Given the popularity of my previous posts covering “Banking in Colombia” and “Getting Cash in Colombia,” and my realization that I could not cover every single banking option in my other blog posts, I thought, it’s time to write a blog post with banking recommendations for people traveling, studying, and living abroad. In this post, I discuss banking solutions for British citizens, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Europeans, as well as different ways to send and receive money overseas.
I would like to add that I researched Chinese banks that have UnionPay and non-UnionPay cards that would work for my Chinese readers, who are visiting countries like Colombia that are not on the Chinese UnionPay system. However, I did not find any viable solutions for Chinese bank cards that issue non-UnionPay ATM cards. I also researched Latin American banks that offer good benefits for people traveling abroad for my Latin American readers, but I could not find any banking options that offer limited fees, which should not surprise me, given what I have experienced with the Colombian banking system, you can read my earlier blog post “Banking in Colombia”.
You might be wondering, Amanda, why are you obsessed with writing about banking and why this, why now? To be honest, having a good debit and credit card when traveling overseas can mean the difference between spending copious amounts of money on fees and saving money on fees. I despise ridiculous bank fees for things because I hate wasting my precious hard-earned money on bank fees or ATM fees when I could be saving it or using it more effectively. To quote my mentor Kate, when I see a problem, I go after it and do my best to resolve it. You give me a problem; I will do my damnedest to find you a solution. I am berraca, but I love logistics and solving problems, my love for analysis and problem-solving is probably one of the reasons I am a sociologist. I also love knowing that my blog can help others avoid some of the mistakes I have made. Finally, who doesn’t want to save money, whenever possible, so they can live better?
Banking recommendations for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents
Charles Schwab Bank, the ideal bank for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents traveling abroad
Since I have U.S. citizenship, I was able to get a bank account at Charles Schwab Bank in 2015, before I went to Uruguay and Chile. I love Charles Schwab. They have excellent customer service, and I have saved so much money on fees banking with Schwab. If you have a Schwab debit card for Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking Account, there are no ATM fees, they will rebate you all of your ATM fees, the fees you paid at other banks to withdraw funds from your account at the end of the month, and Schwab does not charge you any foreign transaction fees. I received almost $50 USD rebate in my account in ATM fees from Schwab at the end of September 2018.
If you have a bank where you prefer to keep your money and only use your Schwab account when you are traveling overseas no problem, Schwab does not charge any low balance or account fees. When you get a high yield investor checking account, you will have to set up a brokerage account, but you will not be obligated to do anything with the brokerage account or maintain a balance for that account. However, if you are going to do an international wire transfer with Schwab, expect to pay $25 USD per wire transfer. If you live overseas, if you want a regular Schwab account, you will need to maintain a U.S. mailing address in to keep your account at Schwab. While Schwab has branches and offices in the U.S., they do not have any ATMs in the United States. In order to deposit any checks you receive, you will either have to mail the check you want to be deposited into your Schwab account to Schwab and have them deposit them for you or use their Mobile App to make a Mobile Deposit. If you want to deposit USD in cash into your Schwab account, you will need to either buy a Money Order with said cash or a deposit a Cashier’s Check into your account using Mobile Deposit in the Schwab Mobile App.
The beautiful thing about Charles Schwab is that when you open or maintain a High Yield Investor Checking Account with them, there is no minimum deposit needed to open the account. And unlike other banks, there is no specific minimum balance you need to meet to maintain the account. If you have Schwab and are living abroad, I recommend using your card at least semi-regularly, definitely when you are visiting the U.S. or use the card regularly for U.S. purchases online to avoid Schwab arguing that you are not eligible for this account because you live overseas.
Finally, Schwab offers a large variety of banking, lending, and investment products. Schwab primarily deals with investments and their rates for trades are pretty low. You can execute trades, view your portfolio and more using the Schwab Mobile App. Schwab’s Mobile App is one of the best mobile banking apps I have ever encountered or used. Banking in Colombia is frankly a letdown after having stellar customer service with Schwab, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in English. You can read more about Schwab’s services for U.S. expats here.
Non-U.S. citizens can get accounts at Charles Schwab; this would be a Schwab One International Account. Having a Schwab One International Account means that you will be eligible for a debit card from Schwab. However, the minimum deposit for non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents to get a Schwab One account is currently $25.000 USD (twenty-five thousand USD). However, not all of the investment, banking or lending products are available to those who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents and/or those lacking a U.S. Social Security Number. You can learn more about Schwab’s services for international clients here. Also, according to people on the internet who have done this, if you have an ESTA visa and a U.S. mailing address, you might be able to get an account at Schwab, if you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but I cannot confirm the validity and veracity of this information.
To avoid the wire transfer fees living in Colombia, what I do is take cash out of the ATM and then deposit that into my Colombian accounts and then I receive the ATM fees as rebates at the end of the month. When I pay bills here, I put money into one of my Colombian accounts and pay with a Colombian debit card, or I pay bills in cash.
