Expat Banking and Credit Cards

You can either keep your existing bank and credit card accounts, or open new ones in the country you are going to live in. However, you should avoid banks that charge ATM fees or international transaction fees.

There are tons of variations between bank and credit card accounts, terms, fees, rewards, and the local laws they adhere to. Future blog posts will contain more in depth information about specific banks and credit cards, but these are what I use today:

Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account

The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account is a variable rate checking account and its rate will fluctuate with market conditions.  With this account you get:

  • No minimum balance requirements
  • No monthly service charges
  • No ATM fees (reimburses all ATM fees at the end of each month)
  • Free standard checks and a Visa Platinum debit card once the account has been funded
  • Free online bill pay on Schwab.com and Schwab Mobile
  • Competitive interest rate
  • FDIC Insurance up to $250,000

Source: Charles Schwab (not an affiliate link)

I’ve had a great experience using Charles Schwab while traveling abroad, getting all my ATM fees reimbursed and enjoying favorable currency exchange rates. Their customer service is fast and responsive. I use their nifty mobile app to deposit checks and check my balances.

CapitalOne QuickSilver Rewards Credit Card

The CapitalOne QuickSilver Rewards Credit Card earns you an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. With this card, you get:

  • Unlimited Rewards that give you 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • A one-time $100 Cash Bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount at anytime
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Purchase Rate 0% intro APR for 9 months, 13.24%-23.24% variable APR after that
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage and $0 liability if your card gets lost or stolen
  • Travel upgrades and savings
  • Complimentary concierge service

Source: CapitalOne (not an affiliate link)

I’ve only been using QuickSilver for four months, and it’s too early for me to give a full and complete recommendation for this card, but I have had no issues with it yet. So far, so good. Plus, I save money on Uber when using this card instead of my old one. Because CapitalOne and Uber forged a partnership, I get every 10th Uber ride completely free.

Can I Avoid International Transaction Fees?

Absolutely. Although these accounts I use are based in the US, they don’t charge ATM fees or international transaction fees. Credit cards with rewards programs are especially useful if you fly a lot. Some programs offer cash back on purchases such as groceries, etc…

If right now you don’t have a bank or credit card that waives international transaction fees, then I strongly recommend getting another card that does. Otherwise, you may get charged international fees of up to 5% or even higher, which can eat into your finances if you’re not careful.

For starters, the Schwab and CapitalOne makes a perfect pair of expat banking and credit cards, particularly if you are from the US.

Using ATMs Abroad

Word of warning — Be careful when using ATMs. Skimmers aside, some ATMs dispense money first, before returning your ATM card. In the US and many other Western countries, it’s the other way around. Card first, then money. Out of habit, it is very easy to forget this and lose your ATM card. This happened to me — I’ll tell you more about it in the next blog post.

Set a Travel Notice On Your Accounts

An extra thing you should do before you expatriate is to put a travel notice on each account and indicate where you are going and for how long. This reduces the chance of getting your ATM or credit card declined when you start using it there. Can easily be done online — it takes only a couple minutes.

Should I Open a Foreign Bank Account?

The consensus between veteran expats on whether you should open a foreign bank account if you plan to live there indefinitely, is a resounding yes. I have not done this yet however. I’m not even sure which country I would settle in for a longer period of time after I do my traveling circuit around the world.

It is certainly possible I will open a foreign bank account at some point. If and when I do, I will let you know how that goes, especially with regards to FATCA, bank fees, currency exchange rates, and ease of use in the country I’m in.

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