All you need to know about multi currency accounts in the USA

TransferWise
06.25.18
6 minute read

Foreign currency accounts, also known as multi-currency accounts, can be handy if you’re a regular traveler, draw an income in a currency other than US dollars (USD), or run a business using overseas suppliers. Having a multi-currency account can be a great way to mitigate the risks involved in currency fluctuations, as well as reducing some of the costs of international transfers.

If you’re interested in opening a foreign currency account in the US, you have a few different options. However, not all high street banks offer a multi-currency product — and some only offer accounts which come with strict eligibility criteria and a high minimum balance. It’s good to know that there are other options aside from traditional banks. You might decide instead to use a specialist in international payments, like TransferWise, for an account which offers many of the benefits of a traditional foreign currency account — and a few more.

Read on to find out all you need to know about:

  • Which US banks offer foreign or dual currency accounts
  • Typical features of multi-currency accounts available for personal customers
  • Business banking multi-currency account options
  • How to open a foreign currency account, if you decide you want one

What are the best personal foreign currency accounts or dual currency accounts?

Unfortunately for those who want them, few US banks offer personal foreign currency or multi-currency accounts. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase, for example, don’t have multi-currency products available for regular personal banking customers. And though neither HSBC USA nor Citibank US offer foreign currency accounts themselves, as large international institutions, they do have specialist offshore operations that may be of service.

All in all, this means the choice of foreign currency accounts available is limited. Still, there are options out there, both from offshore banking institutions, and international payment specialists like TransferWise. It’s worth doing a bit of research to help decide which one is best for your needs, as the products available vary quite widely — more on that in a moment.

Here’s a brief summary of the main features of the multi-currency accounts available to US citizens and residents, from the following providers:

TransferWise borderless accountCiti InternationalHSBC ExpatTIAA WorldCurrency Account
Minimum balance$0¹$200,000⁴New customers need to hold a minimum of £60,000 in deposits or investments⁷$2,500 to open or $100 per month¹²
Service fees$0¹$150/month if you below minimum balance⁵£35/month if you don’t hit the minimum balance⁸No fee apart from for Swiss franc accounts¹³
Currencies available40+ currencies²21 currencies⁴USD, GBP and EUR⁷20 major and emerging currencies
Debit card availabilityAvailable to UK/EU residents.³ Coming soon to US residents.Yes⁴Yes, for either sterling or US dollar⁷Unavailable
ATM limitsFirst £200 withdraw within 30 days is free, after that charge of 2%¹£2,000 per day⁴Depending on your card, up anywhere from £1000 to US$1500⁹Not applicable
International transfersFees from 0.35%-3%Fees from US$0-$60⁵ + likely exchange rate markup⁶ + possible other bank fees if sent via SWIFTFees from £0-£35¹⁰ + likely exchange rate markup¹¹TIAA SWIFT wire fee of $35 waived if converted by TIAA first + Conversion fee + correspondent bank fee of $30
Exchange rate used for currency conversionMid-market rate — like the rate you find on Google + percentage fee depending on the currenciesCiti IPB Reference Exchange Rate⁵ — likely poorer than the rate you find on GoogleThe smaller the amount you transfer, the worse the rate¹¹ — likely poorer than the rate you find on GoogleBase rate + currency spread up to 1%¹³ — generally 0.75% spread if exchanging less than $100,000 but get better when you send more¹⁴
Local bank detailsCurrently available to receive local bank details for domestic transfers in the UK, the EU, and AustraliaNot offeredNot offeredNot offered

Personal multi currency account features

As you may have noticed from the previous section, few major US banks even offer foreign currency accounts. And major banks that do, like offshore or international subsidiaries of HSBC and Citibank, often come with a price.

Minimum balances

Larger banks like HSBC and Citibank offer offshore options if you have enough to meet their minimum account balances — which may be steeper than you were looking for, although they do often come with a relationship manager. TIAA has a more manageable balance needed to open an account. And TransferWise borderless accounts require no minimum at all.

with high minimum account balances. And a relationship manager.

