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14 July 2008

Foreigner Friendly Banks

Following my painful experience with PKO Bank Polski I took the advice of a couple of you (thanks guys) and opened an account with mBank.

Here's the link to their website in English - yes that's right, it's in English!

You can read all the details of what they offer on their site so I won't duplicate it here, but the main points and the reason I am so happy and thought it worth a blog post is:

  • the bank account is free to operate. Most Polish banks charge you monthly fees or fees to do basic things like make simple payments. Maybe this isn't a shock for non-Brits, but for us Brits who are used to banking for free (well free if you don't count unfair bank charges as a fee) then this is a taste of home
  • they are quite foreigner friendly. You don't need to have a PESEL number, you don't need to have a karta pobytu. Their website is in English.
  • opening an account is easy - because mBank is an internet bank you don' have to physically go to a branch. I did the formalities over the phone and then a courier came to my house to check my passport and give me my activation pack.
  • mBank is actually part of one of the big boy banks in Poland who collectively hold a third of all personal accounts in Poland. Well their brochure says something like that, so at least they're not a little mickey mouse bank
Here's the downside:
  • Unfortunately when you call them they don't speak English, so that might be a bit of a show-stopper if your Polish is a bit ropey or non-existent. I will guess that having a friend call won't help as you have to personally answer their questions and accept their terms and conditions etc..
  • Their internet banking service is only in Polish too.
Also worth mentioning that when I called up to apply they tried to tell me I couldn't open an account without a PESEL despite their website saying this wasn't required. I had to tell the guy I thought he was wrong and ask him to check with his manager before he relented. Apart from that the sign-up process was quick and smooth.

Here's a couple of things I recently discovered which might help a newbie to Polish/international banking:

  • When you want to make an international payment the UK banks ask for the foreign bank's Swift code. In Polish this is called the "BIC" number - numer rachunek BIC.
  • Poles don't quote the sort-code and account number separately like we do in the UK. They use the IBAN system. Therefore their bank account number is just one long number such as 04 2000 1234 0000 1111 2222 3333 (preceded by "PL" for international operations). I have no idea how Poles remember their bank account numbers. ...
Happy banking...!


Martin said...

I'm running my business, private and investment accounts with mBank and can only confirm that it runs smoothly even for a foreigner. OK, the online banking interface is Polish, but it's just a few words to understand.
Many online-shops in Poland allow to payments direct through mBank (mTransfer).

Shaunj said...

it's funny that they told you a Pesel is needed. They did the same with me. At least they are consistent in their inaccuracy. :)

BritInPoland said...

Hi Shaunj - actually I think you were the first to recommend mBank to me so thanks for the tip! Cheers.

Jas said...

Hi, Your blog is exactly what I have been looking for !!! Im thinking of moving to Poland shortly, around October/November time ith my girlfriend and I am just trying to work out the amount of money i would need to have a comfortable life over there. We will be moving to Katowice, Chorzow or Gliwice and I am hoping to save £3000 by the time we move. As for work, I will hopefully get some teching job as Im completing my TEFL....I was wonderign if you have advice on how much money I would need to be able to afford a small flat and still have a comfortable life i.e. able to go out and enjoy my time over there......any advice or info you can give is greatly apprecited

BritInPoland said...

Hi Jas

Hard to advise you on your budget. For one thing the exchange rate keeps falling. When I bought my house a year ago I got 5.5 zloty to the pound, not it's only 4 zloty to the pound. Back in 2004 it was 7 zloty to the pound!

Some living costs are a lot cheaper (no council tax, TV licence etc..) but some cost the same or similar to the UK (petrol, gas, telephone).

Also like in the UK the prices depend on exactly where you are and whether you are in the town centre or not. The best thing is for you to ask on where you can directly ask people/ex-pats that live and work in the places you mention. Good luck with your move.


Anonymous said...

Hi *waves* new reader here.
Just wanted to correct you on a small detail: if you own a radio or a TV in Poland, you're required to pay a monthly licence fee.

BritInPoland said...

Hello Anonymous!

Yes you're right, it's just that I don't know anybody that actually bothers to pay it in Poland. Whereas in the UK it's GBP 110/year and it's a lot of hassle if you don't.

Yennefer said...

We simply don't remember our accounts numbers :) Why bother? If somebody asks me for this I log in to my account and copy-paste it. But I know my Irish a/c no. It's so simple :) I love it (although I thought at the beginning that remembering your a/c no is weird).

Marta said...

Come on, why would I bother remembering my account number? :] I never even remember my British mobile number :P

Good to know that mBank is foreigners-friendly though, thanks :)

BritInPoland said...

Yeah I should mention that generally there's no need to remember a bank account number in Poland because nobody pays anything by direct debit/standing order/etc... It's the total opposite in the UK where I need to remember my UK account number more often...

Anonymous said...

The proper name for the Polish domestic account number is NRB (Numer Rachunku Bankowego), but you're right that it's just the Polish IBAN without the PL at the beginning.

BIC (Bank Identifier Code) is what is used by SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) itself in their various papers. In Poland, SWIFT code and BIC are used interchangeably.

Anonymous said...

hi, very good blog. I am looking forward to see more entries about living in pl from another perspective. made ma think about coming back ;)

Brunno said...

So I followed your advice and went with mBank... on the phone they were great, I had to wait a bit but they did find someone to speak to me in English - who told me exactly what you did, and what the website says - no PESEL needed, no karta pobytu necessary. I should have opened it with them over the phone, but I asked whether it'd be quicker to do it at the branch, they said yes, so off I went to their little kiosk in Wola Park. Of course, when I got there, they told me they cannot open an account without a PESEL, called mLinia and checked, and still turned me away...

So I went upstairs to Millennium, and they opened it there and then with my passport only, no problems. Their website is in English, their internet service is also in English. No English at the branch though, and I imagine it might be difficult over the phone too. So far so good, will post again if they hassle me.

Quite funny - my first name is Brunno, and their systems only accept Polish first names. So I ended up with my name on the card being "Brak Danych Maradei"... they offered to correct it of course, but I figured it'd make me laugh whenever I look at it...

BritInPoland said...

Ha ha! Nice one. Thanks for the tip on Millennium.

Yeah that's typical - even their own employees don't know the rules, still, their loss.

fulopandi said...


I just found this blog and I find it useful as foreigner in Krakow.
I also recommend Millennium Bank, I have account there for a year and didn't have any problems with them. In some branches they even speak English.

Paulo said...

I don't have problems with Millenium Bank also.
Website, internet service in English, only Passport to open account... And in my home branch there were a couple of guys that could speak English... :)

Anonymous said...


just for interest, I now have an account with Nordea. The reason I chose it is because internet banking can be done completely in English.


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