Whenever you are overseas, using your bank card results in unnecessarily high fees and the worst exchange rates. It is important to have access to your money when traveling so you need to choose a bank that does not do this. You want a bank that will not take your money on fees and charges, but rather provide reliable services and worry-free travel.
Frequent travelers feel the financial pains of these fees and exchange rates worse then those who only travel a couple times a year. When a great deal of time is spent abroad the fees add up to dangerously high amounts, which your bank generously accepts. Instead, find a bank that caters to travelers and save your money. Whether you travel a great deal or not, extra fees are not desired.
The ideal bank offers you nothing. In this case nothing means no monthly fees, no currency exchange fees, no overseas withdrawal fees and no foreign transaction fees. Global travelers need banks like this and the good news is, that they do exist. No matter how often you are away from home, a trusted bank can make sure you have extra money rather than keeping it for themselves.
Regardless of where you open your account, you can easily fund it by transferring funds from your home account. Secure and reliable transfer services are available to make sure you get the money you need. The only exception is that banks within Europe will offer better rates than transferring from outside of Europe. Be sure to speak with your bank at home to make sure funds can be moved efficiently to any of the new overseas bank accounts you want to open.
European Traveler Friendly Banks
N26 (formerly operating under Number26) is a bank operating out of Berlin, Germany that offers benefits to customers in the Eurozone (Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Finland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia). The biggest appeal to travelers is because you can open an account without actually proving residency. Locations are in Germany, so as long as you can provide an mailing address there, the account is good to go. In your travels you must have made some German friends who wold happily oblige and loan you their address.
The quickest way to get an account open is through invite, which you can get from a customer (if you know one) or by requesting it from the bank. In fact, the account is set up online so you never have to physically be there. You may be asked for proof of residency during registration but it is not common practice. You can open your account remotely but there are restrictions to this depending on your ID card and residency, so you need to research this first.
You will get a MasterCard debit card and access to online banking which is all you need for your travels. You will get charged a MasterCard rate which is standard and always hovers around the mid-market rate. You also get a banking app so you can access your banking anywhere and receive push notifications regarding transaction. You can never be too careful with your money when abroad, so these notifications are extremely beneficial. Apps and online banking services are all provided in German and English.
Be sure to ask about all their accounts to see which works best for you (options are the N26, N26 Black or N26 Business account types). N26 delivers no fees, no setup costs and no monthly charges One thing to watch out for is ATM fees from vendors. While the bank will not charge you stores or vendors might. As the safest and preferred way to send money, bank transfers within Europe are supported. If you need to transfer elsewhere, TransferWise services are readily available. A new edition to their banking services is an option to invest in one of their three simple plans. Over time these plans are expected to deliver are turn that is greater than interest accrual at most banks.
If interest accrual is something you want then most banks do not offer this. However, Nemea, a bank out of Malta, does. Nemea is more technologically advanced and modern than other banks and business is done completely online. They are user-friendly and accounts are easy to open from anywhere, you do not get bank cards like most accounts. Most people are not comfortable with this because there is a sense of security that comes with having your cash on a card on your person. Their main appeal lies in the low fees and good interest rates (4% annual interest for term deposits).
Opening an account is easy and it is not required for you to be a European resident. You do need to have another account in your name. Money will need to be transferred from that account to this one in order to set it up. Again, some people can feel uncomfortable supplying their information, especially in regards to another financial account. You can also get business accounts with Nemea. These will have an annual fee of 250 Euros which is expected to cover any compliance costs.
The most notable problem with Nemea, is that recently, the ECB has revoked their business license. At this this time no new accounts can be opened. It is worth keeping an eye on, in the event they can open operations again, because they provided a number of benefits for travelers and had earned a good reputation among customers.
While these two have the most advantages to travelers, there are additional banks in Europe include that can be considered. The Metro Bank in the UK offers no fees in Europe and minimal fees everywhere else. Also in the UK is the Norwich & Peterborough Building Society that gives customers a fee free debit card. The drawback is that you need to keep at least 5000 British pounds in your account and add 500 a month to avoid their fees.
