Best Banks for International Travelers and Expats

Originally published at: Best Banks for International Travelers and Expats

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Best Banks for International Travelers and Expats

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Introduction

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. 

Best Banks for Digital Nomads in North America

Capital One 360: United States, USD

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.

Capital One 360 Pros

  • High-interest rates
  • No minimum balance to open an account
  • Excellent banking experience and customer support
  • No monthly fees for checking accounts
  • Various overdraft options so you can choose what happens if you spend more than you have

Capital One 360 Cons

  • You need to be a US resident to open an account
  • Some overdraft fees can be expensive
  • There aren’t many branches
  • Most of the time you’ll need to do a deposit through mobile apps or bank transfers

Charles Schwab Bank: United States, USD

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’s 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.

Charles Schwab Bank Pros

  • Zero monthly service fees
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • Zero ATM fees worldwide
  • No minimum balance
  • You will get a refund on fees imposed by ATM owners
  • Zero costs for setting up and account
  • You can do the whole account opening process online, you never need to be anywhere physically
  • No extra currency exchange fees 
  • You’ll still be charged Visa’s official rate. However, these rates are very close to the mid-market rate.

Charles Schwab Bank Cons

  • You have to be a resident in the United States to open an account. 
  • You’ll need to sign up for a Schwab One Brokerage account in order to open a checking account.
  • This is not a con exactly, as there are no fees to the account and you don’t have to use it. It’s more of an inconvenience and one more form to fill
  • If you want to open an account from outside of the United States you need to use a VPN that redirects your internet through an American Server. Otherwise, they will ask you to physically appear at the branch to verify your ID.

Best Banks for Digital Nomads in Europe

Monzo: The United Kingdom, GBP

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.

Monzo Pros

  • Free monthly ATM withdrawals abroad for up to £200.
  • After the first £200, there’s a 3% withdrawal fee that gets reset every month.
  • No foreign transaction fees when you spend money in any currency
  • You spend the official Mastercard rate
  • Extremely handy and user-friendly mobile app. It includes budgeting options and subscription management.
  • The app is available on the Apple store and Google Play

Monzo Cons

  • No interest on deposits
  • They don’t have a web interface, so you need your smartphone to access your account 
  • You can only transfer money domestically in the UK
  • You may use the built-in TransferWise integration to send money internationally 

TransferWise: The United Kingdom, 30+ currencies

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.        

TransferWise Pros

  • Store your money in 30+ currencies and use currency conversion with the actual exchange rates as you see on Google
  • Receive money from over 80 countries with no fees
  • You can use your debit card to pay in any currency, anywhere
  • Excellent customer service globally

TransferWise Cons

  • The coverage for countries and currencies at this stage is limited. While you can hold multiple currencies in your account, you can only have local bank details for Australia, the US, the UK, and Europe
  • Some fees to make external payments and adding money to your account with your credit card

Check out our article on the Transferwise Borderless Account.

N26: EU/ EEA, EUR

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.

N26 Pros

  • Zero set-up cost
  • Zero monthly or yearly costs
  • Zero FX (Foreign transaction) Fees
  • No extra currency exchange fees
  • You’ll pay the official Mastercard rate for exchange
  • Excellent and user-friendly application
  • A great web portal in case you don’t have your smartphone with you
  • Many more options than most other banks such as:
  • Free Mastercard
  • Free Maestro card
  • Cheap and easily understandable investment options
  • Transferwise integration
  • A business account for freelancers
  • You can open the account online without having to be physically present anywhere
  • Card usage push notification form the app rather than SMS, this saves you the trouble of roaming
  • No ATM fees in EUR
  • For other currencies, there’s a low 1.7% fee, which is lower than the usual 2-5% fee other banks offer

N26 Cons

  • Bank transfers are only supported through Europe with the SEPA network.
  • You’ll have to use TransferWise or similar services for international transfers to outside of Europe
  • No interest on your deposit in the checking account
  • Some countries don’t have all the features and plans the bank offers

Check out our complete review on N26.

Best Banks for Digital Nomads in Asia

ING Orange Everyday: Australia, AUD

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:

  • Receive a minimum of $1,000 a month in your account
  • Make a minimum of 5 card purchases per month

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.

ING Orange Everyday Pros

  • Zero set-up cost
  • Zero monthly or yearly costs
  • No extra fees for currency exchange
  • You’ll be charged the official Visa rate for exchanges

ING Orange Everyday Pros

  • You’ll be charged an ATM fee if you don’t meet the 5 card transaction + $1,000 deposit in the preceding month

HSBC Everyday Global Account: Australia, 10 currencies

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.

HSBC Everyday Global Account Pros

  • Zero set-up cost
  • Zero monthly or yearly costs
  • No extra fees for currency exchange
  • You’ll be charged the official Visa rate for exchanges
  • Zero ATM fees worldwide
  • You can have 10 different currencies on your card:
    • Australian Dollars
    • Us Dollars
    • British Pounds 
    • Euros
    • Japanese Yen
    • Chinese Yuan
    • Canadian Dollars
    • Singapore Dollars
    • Hong Kong Dollars
    • New Zealand Dollars
  • The mobile app can be found on both Google Play and the Apple Store

HSBC Everyday Global Account Cons

  • No interest on the first $9,000 of your deposits
  • There’s a $1,000 ATM withdrawal limit
  • There’s a $10,000 debit card Purchases limit
  • You cannot convert between supported currencies in real-time over the weekend. You need to wait for the next bank day. In this case, your card transactions would still work even if you don’t have enough balance in the relevant currency. You will be charged a higher exchange rate in that case though

Citibank: Australia, AUD

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.

Citibank Pros

  • Zero set-up cost
  • Zero monthly or yearly costs
  • No extra fees for currency exchange
  • You’ll be charged the official Visa rate for exchanges
  • Zero ATM fees
  • Free international transfers
  • Free bottle of wine when you dine in select restaurants

Citibank Cons

  • Only available for Australian residents
  • No refunds on ATM charges imposed by the owner of the atm

Transferring Money from One Bank to Another

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. 

General Tips for Digital Nomad Banking

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. 

Don’t Shy Away from Having Multiple Accounts

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.

Never Use a Public Computer to Access your Bank Accounts when traveling abroad

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.

Always Have Something in The Savings Account

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. 
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