Whether you’re a frequent traveler or are about to make that once in a lifetime journey, you’re going to want to have the right bank you can get before you go.
Unfortunately, many people find that their go-to bank is not very customer friendly when it comes to traveling. Worse still?
They may not even know it until they get back and open up their monthly statement.
So how do you find the best banks for your international travel needs? We’ve broken up our top picks into the following categories:
- International ATM Fees
- Financial Emergency
- International Wire Transfers
- Foreign Transaction Fees
- Best Travel Credit Card
- Best Overall for Expats
Foreign transaction fees and ATM fees are probably the reason you’re here, but you may encounter other surprises while on your trip. It’s always good to know what your options are well before you even need them.
Safe and happy travels!
Best for Avoiding ATM Fees While Traveling
Charles Schwab Bank
When you become a Charles Schwab customer and sign up for the High Yield Investor Checking account, you get a slew of benefits — one of which is unlimited ATM fee rebates.
There are no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements (but your account must be linked to a Schwab One brokerage account, which of course might be a deal-breaker for you).
Schwab doesn’t charge fees for any transactions that take place abroad when using your debit card. It’s not unheard of, but it is a rare perk.
You might be thinking that there are a lot of banks that offer ATM reimbursements. Yes, this is true, but very few are unlimited. Most usually only offer up to $10 or $20 back a month, and fewer still are the number of banks that offer unlimited international usage.
Most banks with unlimited ATM usage don’t take into account the fees the ATM owner charge. Schwab Bank not only gives you unlimited ATM usage but also reimburses you for fees the ATM owner charges you.
If you think about it, that’s kind of a big deal.
How many times have you ever had to convert money at an airport or a small retail center while traveling? How many times were you able to convert that money for free? If you’re like most people, that’s probably never happened. That’s why we like Schwab Bank for frequent ATM withdrawals abroad.
Best for Financial Emergencies Abroad
Just a head’s up: You’ll see HSBC again on this list. That’s how much we like it.
HSBC offers emergency money for its traveling customers. If you’re a Premier or Advance client, you can get up to $10,000 in either U.S. or foreign currency. So if you lose your wallet, are robbed, or require money to cover a medical emergency, HSBC will help you out.
How do you get the cash?
You’ll need to go through customer service and call 716-841-7212. Do note, though, that the amount of funds available to you does depend on the amount of money you have in your bank account. It might be a good idea to call before you travel so you know what funds you have available should you ever need them.
Best for Wiring Money While Traveling Abroad
Families come in all varieties, and not everyone’s relatives live just down the road. If this sounds like you and yours, know that Citibank is considered by many to be the best for wire transfers.
If you wire money often, you need a bank that doesn’t charge you crazy fees each time — and Citibank does just that.
If both you and the person to whom you are wiring money have Citibank accounts, the cost to send the wire is $0. It’s not only free to do so nationally but internationally as well.
If the recipient doesn’t have a Citibank account, then the bank has been known to charge as much as $35 per wire. You don’t always know when you’ll have to wire money, but if it’s a routine practice for you, Citibank is the way to go — especially if you both bank with them.
If you aren’t the one doing the traveling but are instead the spouse or parent, then Citibank could also be a perfect fit for you.
Just in case you are new to the world of wire transfers, check out the remittance database to get an idea of conversion rates. Know what your money is worth before you start sending it out and about!
If the conversion rate is horrible, you might want to consider another option, such as a credit card set aside for emergency use only.
Best for Avoiding Foreign Transaction Fees While Traveling
Capital One 360
If you make a purchase outside of the U.S. or order something online from another country, most banks (or at least a vast majority) will charge you a foreign transaction fee.
Capital One 360 is one of the rare banks that won’t nickel and dime you when using your debit card overseas.
It has a few other things worth your consideration, too. For starters, it doesn’t charge monthly fees, and it doesn’t care where you use an ATM (although it won’t reimburse fees charged by the ATM). Also, need to get a wire transfer while you are abroad? That, too, is free.
Regardless of how you plan to use your Capital One 360 checking account, know that it is one of the best banking accounts out there — nationally or internationally.
Best Credit Card for Travel Rewards
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is one of the best travel credit cards available. With Sapphire Preferred, you get two points for travel and dining and one point for all other purchases.
Those points, in turn, can be redeemed for $1.25 when you are traveling and can be transferred on a 1:1 basis to major airlines and hotel chains. Do keep in mind there is a $95 annual fee, but it is waived your first year.
