Opening a local bank account is essential if you are moving here to work and live. There are quirks to the banking sector here which I have to write about! A little bit of background: my employer opened a Hatton National Bank (HNB) account for me, which is what I’m still using.

My employer had a preferred bank and arranged for an account to be opened with them. The positive side about this is that you don’t need to deal with the bank itself, just fill out a couple forms and let the guy (or girl!) at work do everything else. It saves you from lining up and having conversations with bankers who often can’t understand you.

If you want a little more choice in where you bank, the process includes all the above and additional proof of identity if you open an account for yourself including (but not limited to):

  • Copy of Passport
  • Copy of Residence Visa
  • Copy of Student ID
  • Copy of utility bill or rental agreement

Banking here is pretty primitive, I mean they have bank cards but most vendors don’t have PIN number capability and they certainly don’t check signatures. As I’ve written previously, there are other limitations on using cards. Also, I must mention, that regardless of which bank you pick there will be an approx. 6 week wait on your card being delivered. So make sure you have international cards available in the meantime.

I already had an Australian Latitude Finance (formerly GE Money) 28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard which is specifically designed for international travel. They don’t charge currency conversion fees and they do allow cash out (for a small fee), the only catch is that they have pretty high-interest rates which are easily navigated by just paying it off as you go. You can, of course, use any Mastercard or Visa, but I found that Commonwealth Bank of Australia was charging me about $4 per transaction which is quite steep if you’ll be using it for 6 weeks.

If you’ve been here for a while, you will know that service everywhere is kind of terrible, and that’s no exception at a bank – read more about that here. My few visits to the bank left me bewildered, my only advice would be to avoid visits if you can – the lines are long and the answers varied wildly between each clerk. I was happy when I was given access to my accounts online, though little did I know that the experience would leave me just as frustrated.

HNB boasts a banking app for your iPhone or Android, which simply provides you with a link to their page. However access to the page on your phone is extremely limited and I have found the online system requires access to a laptop or desktop, there is no way to transfer money on-the-go. Once you get there, the online system that Hatton National Bank offers is clunky and to be honest is a little suspect – I don’t trust it and only access it at work where there are at least a firewall and antivirus software. I still have trouble transferring to people – especially when they are at another bank (you need to know exactly what their branch code is and the agreement between the banks are) and I have had my online banking frozen multiple times due to this. And as per before, if you don’t have a Foreign Currency account there is no way to direct transfer overseas. 

My experiance with these services have been less than satisfactory and so I’ve learnt to keep these transactions a minimum – rent and utilities are the only things I pay online. Rather I make sure that there is enough money in the account for the month and then withdraw large amounts of cash at a time to use throughout the month.

As I’m writing this I am considering moving to HSBC, although I don’t know much about the bank’s history in Sri Lanka I feel like the fact that it’s worldwide presence must say something about its credibility?



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