When I was researching and writing this blog post, I spent a while looking for other accounts similar to Schwab, and there are not any other banks which offer Schwab’s benefits for people who are not able to maintain a large balance. I have concluded that no other bank is as good as Schwab for as many people, hence me mainly recommending Schwab. Capital One’s 360 checking account is pretty good but does not reimburse all of your ATM fees at the end of each month. ING Everyday Orange in Australia offers accounts similar to Charles Schwab, but their requirements are different. However, BBVA’s Online Go account and Revolut are also great options for Europeans.
Capital One 360 Checking Account
While it clear that I stan Charles Schwab Bank for almost anything banking related, Capital One 360 Checking Account is a great backup option for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents traveling, working, studying, and living abroad. Capital One’s 360 Checking Account offers similar benefits to Charles Schwab’s account, there are no account management fees, there is no minimum balance you need to open and/or maintain the account, there are no ATM fees, and they do not charge any foreign transaction fees. But Capital One will not reimburse your ATM fees, but they do have over 39,000 Fee-Free Capital One® and Allpoint® ATMs.
Since Capital One has ATMs, you can deposit cash into your account using one of their ATMs. If I were home and able to get a second bank account at Capital One, I would definitely consider getting an account with them in addition to my Charles Schwab account. And if you are traveling overseas, there is no need for you to call the bank or put a travel notice on your account, you can use your debit card normally. However, it is possible that MasterCard may charge one percent for any purchases you make in a foreign currency (not USD).
Although I have heard that it’s possible that your Capital One card might not work in Colombia, a guy posted in the Medellín Expats Facebook group mentioned that his Capital One card did not work. But I have used my Capital One credit card here in Colombia without any issues, so I cannot confirm personally if Capital One does or does not work in Colombia. Capital One does also offer credit cards, which I believe do not have any foreign transaction fees, but you can check on this to be sure.
Banking Options for Europeans
BBVA’s Online Go Account as an alternative for Charles Schwab for Europeans
BBVA’s Online Go Account, which is available for new customers 18 years of age or older who do not have already have an account with the Spanish bank, BBVA, offers many of the benefits of banking with Charles Schwab. If you are approved for a BBVA Online Go account, you will receive a BBVA Ahora Debit Card, and you will pay no fees at bbva.es, the BBVA app and ATMs on your transfers in Euros, Swedish Krona or Romanian Leu within the European Economic Area (members of the European Union + Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway). People who have this account, pay no account maintenance or administration fees, pay no debit card issue or maintenance fee, and pay €0, with no fee for cash withdrawals using your BBVA debit card at BBVA ATMs in Europe. If you're looking for an online account for almost everything you need, this account is for you. It has no fees if you satisfy one of the requirements: three (3) uses of your card monthly (any type of use will do: payments in shops, your purchases online, cash withdrawal in ATMs, etc.) or maintain a minimum monthly account balance of €800. Upon opening the account, you have 12 months free from the time the account is opened to satisfy any of the options to keep it free. After that, you will have to satisfy any of the previously mentioned options to keep the account fee-free.
Revolut, an alternative international bank for British, U.S. and EU citizens
Revolut is a good option to consider for those with EU, U.K., and U.S. passports or legal residents in the European Economic Area (EEA). Revolut will allow you to spend abroad in over 150 currencies with the interbank exchange rate, with a small 0.5% fee for anything above £5,000 each month. A flat mark-up on weekends and on certain currencies may apply. Revolut will give you $200 a month in international ATM withdrawals for free. Anything over $200 attracts a small 2% fee to help Revolut cover their costs. From your health to your phone, Revolut makes sure you and the things you love are protected worldwide from as little as £1.00 per day, this insurance is provided by Revolut Travel Ltd.
Recommendations for people in the United Kingdom
Monzo Current Account in the United Kingdom
Monzo is a rapidly growing London based neobank established during 2017 to compete with larger more traditional high street banks in the U.K. such as Lloyd’s, Barclays and HSBC. Monzo is similar to Bancolombia’s neobank, Nequi, in that it’s all online and on your smartphone, and that the app allows you to set budgets, track your spending in real time, and pay using your phone. Any time you make a payment using Monzo, you will receive a notification on your phone in real time. You can make payments using your Monzo ATM card or by connecting your Monzo account through the Monzo app to Apple Pay or Google Pay.
Monzo is similar to Revolut, with their fee structure and costs to use it abroad. There is no minimum balance you need to maintain, no account maintenance fees and no day-to-day fees for Monzo users. Additionally, payments in the UK using Monzo, cash withdrawals in the UK and payments abroad are all free, with no added fees. If you're withdrawing cash abroad, you can withdraw up to £200/month for free, after which you'll be charged a 3% fee. You can still make payments in shops, restaurants and online for free using Monzo, even when abroad. Since Monzo is supposed to work all over the globe, you should be able to use your account without any issues, without needing to alert about overseas travel.