Currently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 rewards points (or $625 in travel redemptions) after you spend $4,000. Plus, you can earn 5,000 more points if you put an authorized user on the account within the first three months.
Your points never expire as long as you keep the card active and can always be redeemed through the Chase travel portal.
Best Overall for Expats
If you’re a frequent globetrotter or are about to move to another country, you need a bank with an international presence. After all, when it comes to your money, you want as smooth of a transition as possible.
HSBC helps make moving abroad easier by having 3,900 offices in 67 countries and territories in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America.
In other words, they are worldwide. (For a full list, click here.)
If you have an HSBC account, it’s quite easy to open an account in another country well before you even arrive there. Plus, if you download their mobile app, you can do it right on your smartphone. It’s safe and secure and enables account holders to check their accounts whenever they wish.
So for jetsetters such as yourself, moving from one country to the next, this is a powerful money and time-saving tool to have in your pocket. Sign up for the premier checking account and avoid the foreign transaction fees with debit card purchases.
However, with so many great perks to HSBC, it, unfortunately, isn’t for everyone. For starters, it charges a $50 monthly service fee — which isn’t exactly pocket change for a lot of people. You can avoid this fee if you have a minimum of $100,000 in your account, but, again, that’s not most people.
Even with the high monthly fee, HSBC still ranks as the number one bank for globetrotters. It has a strong infrastructure, a huge network, and great perks.
Even if you don’t have anywhere near the $100,000 in your accounts, the $50 monthly fee could be well worth the number of perks that are available to all members.
Best for International Travel: Honorable Mentions
No matter the criteria used, there are always going to be strong contenders left out. The options below are definitely worth consideration, too:
Bank of America
No fees for using ATMs that aren’t Bank of America-owned. Plus, if you use any of their credit cards while traveling, you can rest easy knowing you won’t be charged any fees.
Alliant Credit Union
Rebates up to $20 a month for ATM fees incurred from using non-Alliant ATMs. If you use their credit card while abroad, there are zero fees.
American Airlines Credit Union
An AACU checking account offers rebates up to $20 a month for ATM fees incurred while traveling, and they only charge a 1% fee for foreign transactions.
Navy Federal Credit Union
They offer credit cards with no foreign transaction fees; free ATMs on military bases; and ATM rebates of $10 per monthly statement. Only eligible to members of the U.S. Navy.
Andrews Federal Credit Union
Offers credit cards without any foreign transaction fees. It also has over 1 million ATMs across the globe, so it’s unlikely you’ll have to resort to using an ATM that isn’t an Andrews Federal Credit Union ATM.
More Financial Tips for Traveling Abroad
So you’ve chosen all of the right banks, but there are still a few things you need to know before becoming a stranger in a strange land.
Don’t Use Traveler’s Checks
They’re antiquated. Most credit cards give a much better exchange rate these days, plus not many places even accept them anymore. Save yourself the time and hassle it takes to get these, and just use a bank that has zero to low foreign transaction fees or offers free ATM usage.
Notify Banks of Your Travel Plans
Baltimore is a far cry from Bangkok. You know this, we know this, and your bank does, too. Your trip may be common knowledge to your friends and family, but it’s news to your bank.
So the moment you swipe your card in another country, a red alert is sent out immediately and your card could be declined on the spot. Don’t put yourself in this situation by letting the bank think that your card has been stolen!
Before you go, tell your banks and credit card companies that you’re traveling.
Proving that you are actually abroad can be quite an ordeal while you’re trying to navigate foreign subways or getting a taxi to your hotel. Save yourself the hassle and let your bank know in advance when you’re leaving and when you’re returning.
Give yourself a few minutes to do this. While some larger banks offer online notifications, you may have to speak to multiple departments on the phone.
Don’t Use Public WiFi
You may not know how to hack people’s computers, but a lot of people do.
Simply put: Public wifi is dangerous.
Never visit your bank online or make any purchases while you’re logged in to public WiFi. Hackers can log your keystrokes and ascertain your username, password, and credit card numbers quite easily.
Note: This holds true for anywhere you are in the world, not just while you’re traveling.
Whether you’re taking a vacation abroad or planning to live overseas for some time, make sure you have your banking needs in order. You don’t want to set yourself up to becoming a fraud victim while away or be surprised by exorbitant fees. Just a bit of preparation can ensure a worry-free trip so you can focus on the things that really matter.