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Traveling abroad can be an exciting adventure and a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture. But before you set sail for a new country, you’ll need to plan and decide how to cover your costs while you’re away.
While carrying cash or your go-to credit card might be okay for those traveling for a short time, a longer stay could mean opening an international bank account. Here’s a rundown of when it makes sense to open one and the dos and don’ts of banking overseas.
Who needs an international bank account?
Having an international bank account can make managing your finances a lot easier if you plan to study abroad, work abroad for an extended amount of time or if you’re relocating altogether. Access to a bank account in your chosen country means an easier time making and receiving payments in a different currency, and the added protection of keeping your funds safe while you’re abroad rather than opting for cash or relying on a bank or card that may not be accepted internationally.
You could also save more money in the long run by cutting down on service and transaction fees. There are pros and cons to opening up a bank account abroad. When deciding if an international bank account is right for you, here are a few factors to consider:
- How long will you be staying? The duration of your stay matters. For a shorter trip, you’ll likely get by just fine using your regular bank account or cash. However, if you plan to make this new country your place of residence for a few months or years and will have recurring bills or plan to earn a living abroad, an international bank account may be a more convenient option for managing your money.
- Will you be traveling to multiple countries? If you plan to visit several other countries, an international bank account will be your safety net and guarantee that you have access to currency wherever you travel.
- Does your U.S. bank have a branch abroad? If your current bank doesn’t have a branch in the country or countries you plan to visit or relocate to, you might consider an international bank account.
- The most common countries to study abroad: Costa Rica, Japan, Australia, China, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom
- Safest countries to move to: Denmark, Iceland, Canada
- Number of Americans who have bank accounts abroad: 26.2 million
- Most expensive cities to live abroad: Hong Kong, Geneva, London, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Zurich, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Seoul
- Least expensive countries to live abroad: Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal, Colombia, Ecuador
What documentation do I need to open an account?
When opening a bank account abroad, there are a few common requirements you’ll likely need to meet to qualify. Specific documents and requirements will vary from country to country, so make sure to double-check with your chosen bank to ensure you have everything you need.
- Proof of identity: This could include your driver’s license, state identification card or birth certificate. Most banks ask for at least two forms of identification.
- Proof of local residency: You’ll likely need proof that you have secured local residency. Think: a recent utility bill, a copy of your lease or a recent ID with your new address on it.
- Start-up funds: Many banks require a certain amount of funds to be deposited to open your account. This could range anywhere from $500 to upwards of $1,000.
- A valid student visa or work visa: If you’re visiting the country on a student or work visa, you’ll need to provide your bank with proof of your current visa.
- Letter from your university or place of employment: Your bank may ask you for a letter from your university or employer to confirm that you’re currently enrolled in an academic program or employed and earning income.
Here’s a look at the requirements for opening a bank account in a few different countries:
|Requirements for opening an account
Tips for choosing the right bank abroad
Choosing the right bank abroad will come down to a few different questions you’ll need to ask yourself beforehand.
- Does your existing bank have any branches nearby? Nothing beats convenience, and you may be able to skip opening up a whole new bank account if your current bank can meet your needs abroad. Do some research to see if this is an option and if the branch is close to your new residence abroad.
- Is there a language barrier? Managing your money can be confusing in your own language. Make sure when you’re selecting a banking institution that you’re considering any potential language barriers that could hinder your ability to communicate with banking associates, should you ever need to.
- Is this bank insured? In the U.S., you have the reassurance of knowing that most banks are backed by the FDIC. This means your money is protected in the event of a robbery, fire or some other unforeseen circumstance. Confirm with your potential new bank that there are similar protections in place.
- Is there an account option that makes sense for your financial situation? Weigh the various account options available to you before you dump your savings into this new bank account. Read the fine print to learn more about potential fees, interest rates and charges.
What if I don’t want to open an account abroad?
Opening a bank account in a different country isn’t for everyone. If you decide you’d rather forgo a new account, there are still a few options available to you to help you manage your money abroad and ensure you have access to funds no matter where you are.
- Using a U.S. bank with branches overseas: Your bank may have a branch already available to you in your new country, like HSBC or CitiGroup, for example.
- Using cash only: When traveling overseas, many foreigners opt to use cash as their main payment method. This option can make covering your costs a lot simpler, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Your money won’t be protected if you happen to lose it or it gets stolen. You’ll also need to plan carefully ahead of time to make sure you’re carrying enough cash to last throughout your trip, as you won’t have access to extra funds in the event of an emergency. You also won’t earn rewards or qualify for the insurance a credit card can offer.
- Using wire transfers: Wire transfers are an option for accessing funds abroad and are typically easy to exchange for foreign currency, but they do involve processing fees and can take several days to get to you.
Most banks will allow you to withdraw money from your U.S. bank account at an ATM abroad, though you’ll likely need to pay hefty foreign ATM and processing fees. Some banks will also set a limit on how much you can withdraw per day, so check in with your bank to learn more about any limits they may pose.
Here’s a roundup of the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
Many banks will process and grant you access to your new account within a few weeks.
Yes. Any U.S. citizen with foreign bank accounts totaling more than $10,000 must declare them to the IRS and the U.S. Treasury, both on income tax returns and on FinCEN Form 114.
Yes. Options like Apple Pay and Google Pay can be used abroad, so long as the country you’re in supports contactless payments. However, this option should be saved as an added safety net rather than your main payment method. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re unable to cover an expense if a merchant doesn’t accept certain digital payment methods, or you happen to run out of battery on your device.
The bottom line
Covering costs overseas can look different depending on where in the world you are. By planning ahead and exploring the various payment and banking options available to you, you can ensure that you’ll always be able to access your funds while you’re away.