Monzo’s “Travel reports” feature is really fascinating, since if you have just arrived in a new country, they will let you know what the current exchange rate is, provide tips for traveling with your Monzo card in said country and allow you to automatically categorize transactions as holiday or expenses when you’re abroad. And when you arrive back home to the U.K., you will find out exactly how much you spend in £.
Moreover, when you are using your Monzo card abroad (or online in a foreign currency), they will pass onto you the Mastercard exchange rate, without adding any extra fees. When checking the Mastercard exchange rate on the Mastercard website, just insert 0% in the “bank fee” box. This means you can use Monzo to spend money in any foreign currency without worrying about wasting money on asinine banking fees or sketchy exchange rates. You can use your Monzo card anywhere that accepts Mastercard.
Furthermore, Monzo makes it easy to send money and manage direct debits using the Monzo app on your smartphone. The app allows you to send bank transfers to any other U.K. bank account that arrive instantaneously and pay nearby friends over Bluetooth without needing to know their private banking information. The app allows you to set up and manage Direct Debits and standing orders for recurring payments. Even better, you can send money abroad from your Monzo app for up to 8x less than what you pay to send money abroad using a traditional high street bank, using TransferWise.
If you are worried about security, if you lose your Monzo card, you can freeze the card in the app and receive a new card the next day, or if you find your card, you can unfreeze it using the app. If you have lost your Monzo card and your smartphone, you can log in here to freeze and unfreeze your card, see your list of transactions, view account balance(s), and list of accounts. Monzo has a valid banking license in the U.K. and is also a part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) so your money is safe no matter what happens and you are protected, up to £85,000.
Monzo offers both individual and joint accounts (between two people), and they make it easy to sign up and switch to a Monzo Current Account. Using The Current Account Switch Service means that it is easy to switch and move your main bank accounts to Monzo, without having to visit the bank.
Requirements to open a Current Account with Monzo
16 years of age or older
U.K. Resident (Although they are trying to expand to Europe and the United States)
Valid form of identification
Must have an iPhone or Android that supports the Monzo mobile app
At the time that I was researching this article during early April 2019, Monzo during October 2018 was valued at over £1 billion or ($1.3 billion USD), but Monzo’s valuation could grow if financial analysts’ predictions are correct. If Monzo’s valuation increases, this could mean that Monzo is poised to become the second largest Financial Tech startup in the U.K. even though they have yet to turn a profit. And they are allegedly quietly working on a U.S. launch, so stay tuned for that.
Virgin Money Essential Current Account in the United Kingdom
Virgin Money’s Essential Current Account, is a simple, fee-free bank account, open to everyone. It's a basic bank account, open to everyone if you have a salary, Universal Credit or other income paid in and manage your bills easily, with no charges. You can open this account if you are going through bankruptcy, have experienced financial difficulties, no credit history or a poor credit history, since this account does not allow for overdrafts. This account has no foreign transaction fees, no account management fees or minimum opening balance, but you will pay a £1.50 ATM withdrawal fee.
In order to be eligible for this account, you must be 18 years of age or older and a UK or EU resident, two pieces of ID (here is a link which describes the documentation accepted) and three years address history.
Banking for Canadians
Tangerine Thrive Chequing for Canadians
The Tangerine Thrive Chequing account appears to be the closest thing to having a bank account with Charles Schwab for Canadians. Tangerine is owned by Scotiabank but is operated independently from Scotiabank. There are no account maintenance fees for this account, and you can enjoy free 3,500 Scotiabank ABMs nationwide, and you will only pay $1CAD at 44,000 ABMs worldwide through Scotiabank’s Global ATM Alliance, this link will help you to locate your nearest ABM. And you will only pay $2 CAD at any international ATMs not part of Scotiabank’s Global ATM Alliance. There is no set minimum balance needed to open this account, and there is no minimum balance to maintain this account.
Here is what you will need to have handy for you to open a bank account with Tangerine:
Your contact information: street address, phone number, and email address.
Your Social Insurance Number
An Orange Key, if you have one from a referrer or a promotion.
They'll be asking you to provide other details (such as employment information) that they’re required by law to ask you for.
Recommendations for Australians
Citibank Australia’s Citibank Plus Transaction Account
Citibank Australia’s Citibank Plus Transaction Account is a good option for people with Australian residency who are traveling and/or living overseas. If you can get the Plus Debit account, you will not pay any ATM fees abroad or any foreign transaction fees, although you might be responsible for paying 3rd party ATM fees. If you are using ATMs overseas, I would advise people to decline their exchange rate since Citibank allegedly will provide a better exchange rate, keep in mind that since I have no ties to Australia, I cannot confirm the validity or veracity of this information regarding ATM exchange rates. Here is a link for more information about the Plus ATM card and the link to the site where you can apply for this card.
