Opening a student bank account abroad

16.02.17
4 minute read
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Anna Blake, studying at the University of Groningen, Netherlands


Moving to mainland Europe naturally changed many things in my everyday life. The food, the language, the side of the road I could cycle on... Another major change for me was the currency.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought of the pound being strong against the euro when changing currency for travelling abroad. Brexit saw the pound plummet and made me realise that for my degree abroad I’d need to think carefully about how best to save as an international student.

Initial banking abroad fears

money

I have always banked with Nationwide in the UK and after discussing options for managing money abroad with my local branch, I was told that the best thing would be to open an account with a local bank in the Netherlands. Rather than wiring the money over to that account and being charged 2% of the total money I needed to transfer each time - it would be cheaper to withdraw all of my cash in the UK and convert it to Euros upon arrival in the Netherlands. I’d then put it into a Dutch bank account when I created one.

In all honesty, this prospect scared me, but I also knew I couldn’t spend the next year with all my money in my pocket. The paranoia of losing it or getting mugged would almost certainly be too much.

Beware of exchange rates

international-money

After discussing with my family, I decided it would be best to take a small amount from my account over in cash and to withdraw the rest out from an ATM once in Groningen. I would still be charged 2% for the withdrawal - as well as another fee within the bad exchange rate the bank offered - so I’d need to ensure the amount I took out each time was significant to try and minimise the charges.

So far, this way of doing things has proved fairly efficient. If my parents need to transfer me money they can do so without enduring the often long and expensive process of wiring money to a foreign bank account if you don’t use an international payments service.

But of course, those 2% fees and dodgy exchange rates meant I couldn’t go through my entire degree in the Netherlands with just an English bank card.

Opening a bank account with a language barrier

language-barrier

Before moving to the Netherlands I was anxious about how I would get anything done with the language barrier; my knowledge of the Dutch language extending as far as ‘no’ and ‘thank you.’ So as you can imagine, the thought of a bank appointment where actual words like ‘interest’ and ‘insurance’ would be required was a daunting prospect.

I decided I had two options: either immediately befriend a fluent Dutch speaker to translate everything for me, or sit through an exhausting hour of loud and slow talking, animated arm gestures and Google Translate.

As it turns out, this was not the case.

Opening the bank account

When I went to register on my first day of university, I passed by a line of students, queueing up to reach a desk that was plastered with posters of a white lion against an orange background – the symbol for ING bank, also relatively common in England.

It became apparent the people in line were waiting for an appointment sheet, a Dutch SIM card and an appointment time: the three requirements for creating an account with the local ING bank. It was such a relief to find the university provided all this help to assist foreign students with moving to and living in the Netherlands as a student.

A marvellous feature of the Netherlands is that so many people are bilingual and their English is flawless. This definitely helped me when creating a bank account.

The process was quick and easy, greatly enhanced by the perfect English spoken by the woman assisting me. I handed in the required documents and before I knew it I had a Dutch bank account. The only thing I really needed to worry about was the queue - it seemed every international student in the city had gone to make their account that day.

Creating a bank account in the Netherlands for me was simple.

It avoids the annoyance of being charged at an ATM, or worrying that you always need to withdraw large sums of money due to the fee it incurs. Having an account in your study abroad city also means you can use companies like TransferWise to avoid large bank fees when sending and receiving international payments and just makes the whole process easier.

Save your worries for cycling – now that’s the real challenge.


Anna Lee is a British student in year first year, studying International Law at the University of Groningen

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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