I was staying in Kuala Lumpur when my United States bank suddenly contacted me to report a potential security threat to my debit card. They said they needed to cancel my old card and had already issued me a new one to the address on my account.
But the address on my account was my old home in the United States, before I started working around the world. I didn’t live there!
I called them up and explained the situation. After being put on hold for 40 minutes at international calling rates, they told me that my new card would arrive to Malaysia in three or four weeks.
I said that wasn’t fast enough. They offered to expedite it to me for a $15 charge. Needing my debit card, I agreed.
One week later, the debit card never made it. I called them up again, and after being put on hold for 40 minutes at international calling rates, they told me they inputted the wrong address and the card was returned to the United States.
I told them to expedite a new card but that they should pay the $15 fee this time. They agreed.
One week later, the debit card never made it. I called them up again, and after being put on hold for 40 minutes at international calling rates, they told me they forgot to expedite it, so it would be arriving in two or three weeks.
I said that wasn’t fast enough. I urged them to expedite out another card.
This time I got transferred to a customer service “specialist” who had never heard of Malaysia before, let alone knew how to input an international address into his computer system. I spent a painstaking 20 minutes at international calling rates to make sure he got the right address.
Luckily, I had a little money in another account. But I didn’t have enough to last the week. On the day that I dried up my reserve account, I finally got my new U.S. debit card.
I went to the ATM and pulled out $100 worth of cash, and subsequently paid $15 in international ATM fees.
Why Use a Digital Nomad Bank?
The majority of people who use banks don’t travel outside of their home country. And most banks are designed to cater to the requirements of these non-traveling people.
When one of us weird travelers comes through their doors, they don’t know how to handle our banking needs.
They hit us with all kinds of fees, from transfer fees to international ATM withdrawal fees. It’s often a pain to get our money because there needs be an exchange of currency and cross-cultural communication with a foreign bank. And if there’s a problem, contacting them abroad becomes a major hassle. (Trust me, my story about struggling with my bank back home isn’t an uncommon one!)
However, banks that know how to cater to our needs as nomads are extremely valuable. They won’t charge us outrageous fees, they’ll be easily accessible when we need them and most importantly, it won’t be a major headache to access our money.
I could tell you a thousand more stories like the one above about my U.S. bank. I was stepped on as a digital nomad for three years before I finally realized that my money deserved to be put in a bank that respected me and my lifestyle.
When we bank with a company that has an understanding of the digital generation, we’re not only allowing ourselves to enjoy conveniences specifically catered to our nomadic nature—we’re allowing our generation to flourish in a natural and progressive way.
The internet is here to stay, and working remotely is becoming more and more popular. As a result, there will be an increase in the number of digital nomads around the world over the next several years.
And those digital nomads will want easy access to their money.
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Types of Bank Accounts for Digital Nomads
In today’s digital age, there are three main kinds of bank accounts to choose from:
- Checking/Savings Account. These are the standard kinds of accounts that all banks offer in some form or fashion. They give us a debit card and paper checks to access the money in those accounts. There’s also some kind of interest percentage on the money in the account that, while usually negligible, provides us with a return.
- Direct or Virtual Bank. These banks have been around for a while but have only recently gained popularity. With these virtual banks, there are no physical bank branches. Everything happens via the internet. The money is electronically put into your account, and the bank issues you a debit card that you can use like any other debit card. This offers you a much more autonomous and low-cost way of handling your money.
- Cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies, like the pioneering Bitcoin, allow you to become your own bank. You are directly in control of your funds, responsible for all investment decisions and fluctuations of the market and are offered a highly secure way to send and receive money.
But this system is far from perfect. There are wild instabilities in the crypto market causing investors to rapidly lose lots of money. The transfers of value are often painfully slow and expensive, and the security measures in place can actually be too secure, resulting in people permanently being locked out of their funds.
You could also just put all of your money into a cartoon sack with a dollar sign painted on it. But I wouldn’t recommend traveling around like that…
Bank on It! These Are the 6 Best Banks for Digital Nomads
1. Best Bank for Digital Nomads in the United States
Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account
Charles Schwab is a large investment bank based out of the U.S. If you’re a U.S. resident and you open an investment account with them, they give you a free checking account.
And this checking account is great!
There are no foreign transfer fees, no monthly maintenance fees, free checks—because apparently some people still use those—and best of all, fully refundable fees on all foreign ATM withdrawals.
And because they’re primarily an investment bank, they have better interest rates than other major banks’ checking accounts. So that’s a nice bonus!
They offer a full guarantee of the security of your account, and if you’re living and working abroad, you’ll want that guarantee.
One of my favorite things about Charles Schwab’s service is their highly-rated, 24/7 online customer support chat. No more waiting on hold with an agent halfway around the world while racking up expensive international calling rates. Now you can get an immediate response from a very supportive online agent via the internet.
These features are godsends for digital nomads.
But you need to have U.S. residence to get this account.
If you have an American address but are out of the country right now, make sure you turn on your VPN before you apply for a Charles Schwab account. If not, they may ask you to come into a physical branch to verify your identity.
2. Best Bank for Digital Nomads in Europe
N26 is a direct/virtual bank based in Berlin and is available to all residents of the European Union (EU), and soon United Kingdom residents will be able to use this bank. They provide an affordable and practical banking solution for the modern, digital age.
This particular direct banking company has been generating a lot of buzz in the tech world.
With N26, all your finances are managed on your smartphone via the N26 app. When you sign up, they send a MasterCard to your European address that can then be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted.