In order to be eligible for Citibank Australia’s Plus debit card, you must meet the following requirements:
You must be over 18 years old,
You must have a valid email, mobile number, and an Australian residential address.
The account can only be used as a personal account (not as a business or joint account).
A Tax File Number (TFN), or valid exemption. You don't have to provide a TFN, but without it, they will be required to deduct tax at the top marginal rate.
Either an Australian driver’s license or Passport, so they can verify your identity online.
ING Orange Everyday Account for Australians
ING Australia’s Everyday Orange Account is the account whose benefits most closely resemble the benefits that Charles Schwab Bank’s customers receive. However, in order to be eligible to enjoy the benefits associated with this account, you must deposit at least $1000 AUD monthly and make at least five debit card transactions per month.
The benefits associated with having this account, no account maintenance fees, you will have zero foreign transaction fees, no ATM fees for non-ING ATMs, you will receive a 100% rebate of ING International ATM withdrawal fee of $2.50 AUD and 100% of the ATM fee. I met an Australian guy during September 2018 who had this account, and he really liked it. Here is the link for new customers to open an Everyday Orange Account.
HSBC Australia Everyday Global Account
This HSBC Australia Everyday Global Account is one of the most interesting accounts I have encountered in the many hours that I spent researching international bank accounts from banks in Singapore to banks in Chile. This account comes with an HSBC Everyday Global Visa Debit Card anywhere in the world where Visa is accepted to access your own money for online and store purchases and ATMs withdrawals. AND you can save and spend in up to 10 currencies in one bank account:
Australian Dollars (AUD$) - Control Currency
United States Dollars (USD$)
Great Britain Pound Sterling (GBP£)
Hong Kong Dollars (HKD$)
Canadian Dollars (CAD$)
Japanese Yen (JPY)
New Zealand Dollars (NZD$)
Singapore Dollars (SGD$)
Renminbi (RMB¥) (currency restrictions apply)
Additional currencies to the 10 available can be accessed, with money automatically converted from your Australian dollars to the local currency.
Moreover, this is a fee-free account; there are no account maintenance fees, no foreign transaction fees, and no ATM fees overseas. Although if you use your card at a non-HSBC ATM, you will be responsible for paying third-party ATM fees (i.e. fees that the bank who owns the ATM you are using overseas charges people who are not their customers). There are no minimum opening balance or minimum balance you need to maintain to have this account, which this makes this an excellent account for everyday use and travel.
In order to be eligible to open this account, you must be at least 18 years of age and a local Australian resident. Some proofs of ID that can work would be a driver’s license, utility bill and/or residential lease. Here is a link to the form which details the documentation HSBC requires from you to open this account.
Other options for sending and receiving money overseas
Other people I know living here in Medellín transfer money to themselves or others here in Colombia using Xoom, TransferWise or WorldRemit in order to avoid paying costly ATM or bank transfer fees. I have not used any of these services so I cannot speak to how well they work, but they seem pretty popular for foreigners or people living between Medellín and other countries. Western Union can also be a good option for sending and receiving money, but it can be pretty expensive with fees and currency exchange rates. It is important to remember that if you are sending money via Western Union to someone in overseas who is not a citizen of the country they are in, they will need to bring their passport to pick up the money they have received at Western Union.
Finally, if you have any good suggestions for banking solutions that I can add to this list, please let me know in the comments, send me a Facebook message, email, DM, etc. I am happy to update this post with any suggestions that you may have! I am looking at you, my readers in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand.
A special thanks are in order to Penny Magoulas who provided me with some useful information for a good bank for Australians traveling and living overseas. Penny wrote to me in the comments for one for an earlier post, to tell me about her experiences include Citibank Australia’s Citibank Plus Transaction Account ATM card in Colombia and suggested that I also include this bank on my list.
And thank you to everyone who gave useful feedback on my previous posts that helped me write this post. And thank you, to my friend Mary, for being my cheerleader, encouraging me to do this/my blog, and speaking with me on the phone as I researched and wrote this post. Thanks to all my friends, family and everyone else who have had to listen to me and all of my banking dramas and frustrations this past year. Here is to a new year hopefully without banking drama, but if there is banking drama, don't worry y’all, I will do my best to chronicle this for you and provide tips on how to avoid such problems and problem solve when you are faced with these problems.
If there is something that you believe that I should cover, that I have not already covered on the blog, please let me know. If this post has helped you in any way or if you have learned something, please tell me in the comments, slide into my DMs or send me an email, since I LOVE hearing from my readers. Finally, if you are enjoying reading my blog and want more, do not forget to click the subscribe button below and you will receive emails from me on a weekly basis whenever I have posted new content on the blog.