Best Banks for International Travelers and Expats
Best Banks for International Travelers and Expats
When I first set off on my digital nomad journey I noticed something strange. The money I had allocated for a trip always ran out before the designated time. Even though I was really careful with my spending, I still found myself coming up short. What I hadn’t taken into account was the fees and horrible exchange rate my bank was giving me for using it in a foreign country. Many banks have a lot of extra charges.
For those of us who travel a couple of weeks per year, a couple of bucks here and there in fees and unfair rates won’t break the bank. But after just one year abroad moving from one place to another those fees added up to quite a lot. You actually might be donating hundreds if not thousands of dollars to your local bank if you use it abroad. I can think of so many better ways to spend that money.
This is why I decided to write this article. I spent a massive amount of time researching and taking notes on banks to minimize your fees. Actually, I found some banks with no monthly fees, 0% foreign currency exchange markup, no ATM withdrawal fees, no foreign transaction fees, and even some that refund fees imposed by ATM owners worldwide.
I’ll present to you some of the best banks for all your digital nomading needs in Europe, Asia, and North America. I’ll list and introduce the banks then have a “pros and cons” section for each of them.
Capital one 360 is a consumer-friendly online bank with no monthly maintenance fees. It offers state-of-the-art banking experience with competitive customer support. The checking and savings accounts have strong rates and don’t charge a monthly fee. This is a really good option for international travelers based in the US.
There are various overdraft options so you can choose what happens when you spend more than you have. The overdraft charge is a bit high though, so you might want to be careful there.
What really stands out to me about this bank is the no-fees monthly checking account that pays interest. This is one of the best checking accounts as it is super rare to find. The interest they pay is 0.10% on all balances. Additionally, there’s no opening balance requirement.
The only thing that I don’t like much about this bank is that it’s difficult to make a physical check deposit there. You need to find a Capital one-branded ATM in order to do so. However, you can make deposits through bank transfers and mobile apps.
This bank offers so many free services it’s almost unbelievable. Free card usage, free checks, free set-up. What’s outstanding about Charles Schwab bank is that they actually refund ATM fees when they’re imposed by other ATM owners.
The only downside to this bank is its online services. It’s not that their online banking solutions or apps are bad per se, but it can use some improvements here and there.
As it is a US bank it requires you to be a US resident. If you keep a US address on file you should be fine in that regard. Your account might be closed if you don’t have a US address while traveling abroad. There are some mail scanning and forwarding services that can help you with a street address for a small fee. Be careful though, P.O boxes won’t work here, as they need a street address.
This is an up-coming global competitor bank in the UK. It offers a free current account and debit cards. Their app is very user-friendly and allows you to easily keep track of your spending. There are very few, low fees that you need to be.
It’s very convenient to open an account here. You can do it through the mobile app which includes ID verification. After you open your account, you can send your debit card to any address in the UK.
TransferWise is not technically a bank, it’s more of a banking service. Transferwise is one of the best services if you’re a digital nomad or a freelancer working with various countries and getting paid in various currencies.
It’s a revolutionary tool where you can create a “Global Account” known as the Borderless bank account. Transferwise account holders can spend, send, and receive money worldwide without a monthly fee. This way you can access your money anywhere even through any foreign atm.
You can open your account from their portal with online ID verification and then you can get bank details from countries around the world. You will actually get a routing and wiring number in any country you choose so people from that country can send you money directly to that account with zero fees. You’ll also get a free debit card which you can use worldwide with very little fees.
Check out our article on the Transferwise Borderless Account.
N26 came in with innovation and came in strong. It’s one of the oldest “neo-banks” that completely reinvented the European banking market over the past couple of years.
The N26 EUR account originally started in Germany. Now it’s available throughout most of Eruope. It’s also available in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Poland, and Liechtenstein since 2018. They also recently launched a USD account in the US, with unique functionality.
My absolute favorite thing about N26 is that you can open an account from anywhere in the world. You’ll need about five minutes, your smartphone, an internet connection, and your ID. You still need a delivery address for your debit card somewhere in Europe (Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Slovakia, Greece, France, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Iceland, or Liechtenstein.)
If you don’t have a current address in Europe, you can ask a European friend to use their address as a temporary C/O address. After you receive the debit card you can change the address with a click or two online.
N26 offers many different plans, including free plans and paid plans that include insurance. For most digital nomads, the free bank account will do just fine. You might want to take advantage of the travel insurance with the paid plan too, it’s up to you.
Check out our complete review on N26.
ING has recently been breaking onto the Neo-banking scene in Australia. With the Orange Everyday account, you can get refunds on ATM fees charged by the ATM owner. To qualify for an ATM refund though, you’ll have to fulfill the following conditions:
What’s inconvenient about ING is that if you don’t meet the requirement you’ll be charged a $2.50 international ATM fee. Additionally, you’ll be charged a 2.5% foreign transaction fee when you withdraw cash or make purchases.
The HSBC Everyday Global Account is the first Australian multi-currency travel account. It offers zero foreign transaction fees and very reasonable exchange rates.
Residents of Australia can apply to open an account online. Non-residents can try to apply through a branch, but it’s possible that you won’t be able to open an account.
Citibank is making a reputation for itself amongst avid Aussie travelers. Their internet banking is not exactly excellent. However, the Citibank Plus Transaction Account offers free banking around the globe. Additionally, it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, and you’ll get the official Visa exchange rate. On top of that, there are no additional fees for either ATM withdrawals or regular transactions globally. So this could be a good option for Aussies.
You can only join this bank if you are a resident of Australia. The process is completed online easily, though you will need to appear in a branch in-person to verify your ID. They have various branches in most Australian cities.
If you chose to open any of the banks above, you might be asking how you can fund your account from different countries. I advise you to avoid SWIFT transfers, as you’ll end up paying through the nose in exchange rates and fees. Even if your bank supports international transfers, it’s really not a good idea.
You might want to look into some money transfer services like TransferWise for example, as it has much fewer fees for transfers.
As a digital nomad myself it took me quite a while to get a handle on my finances while being on the move so often. I would like to take this section to help you with a few tips on how to make the best of your banking as a digital nomad.
If having the account is free, why not have it just in case. In the past having multiple bank accounts meant losing a lot of your money in transfers to use the one that works best for you. However, thanks to online services like TransferWise, I can easily move my money between my bank accounts and use the one that works best for me depending on where I am.
I currently have six different bank accounts, all of them are free to have so I don’t really see the downside.
A few years ago I was in a pinch when I realized that I’m out of roaming data and I need to send some money into my local account to get more data on my phone. I was in Malaysia at the time and I used a local internet cafe to do my transaction. About an hour later my account was cleaned out. Luckily I only had about $300 in that particular account but I’ve definitely learned my lesson.
Being a digital nomad is kinda unstable in its nature. You’re always on the move, you can never know what could happen to you here or there. Having something to fall on to is always a smart idea.