Sweden’s ICA Banken has zero fees except for currency exchange fees and their monthly fee. Monthly fees are waived for students and persons under 21 years of age. The fees are relatively low, so most people do not consider them a disadvantage. One of their best features is the inclusion of travel insurance for any trips under 45 days. This is a feature that many travelers have taken advantage of and really enjoy. They also allow for free SEPA transfers. DKB is a German bank, similar to N26 that can also be considered. However, they only communicate in German and reportedly have sub-par support services. Maybe not a great choice for non-residents, but this bank would work for German individuals.
American Traveler Friendly Banks
Charles Schwab: numerous locations across the United States
One of the most preferred banks among travelers, they offer excellent exchange rates and no fees. No setup costs, no annual charges and no exchange transaction or ATM fees. The biggest benefit and most surprising, is that they even refund imposed ATM fees that you accrue as you move around. Since you cannot control vendors and they frequently do charge cash withdrawal fees, this is a delightful reward.
You do get a Visa debit card which will have Visa’s usual and considerably low rate attached to it. They even provide free unlimited checks for those who still use them. No exchange, transaction, setup or monthly fees make these accounts a very popular choice and this institution is above par compared to other banks. The card can be used in any global location with no additional or hidden charges.
Accounts are easy to open at any of their physical locations or online. They do require that you be a US resident, but as long as you have a US address on file, there is no problem. If you do not know anyone living stateside, then you can get an address through a mail scanning and forwarding service. This will cost you a small monthly fee though. Be advised that if you are found to not have a US address, your account can be closed. If you are able to do so, take advantage of the visa waiver program while visiting. You will need a SSN to do this but you can open an account as a tourist.
They bundle checking accounts with brokerage accounts so you need to make sure you sign up (no additional charge) for that when you open your account. Their online system is the one complaint because there is a lack of organization to the site and a lack of security for your accounts. Passwords are limited and this creates issues for some users. If you are able to get a 2FA dongle, this can be used as an additional security measure.
Capital One 360 is a formidable alternative for a US bank. It extends very similar benefits to its customers as Charles Schwab in terms of no fees and great exchange rates. The main difference being that they do not refund ATM fees. It is worth looking into which bank is closest to you and which accounts are easier to open. Since they essentially have the same services, then personal preference or recommendation will help you decide.
Australian Traveler Friendly Banks
Citibank: branches in larger Australian cities
The best option for Aussie travelers, this bank gives free global banking, no fees (including ATM and transaction fees) and you get extended the Visa exchange rate. Accounts are opened in their branches and you must be a resident. You can start the process online, but will still need to show ID at a local branch. You will also not get refunded ATM fees imposed by vendors. Apart from all the financial benefits offers to their customers, using you Citibank card at certain restaurants will also get you a free bottle of wine. A mice thank you for banking with them.
New Zealand offers their residents Air NZ which is a no charge prepaid card. That you can get with a small $1 monthly fee. This card holds many different currencies so this is a great choice. Loading the card with the local currency of your destination means there is no exchange to deal with at that end. If you have to sue the card in a country where the currency is not supported, then a small 2.5 percent fee applies. You also get three no charge ATM withdrawals from international locations. If you go over those three, then you get charges but they are minimal.
While these are not the only banks well suited to traveling needs, they are the most popular ones. Lists of banks are available in the Global ATM Alliance to help you locate a suitable bank in the event none of these work for you. You will most likely end up with transaction fees with these institutions. The positive side is that many other fees are waived so long as the card is used with a partner bank. You can get a list of all partner banks from here as well, so you already know what to look for when you get there.
Researching banks that have a large global presence can also be a benefit, as they will have more ATM locations worldwide. Banks like HSBC have physical locations across the globe as well as partner banks. Once you get an account with them, be sure to use their ATM’s wherever you go to take advantage of their benefits. Most banks even offer online location services to tell you the closest ATM’s based on your location.
When you travel you do not want to be worried about money. It is important to feel confident that the financial institution holding your money will provide security as well as dependable services. You do not want to find out that a big chunk of your money (disguised as fees and charges) ended up back at the bank, this time not in your account. Review all options, including the suggestions above and make a decision that makes you comfortable and free to enjoy the trip.