There are several different kinds of accounts, both free and paid, but most people can do everything they need to with the free account.
With it, there are no costs for creating or maintaining an account, no foreign transaction fees, no exchange markups and no ATM fees worldwide for up to five withdrawals per month.
For a monthly fee of either EUR 9.90 or EUR 16.90, you can access features like unlimited no-fee ATM withdrawals, an Allianz insurance package, dedicated customer support and exclusive partner offers.
This company shows no signs of slowing down with plans to enter into the U.S. market by 2019. When that happens, it can be assumed that a lot of the traditional American banking systems will need to reevaluate how they operate.
3. Best Bank for Digital Nomads in Australia
Citibank is a large, multinational bank with branches all over the world. This alone makes it valuable for people who travel internationally frequently, as urgent banking needs can be quickly mitigated at one of these local branches.
For nomads working in Australia, the Citibank Plus account comes with many perks that befit an international traveler.
For starters, there are no overseas fees when using their debit card, either in store or via ATM withdrawal.
There are also no transfer fees to send or receive money anywhere else in the world. But keep in mind that if you’re sending to a bank that isn’t Citibank, there could be a charge on the receiving end. And it’s free to transfer worldwide between Citibank accounts.
There’s also an interesting rewards feature that gives you a free bottle of wine every time you use your debit card at a Citibank Dining Partner. Can’t argue with that!
4. Best Bank for Digital Nomads in New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ)
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good choices out there for digital nomads staying in New Zealand. There’s an oligopoly in the banking industry of New Zealand with a few major banks holding all the power.
But your best bet is to get an ANZ Go account.
ANZ Go has no fees for automated transactions, which includes ATMs overseas. There is, however, a small foreign transaction fee of 2.5%. If you’re taking out a little bit of money from a foreign ATM, this might be negligible. But $25 out of every $1,000 will add up over time!
ANZ Go is best for people who can do all of their banking electronically. They don’t need checks or a local branch. They can do everything via a mobile app and debit card.
Some people have other methods they like to use to keep costs down when accessing money abroad. You can use a different debit card with a lower transaction fee but higher withdrawal fee for larger amounts. You can also use credit cards to rack up airpoints, which can help save on airline tickets.
When it comes to banking, it’s hard to be a digital nomad in New Zealand.
If you’re traveling a lot and are in Europe before New Zealand, it might be worthwhile to hang out somewhere in Europe until you receive your N26 card. Or find a friend with a European address who will mail you your card to New Zealand.
5. Best Bank for Digital Nomads Internationally
HSBC is a well-known, international financial institution. They have branches all over the world and are one of the only big multinational banks with a pretty decent reputation.
Known for their stability and staying power, HSBC offers different types of accounts for people in various international locations. If you don’t fall into one of the above categories, you should check to see if your local HSBC is a good option for you.
HSBC is a great choice for nomads who go back and forth between major world cities and need a stable banking option.
It’s known for having above average customer service and reasonably flexible accounts. They usually have low balance thresholds and lower than average fees compared to other banks.
And because HSBC is located in so many places, there’s a wide array of ATMs located all over the world. This is a godsend because you can usually avoid foreign ATM fees. And if you can’t find an HSBC ATM, many HSBC accounts allow for foreign bank transfers and free foreign ATM withdrawals.
You can also transfer money between any HSBC bank in the world for free.
In general, this international bank is the best fail-safe method for international and nomadic workers.
6. Best Bank for Digital Nomads to Transfer Funds Worldwide
Okay, Transferwise isn’t technically a bank. But it’s been gaining a lot of traction recently as a better and cheaper alternative to PayPal.
Because apart from the high transfer fees, there are lots of other problems that PayPal customers have to deal with.
What sets TransferWise apart from bank transfers, PayPal and other alternatives? The big difference is the way their money transfers happen.
Instead of one hassle-filled international transfer, they make two local transfers between their own bank accounts. So if you want to send money from the U.S. to the U.K., first the USD are sent to the TransferWise U.S. bank account.
Then TransferWise sends from their U.K. bank account the reciprocal amount of GBP to the receiver.
This completely eliminates all of the huge transfer rates usually found when switching between currencies.
There are still exchange rates. But while banks and other transfer services (ahem, PayPal) hike up their exchange rates to extort just a little more money from you, TransferWise always uses the mid-range market rate for the fairest conversion possible.
The other noteworthy thing about TransferWise is its borderless account, which lets you deposit money in 40 different currencies. This way, you can use TransferWise as a kind of bank.
If you’re transferring money to/from your borderless account to/from another bank in the same currency, there’s no transfer fee associated with it. And because there are 40 different currencies associated with the borderless account, there usually aren’t transfer fees for any bank-to-bank transfer.
Soon TransferWise will also issue a MasterCard debit card associated with each borderless account. When this happens, TransferWise will quickly become an international competitor for virtual/direct banks like N26.
There are no monthly fees and no set up fees to get started using TransferWise. Simply load in your money and start transferring!
Being a digital nomad is hard. There are a lot of moving parts to keep organized, not to mention logistical hurdles that make being a remote worker challenging.
But having a bank that understands your nomadic needs doesn’t need to be a thorn in your side.
You don’t need to lose $15 every time you want to withdrawal money from an ATM. Or spend 40 minutes on the phone at international calling rates every time there’s an issue. And you don’t need to settle for a bank that doesn’t understand you or your lifestyle.
Find the best bank that works for you, the hard-working digital nomad, and take back control of your hard-earned money.
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow Perspective Earth to learn more about him and his work.
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