Exploring the world is incredible and moving abroad is one of the best things you can do in your life.
But banking overseas can be soul-crushing. Maybe not so much while you're backpacking through South-East Asia or climbing the Eiffel Tower, but most surely it will be a shock once you go back home and get your bank statements.
In fact, banking overseas is more than just using your card in an ATM. You need to take into consideration bank account fees, ATM fees, foreign transaction charges and how to get good exchange rates. Keeping all these elements in mind, we have done some research and selected our faves.
The best bank accounts for travelling
If you are a US resident, the best bank to use is Charles Schwab since it has no fees and reimburses all your ATM fees at the end of each month. You will need to open a high-yield checking account in order to qualify, but there is no minimum balance required and no monthly service fee. Their ATM card can be used in any bank machine around the world, and you’ll never pay a fee.
HSBC has ATMs all over the world and charges only $2.50 USD per ATM transaction when you use a non-HSBC ATM. It isn't as good as zero fees, but it's still better than what a lot of other banks charge (around $5).
For Aussie travellers, Citibank seems to be the best option. In fact, 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.
N26 is a German direct bank that offers its services to selected Eurozone countries. The N26 bank account comes with a Mastercard and it's totally an online bank account accessible anytime from your phone. You get an IBAN and you can do everything you can do with a traditional bank.
Revolut is another online bank that offers a free UK current account and free Euro IBAN account. You can also get interbank FX rates and free bank transfers in 25 currencies. Additionally, the Revolut account lets you buy and exchange cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Ether and Litecoin) instantly.
Change is another blockchain-based mobile finance app. It's a virtual/hybrid bank plan that aggregates financial services on one platform, enabling payments, transfers, and investments worldwide. Change has offices in Estonia and Singapore, and has partnered with the e-Residency initiative by the government of Estonia.
Extra Money Tips to Protect Your Finances While Traveling
You didn’t save up all this money in order to lose it along the way, right?
1 - Always have a couple of backups!
You need to have more than one debit or credit card. Ideally, you should have three or four with you at all the time. You can easily get a couple of top-up cards as backups and maybe get a credit card in your parents' name just for emergencies.
2 Plan ahead and be prepared
Make photocopies or pictures of your passport, debit cards, and credit cards. Secure those physical copies separately from your wallet, then save the digital ones on an online cloud or send them to your email address and maybe your emergency contact too.
3 Be smart
Only use ATMs in populated and safe areas and when you are feeling good (aka - avoid withdrawing money when you have had a few drinks).
4 Always pick the local currency
When you use your debit/credit card abroad, you will be given the option to be charged in your home currency. Never say yes. The rate your bank will give you is always better than the one where they are converting the currency. So, pick the local currency and let your credit card company make the conversion.
5 Use a credit card
If you can afford it, get a credit card. Credit card companies get the best exchange rates, so if you are buying something big, then pay with your credit card avoiding ATMs and cash.
6 Don't exchange money
Instead, use ATMs, which are not as good as credit cards, but their exchange rates are surely better than money change offices. Especially, avoid the airports' exchange bureaus, they offer the worst exchange rates.
Read more about money and travelling
Practical guide to save (a lot of ) money and travel the world
Money, Money, Money: How different countries deal with cash and saving
How to Move Abroad with No Money
Financially Survive in Spain: Budgeting
How to Move in Together without Breaking Up