form.
We’ve highlighted some of our favourite merchant account providers who offer online application processes and integrate with common High Street banks. However, it’s worth shopping around to find the best option for you and your business.
WorldPay is the most popular merchant account in the UK, and the platform currently processes more than 50% of Britain's online payments. The payment portal allows eCommerce merchants to accept payments from around the world and supports over 120 currencies.
WorldPay uses Open Banking to connect with almost all UK High Street banks, including Barclays, HSBC, and Lloyds. Once you have a UK bank account, you’ll need to provide a bank statement from within the last three months to set up a WorldPay account and start accepting online payments.
PayPal is a popular choice for eCommerce businesses as it offers some of the best online payment processing services. PayPal also offers low transaction fees and as a long-standing industry player is familiar to most customers.
While you can set-up a PayPal account and accept payments from anywhere in the world, you’ll need a bank account to transfer money out. You can use a bank account in any country, but your PayPal account will be linked to that country. If you want to operate as a UK business, you’ll first need to set-up a bank account with a High Street bank like HSBC, RBS, etc.
If you already have a Barclays account, Barclaycard is a natural choice for a merchant account. Barclaycard supports over 87,000 UK retailers ranging from small businesses to large corporations.
With Barclaycard, you can accept payments online from 48 different currencies and convert them into one of 14 currencies including Sterling, Euro and US Dollars. Fees are reasonable, if a little higher than other providers.
Get Your UK Ecommerce Business Up and Running with Open
We’ve helped many eCommerce merchants navigate the challenges of setting up an online business in the UK. We know all the ins and outs of opening an account as a non-resident and finding the best merchant account for you.
We have the tools to help you avoid costly mistakes and make sure you have a business bank account open in the blink of an eye.
Take advantage of our win-win guarantee, where you either successfully open a UK business bank account or you don’t pay.
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