Every time you swipe your card in a foreign country, your regular bank is charging you exorbitant fees and giving you a terrible exchange rate.

If you travel abroad for a week or two per year, 3–5% in various fees and bad exchange rates for international card use is not really a big problem.
But if you are a frequent traveler or digital nomad spending most of your time abroad these fees add up quickly.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can save thousands every year by choosing the RIGHT bank.

Best bank accounts international travel

There are banks out there that charge no monthly fees, 0% foreign transaction fees, 0% currency exchange markup, 0% ATM withdrawal fees and even refund fees imposed by ATM owners worldwide.
Let’s see which are the best banks for international travelers/nomads in North America, Europe and Oceania.

 

Europe

Number26 (EUR – Germany)
It is a brand new banking startup based in Berlin and is currently only available to residents of Germany and Austria. But you don’t actually need to live there to open the account. Unlike many other banks you don’t actually need to prove that you’re a registered resident, but you still need a German mailing address for them to send out their amazing debit card.
As a global minded citizen/traveler, you can make some German friends that will allow to you use their address as a C/O address for the purpose of opening the account. You can easily change the address after receiving the card.

Highlights:
– No monthly/yearly costs
– No set-up cost
– No ATM fees worldwide*
– No foreign transaction fees
– No currency exchange markup**
– The entire account opening process is online, you never have to physically show up anywhere
– Card usage push notifications from the app, not SMS (great for peace of mind when you travel)

*They do not refund fees that the owner of the ATM might add, , which is a common practice in large parts of the world.
**You will be charged MasterCard’s official rate, which is pretty darn close to the mid-market rate.
Things to note:
– Although they have an English landing page, the actual online bank and mobile app are in German (at least for now)
– They only support bank transfers within Europe (through the SEPA network) but for other transfers you can just use TransferWise or similar services, which is the preferred way of sending money across borders/currencies anyway
– As mentioned above, you need to be a “resident” of Germany or Austria. According to their FAQ, they may ask for residency proof as part of their online identity check (they may, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it)
– At least for now you need an invite to open an account. You can apply for an invite by entering your email on their website, or by being invited by someone that are already a customer.
– Like with many (most?) checking accounts these days you will not accrue interest on your deposits. But that’s a small price to pay with what you save on using the card abroad. If you want interest on your euro deposits, see Nemea below.

 

Nemea (EUR – Malta)
Nemea is definitely not like other banks. It’s 100% online (they don’t even offer a debit or credit card yet), but it is very user friendly and may be the easiest euro account to open remotely. The main selling point for opening a Nemea account right now is their generous interest rates on term deposits, where you can get 4% annual interest for term deposits of a few years (as of this writing).

Highlights:
– No monthly/yearly/set-up costs
– Free to receive SEPA transfers, only €0.90 to send SEPA transfers in EUR
– Up to 4.00% interest p.a. for term deposits
– Easy account opening process (all online)
Things to note:
– Currently no debit or credit cards, so not ideal for actually spending money
– To activate the account you need to effectuate a transfer from an account in your name, so you need to have another bank account that can send money to a Maltese IBAN/SEPA account
– They also offer business accounts, but with a yearly fee of €250 to cover compliance related costs

 

Honorable mentions
Metro Bank (GBP – United Kingdom): Fee-free in Europe (the SEPA countries), fairly low fees elsewhere.
DKB (EUR – Germany): Similar fee structure compared to Number26, but I have found their support to be terrible (insisting that you email them in German, not English for example, else refusing to respond)
Norwich & Peterborough Building Society (GBP – United Kingdom): Fee free debit card usage worldwide (including ATM withdrawals). You need to keep a balance of at least £5000 in your account or pay in at least £500 per month to avoid a £5 monthly fee, however.

 

North America

Charles Schwab Bank (USD — United States)
Pretty much anything is free, from all card usage globally to unlimited free checks (if you still use those). They even refund you unlimited amounts of ATM fees imposed by ATM owners worldwide.

The only thing doesn’t shine is their online banking solution. It’s quite messy, and their password security seem not to be the best. Your password can be a maximum of 8 characters-letters and number only, no special characters.

Like most US banks it also requires you to be a US resident. But as long as you keep a US address on file they assume you are living there. If you don’t have a US address while traveling or living abroad your account might be subject to closure. A mail scanning and forwarding service that offer street addresses (not P.O. boxes) can take care of this for a low monthly fee.

Highlights:
– No monthly/yearly costs
– No set-up cost
– No ATM fees worldwide (they even refund fees imposed by the ATM owner!)
– No foreign transaction fees
– No currency exchange markup*
– The account opening process is primarily online – you never have to physically show up anywhere. They do however have a few branches around the country.

*You will be charged Visa’s official rate, which is pretty darn close to the mid-market rate.

Things to note:
– Their password security is subpar. You are only allowed a 8 character password, no more. You can supplement it with a 2FA dongle, though.
– You need to be a resident of the United States. However, I opened my account while being in the country as a tourist through the visa waiver program. But I do have an SSN and I had just applied for a State ID card, so I supplied that ID number as well.
– The checking account comes bundled with a Schwab One brokerage account. Unless you have a brokerage account with them already you need to sign up for one when you apply for the checking account. It has no cost and you have no obligation to use the brokerage account.

 

Honorable mentions
Capital 360 (USD – United States): Quite similar benefits compared with Charles Schwab, but does not refund your ATM fees.

Oceania

Citibank (AUD – Australia)
Citibank has earned a reputation for being a good option for Aussie travelers. Although their internet banking is so-so, with the Citibank Plus Transaction Account you get fee free banking around the globe, with no foreign transaction fees and you get the official Visa exchange rate with no additional fees both for ATM withdrawals and regular transactions around the globe. To open an account you need to be a resident of Australia. You can easily complete the online account opening process, but you have to stop by one of their branches to show ID proof before they open the account. They have branches in most larger Australian cities.

Highlights:
– No monthly/yearly costs
– No set-up cost
– No ATM fees worldwide*
– No foreign transaction fees
– No currency exchange markup**
– Free bottle of wine when you dine in select restaurants
– Fee-free international transfers

*They do not refund fees that the owner of the ATM might add, which is a common practice in large parts of the world.
**You will be charged Visa’s official rate, which is close to the mid-market rate.

 

Honorable mentions
Air NZ OneSmart (NZD, AUD, SGD, HKD, JPY, GBP, EUR, CAD, USD— New Zealand): This innovative prepaid card offer 3 free international ATM withdrawals per calendar month, and can hold a variety of different currencies. If you are in a country with one of the supported currencies, this card can be a good option. If you need to use the card for tranactions in unsupported currencies there is a 2.5% fee. There is now also a $1 monthly fee.

Transferring money between banks

If you successfully open one of the bank accounts listed above, you might wonder how you can fund your account if your current account is in a different country. There are many ways of accomplishing this, but often using a service such as TransferWise can save you lots of money. Be aware that intra-Europe your bank might actually be the cheapest option.

 

(via Nomad Gate)

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