However, if you aren’t ready to keep minimum balances like the ones you saw, then your options are a bit more limited.

Additional costs and fees

There are a number of fees often applied to multi-currency accounts that you’ll want to keep an eye out for.

  • Minimum balance penalties
  • Monthly service fees
  • International transfer fees
  • Exchange rate spreads
  • Fees for switching between currencies

A word on the last type of cost. Most banks add an additional profit to the exchange rate you see on Google. Meaning you could be paying more than you realize. Depending on the bank or service you choose, they may make that amount — called a spread — more or less transparent.

General business or corporate multi currency account features

If you want to open a multi-currency account for your business, you’ll need to do a little bit of homework to check what your bank can offer you. The products available tend to be different to those aimed at personal customers, and come with different terms and conditions that are often locked behind logins. Wells Fargo, for example, does offer a multi-currency business account — but this is designed for large companies with significant turnover and may require a yearly cash flow in the millions.

If you’re just starting out — or if you simply want a foreign currency business account which comes with fewer restrictions, you might choose the TransferWise borderless account for business. TransferWise doesn’t charge anything additional for businesses and you’ll be able to make and receive payments in over 40 different currencies, making it easy to pay suppliers and staff based overseas. TransferWise also offers a batch payment solution for your international payroll needs. See if your business can benefit, today.

How do I open a foreign currency account?

To open a multi-currency borderless account from TransferWise, you’ll need to take the following steps:

  • Go to the TransferWise web page and click Get Started
  • To create your free account you’ll have to give some personal information, such as your name, address and SSN
  • Verify your identity, by uploading an image of a valid photo ID — this can be a passport or a drivers licence, for example
  • Select a currency from over 40 available — you can add more later if you choose to
  • Top up your account balance using a bank transfer or debit card

Once your account is up and running, you can check your balance across different currencies at a glance using the TransferWise app. It’s easy to switch your balance between currencies as and when you want to, for just a small fee, and using the real exchange rate.

As you’ve read, if you’re a US citizen or resident, the choice of foreign currency accounts from traditional banks is pretty limited. However, there are a couple of other options including an offshore account, or a multi-currency borderless account from TransferWise. Whichever you choose, it’s important to read all the small print, and make sure you’re getting a fair deal on fees — and won’t be stung by steep service fees if your account balance dips.


Sources

  1. https://transferwise.com/us/borderless/pricing (June 25, 2018)
  2. https://transferwise.com/us/borderless/ (June 25, 2018)
  3. https://transferwise.com/gb/borderless/card (June 25, 2018)
  4. https://www.citibank.com/ipb/europe/manage/multicurrency.htm (June 25, 2018)
  5. http://www.citibank.com/ipb/europe/pdfs/Fee_Schedule.pdf (June 25, 2018)
  6. https://www.citibank.com/ipb/europe/manage/globaltransfers.htm (June 25, 2018)
  7. https://www.expat.hsbc.com/1/2/hsbc-expat/products/current-accounts/bank-account (June 25, 2018)
  8. https://www.expat.hsbc.com/1/2/hsbc-expat/products/current-accounts/bank-account/eligible (June 25, 2018)
  9. https://www.expat.hsbc.com/1/2/hsbc-expat/products/cards (June 25, 2018)
  10. https://www.expat.hsbc.com/1/2/hsbc-expat/products/current-accounts/bank-account/details (June 25, 2018)
  11. https://www.expat.hsbc.com/1/2/hsbc-expat/ways-to-bank-with-us/international-money-transfers/faqs#exchangeratesoffer (June 25, 2018)
  12. https://www.tiaabank.com/investing/foreign-currencies (June 25, 2018)
  13. https://www.tiaabank.com/investing/currency-access-account (June 25, 2018)
  14. https://www.everbank.com/media_library/tiaabank/_shared/pdf/terms-personal.pdf (June 25, 2018)

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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