Exploring the world is an incredible, life-changing experience that will open your mind and create amazing memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. However, overseas banking can be a very frustrating experience, especially when it comes to working out currency conversion rates and the real value of transaction fees.
Accessing your money when abroad is far more than just putting your card into an ATM machine and withdrawing the cash. You need to think about foreign fees and charges on top of currency exchange rates. Put simply, travelling around can be an expensive enough business so it's important to avoid wasting money on unnecessary costs.
The good news is that there are now a number of bank accounts and other alternatives on the market that are set up to meet the needs of frequent travellers and digital nomads. Choosing the right account means that it’s possible to save a considerable amount of money and avoid getting any unpleasant surprises in your monthly statement.
To make the task of choosing the most optimal account for travelling the world, we've carefully researched the best banks and accounts for travellers. Here are our top picks.
People who spend a significant amount of time each year abroad have different needs to those who only leave the country for a couple of weeks in the summer. Foreign transaction fees can quickly mount up and make a real dent in your budget.
When choosing a travel account, you should consider its monthly or annual service fees, the minimum balance required on opening, the exchange rate offered, mobile banking apps and transfer fees. You should also pick an account that makes sending and receiving international payments a breeze.
If you live in the UK, here is some up-to-date information about the best bank accounts for travelling abroad, plus a high-quality alternative to traditional banking, the TransferWise multi-currency account.
The TransferWise borderless account is a convenient and simple option for travellers. You can load over 40 currencies in your account with the mid-market rate, considered the fairest exchange rate, and spend them anywhere you see the Mastercard logo with your TransferWise debit card. It’s free to pay with currencies you hold in your account and to withdraw up to £200 per month, then there's a 2% charge after that. Plus, you get instant international bank details to receive money from over 30 countries around the world with zero fees. Opening a borderless account is free and can be quickly and easily done online.
Starling is a mobile-only UK bank that offers unlimited international cash withdrawals and fee-free foreign spending. Starling's personal account uses Mastercard's exchange rate for cross-border purchases and ATM transactions, plus pays 0.5% interest on credit balances under £2,000 and 0.25% over that up to £85,000. If you want an overdraft, you will need to apply for it - they aren't handed out automatically.
Monzo is another digital bank designed to appeal to frequent travellers. Free cash withdrawals are limited to £200 per month and there’s a 3% charge after that. Watch out for straying into unauthorised overdraft territory as fees can quickly mount up – there's a 50p charge every day the account is overdrawn by more than £20, up to a maximum charge of £15.50 per month. Monzo also uses Mastercard’s exchange rate without adding fees on top.
The Charles Schwab High Yield Checking account comes with a Visa Platinum debit card and offers unlimited ATM fee rebates anywhere in the world. With no minimum balance requirement and the fact that it's free to open, it's easy to see why this account is popular with US travellers. Customers also need to open a Charles Schwab Brokerage account to which the High Yield Checking account is then linked, although this doesn’t have to be regularly used.
Capital One 360 online checking account is also popular with travellers in the US as it there isn’t a minimum balance required to open an account and it doesn't charge monthly fees. You can also enjoy no foreign transaction fees when making purchases outside of the US or buying things online from another country.
HSBC is great if you are relocating to another country as you can open an account in advance and is a major international bank with numerous traveller-friendly services. Have in mind, though, that debit card purchases overseas might incur foreign transaction fees, unless you use Premier checking. Premier account holders can also receive international wire transfers from other HSBC accounts for free.
Originally a German bank, N26 now offers services for residents of Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia. It’s a good option for travellers as it’s possible to open an account in about five minutes in virtually any location, although you do need a mailing address in one of those countries. The N26 Black account is particularly interesting as it offers free withdrawals worldwide and Allianz insurance for €9.90 per month.
ING Bank (Australia)
Another relatively new entrant to the banking sector, ING offers the Orange Everyday bank account with no monthly or annual costs, no initial fees, no global ATM fees, no foreign transaction charges and no currency exchange markup. However, to receive these benefits you will need to pay at least AUS $1,000 in your account each month and make a minimum of five card purchases each month.
When you're travelling, it is worth knowing how you can send and receive money in your accounts to and from abroad. There are many ways to do this, but using a service such as TransferWise can often save you a lot of money and it is extremely easy to use. It has various helpful features, such as a pricing calculator so you can work out exactly how much it will cost you in advance.
It's important to stay clued up about your finances when you're travelling. Follow these tips to stay savvy about money when abroad; learn how to travel safely and make your hard-earned money go further.
Always have backups. Before you set off, take photos of all your important documents, such as your passport, EHIC card, driving licences, debit and credit cards, and save them in a cloud server. If you're going somewhere with unreliable online access, take paper copies and store them in a safe place away from the actual items.
Take two. Never rely on a single card. Always have at least one backup, and again keep them in a separate place.
Stay smart. When out and about, keep some cash and a card in a separate pocket from your main handbag/rucksack. Only use an ATM in a well-populated area. Money belts are a good solution - not the style-free 'bum bags' that strap across the hips, but flat canvas pouches that can be used to keep all your valuables safe when out and about.
Hard cash. It's always a good idea to take some local currency with you, where you are going in the world. Order it in plenty of time if your destination is off the beaten track. However, never have large amounts of cash.
Prevent unwelcome surprises. Take the time to compare costs on various current accounts and cards before your holiday. Making sure you understand all the technical terms and conditions for charges is essential if you want to avoid charges.
Whether you are heading overseas to work or for the holiday of a lifetime, make sure your trip starts in the best way possible by getting the right account for your needs.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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