Visiting the bank is never one of those experiences that you walk away from thinking “that was the most fun I’ve ever had!”
The reality is that in general, banking is a very mundane and boring activity that can cause a lot of headaches and frustrations.
Now, if you think about how annoying it is trying to deal with banks at home, think about what it must be like trying to deal with them while living abroad.
I myself have opened 2 different bank accounts while living abroad and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s even more frustrating than dealing with your local bank.
In order to open an account, you must organise several important documents, and might even have to make an appointment in a language you don’t understand. It can be stressful, to say the least.
So is it Really Worth Opening a Bank Account Abroad?
Well, although it may seem like an easy question to answer, there are several different factors that come into play.
How long will you be living abroad?
If you plan on living abroad for longer than a few months you might want to consider opening an account. Withdrawing money and paying for things with your bank account from home will mean paying high bank fees and ATM withdrawal fees.
Will you be working?
In order to receive your paychecks while living and working abroad, you’ll need to have a local bank account for your employer to transfer money into. Unless you’re getting paid cash (which isn’t likely), opening a bank account is definitely needed in this case.
Are you leasing an apartment?
If you’re going to be leasing an apartment, most landlords don’t like being paid in cash, as it can be seen as shady or illegal. In this case, you will either have to write a check or transfer money to them each month for your rent. It’s a lot easier to do this from a local account, as doing this from your bank account back home will incur hefty bank fees.
So it really comes down to how long you think you’ll be staying abroad and whether you’ll be settling in, finding a job and renting an apartment.
During part of my time overseas I’ve been able to pay my landlords in cash. This was great for me as I was getting paid in cash by my employer at the time.
However, I always had a bank account that I could deposit money into. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t necessarily safe having large amounts of cash lying around, and it’s quite easy to deposit money into a bank account.
What do I Need to Open a Bank Account?
If you’ve decided that opening a bank account abroad is the right option for you, then you’re going to need to have a few documents ready when you apply for a new account.
Obviously, you’re going to need to show some form of identification when opening a bank account abroad. Because you will most likely not be a citizen, your passport is the easiest form of identification that you can provide.
Proof of Residency (Visa)
Banks want to know that you are legally staying in the country, and you will be required to provide your residency card or long-stay visa.
Proof of Employment
While this isn’t a requirement at all banks, you may be asked to provide a letter of employment or a work contract. If you’re a student and not working, proof of admission to your school or university will generally be sufficient.
Proof of Address
No matter what type of accommodation you’re staying in, you’re going to need to provide proof of your residential address. This can be a copy of your rental contract or a copy of your utility bill addressed to your name.
Generally, these are the documents that you will need to show when opening a bank account, however, there may be additional documents and form of identification required. Be sure to check with your bank before making an appointment, so you know exactly what documents you’ll need to provide.
How Will I Understand?
If you’re moving to a country where you don’t speak the local language I’m sure that you must be a little worried about opening a bank account.
Ask for an English Speaking Employee
In most cases, there will be someone at most large banks that speak English. When booking an appointment, be sure to tell them that you would like to speak with someone that speaks English.
Ask a Friend
If you find that no one at the bank speaks English, or you’re still worried, ask a friend that speaks the local language to come with you and act as a translator. This way you’ll be sure to understand everything that’s going on.
But I Don’t Want to Open a Bank Account Abroad!
Maybe it isn’t worth opening up a bank account abroad in your case.
You might not be staying long enough or perhaps you don’t have a long stay visa or maybe you’ll be travelling to several different countries with different banks.
Whatever the reason is, don’t worry, there are other options.
Open an Account with an International Bank
There are many large banks that have branches in many different countries around the world. While you’re in your home country, consider opening an account with one of these international banks such as HSBC so that you can have access to their banks while living abroad.
If you open an account with HSBC it will be easier to transfer money, receive paychecks and minimise ATM withdrawal fees. You won’t be charged to use an HSBC bank abroad, but will still be charged for using other banks ATM’s.
Continue Using your Home Bank
While this isn’t recommended, you can still maintain living abroad while using your home bank account. This is definitely going to be more difficult, especially if you’re planning on staying for a while.
If you’re working abroad, receiving payment from your employer will be more difficult than normal. You can expect to pay high bank fees from both your employer’s bank and yours, as well as currency conversion fees.
Furthermore, every time you withdraw money from the ATM you will incur withdrawal fees and conversion charges. After a few weeks, all of these charges will really start to add up!
Travel Money Cards
Many banks offer travel money cards which essentially allow you to store multiple currencies on one card. This is a good option if you’re planning on travelling to different countries that use different currencies.
However, these cards still charge high currency conversion fees as well as ATM withdrawal fees. On top of that, if you plan on using this card to pay your landlord and/or get paid by your employer, you can expect to pay high international transfer fees.
Travel Credit Cards
If you’re looking for a way to earn frequent flyer miles while living abroad then you should consider Travel Credit Cards. These are essentially credit cards that don’t have any foreign transaction fees, meaning if you make a purchase using the card while abroad, you won’t be charged any additional fees.
This is beneficial if you want to continue earning frequent flier miles while living abroad, but don’t want to pay any foreign transaction fees.
Unfortunately, you will still have to pay ATM withdrawal fees, meaning if you want to deal with cash at some point, you will be charged a fee.
Americans are extremely lucky when it comes to credit cards, as there are plenty of options out there that not only earn great frequent flyer miles, but have no foreign transaction fees. If I was an American travelling often I would open a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account as all foreign transaction fees and ATM withdrawal fees are refunded to you by the bank.
Most banks offer some form of a debit card that essentially allows you to spend money that you already have in your account. The problem is that you’ll be charged high currency conversion fees, foreign transaction fees and ATM withdrawal fees anytime you want to use them abroad.
There is, however, one card that has none of these fees. It’s the perfect card for anyone living or travelling abroad. It is the Citibank Plus Everyday account.
As long as you have money in your account, you won’t be charged any fees for using it overseas. This means that an employer should be able to pay into this account without any international transaction fees from your bank. You’ll also be able to transfer rent payments to your landlord without paying any extra fees.
While opening a bank account abroad can seem like a frustrating experience, it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re organised and make sure you have all the appropriate documents ready before opening your account, it will be easy.
That being said, you may not even need to open a bank account abroad. You might find that a travel credit card or debit card is a better option for you.
Whatever option you choose, make sure that you’re minimising bank fees wherever possible so that you can spend more money on memorable travel experiences and less money on bank fees.
Have you ever opened a bank account abroad? Where? What was your experience like?