Digital nomads enjoy a unique, fulfilling (though sometimes downright arduous) existence. While going against the crowd definitely has its perks, it can also sometimes feel like the most simple tasks are ten times more difficult as a nomad. For example, spending money using your debit card. This is basically a human right in the US, however, once you leave the country you can find all sorts of sneaky fees and some payment systems that can even make it impossible. Amongst all the day-to-day tasks that you previously took for granted (like receiving mail, for example), banking is another activity that will require some adjustments. Depending on your travel style, we have put together several recommendations for the best bank for digital nomads.
First of all, things to consider when finding the best bank for digital nomads
When choosing a banking solution for your digital nomad life, there are a few main factors to consider.
Once you leave the US you will likely need to use ATMs that are not related to your current bank. Even if you switch to a global bank, the likelihood of having consistent access to their ATMs is still slim. And, since ATMs are the easiest way to get access to the local currency, you should expect to use them.
So what’s the solution? Finding a bank that reimburses ATM fees. This is more common than you think with some of the newer, digital-only banks. It’s important to keep in mind that ATM fees are often two-sided, including fees from the bank making the withdrawal, as well as, the bank associated with the ATM. For this reason, make sure to look for banks that reimburse other banks’ fees. This is one of the rare situations where you actually do need to read the fine print.
Foreign transaction fees
These are very common fees that are charged on top of any kind of international transaction. This means if you swipe your US-based debit card to buy dinner using Euros in France, you’ll be charged the equivalent amount of the bill in USD plus a small fee (generally .5-2%). It’s also common to charge a foreign transaction fee on top of the ATM withdrawal fee. It seems small at first, but as a nomad, these can add up very quickly.
24/7 Customer service
Make sure that your bank is accessible 24/7. Not only will you be in various time zones that don’t necessarily align with the business hours of your home country, but having an issue accessing your money abroad is about 100 times more stressful than having an issue at home.
Ability to convert your balance to different currencies on the fly
Depending on your travel style and how long you will stay in one place, it may make sense to convert your travel funds into the local currency digitally. This is not common practice with US-based banks, however, there are a few European banks that offer this feature to US citizens.
Don’t forget about travel perks
It’s always worth asking what kind of travel perks your bank offers. When researching competitors to my bank I found some perks that I had been missing out on!
Next, an important note on using credit cards while traveling
While this article mainly focuses on banks that handle your cash, it’s worth mentioning the fascinating world of travel credit cards (especially in the US) and their related perks. Whenever possible I used my travel rewards credit card for as many purchases as I can. Aside from providing fee-free foreign transactions, it also allows me to earn points, which I can then use for (you guessed it!) more travel. Of course, when living life on the road, you will need a way to pay for things in cash. Read on to learn the best bank for digital nomads for managing your cash.
Best banks to hold cash in your home currency
Most banks will hold your money in your home currency and convert foreign transactions made with a debit card within a few days of making the transaction. They generally use the market exchange rate and may or may not charge an extra fee. These kinds of banks work well if you do not have a need to deposit foreign currency into your account. For example, you are still being paid in your home currency. This is also a good fit if you do not have a need to write checks in your local currency. For example, you can pay your rent electronically or are using Airbnb or a similar platform. If this kind of bank is a good match for you, here are our top 2 picks:
Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking
While gaining more traction lately, this checking account has actually been around for nearly 20 years. It functions just like any regular checking account, except it has to be linked to a Charles Schwab investment account. Does having an investment account feel like more work than you bargained for? Don’t worry, it’s actually no work at all. When you open your checking account with Schwab, they will automatically open a linked investment account, but you have no obligation to fund it and there are no related fees.
So why is the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking the best bank for digital nomads? It hits most of the factors that nomads care about the most. This account offers unlimited reimbursements for ATM fees, no foreign transaction fees, and has 24/7 customer service. This card also provides very basic travel perks like travel insurance (which only covers accidental death and dismemberment) and travel assistance. The only feature this bank lacks is the ability to hold foreign currency in your account.
Capital One 360 Checking
Capital One has a slightly more established brand among checking accounts and also offers brick-and-mortar locations in the US. As with most banks that operate their own ATM systems, they do not reimburse ATM fees from other banks. On the upside, the 360 checking account does not charge foreign transaction fees and this bank offers 24/7 customer service.
Capital One 360 Checking is a good alternative to Charles Schwab if you are looking for a bank with physical locations and don’t mind paying the occasional ATM fee when withdrawing cash from out-of-network ATMs.
Best bank for digital nomads to hold cash in the local currency
There are several reasons that you may want to hold your cash in a local currency. Depending on how long you are planning on staying in a particular location you may need to deposit paychecks and/or pay rent in your local currency. You may also want to do one large conversion upon arrival to avoid dealing with fluctuating exchange rates. If this describes your situation, you’ll need to look into foreign banks that also operate in the US.
HSBC is the gold standard for banking services for long-term digital nomads outside of the US. With multiple services tailored toward travelers, this high-end bank will help you with almost any situation you encounter. The downside? You need to be wealthy to take advantage of these services.
As a US citizen, you are only eligible for the premier checking account which requires a $50 monthly maintenance fee or premier status. To get Premier status you must meet one of the following 3 qualifications: 1. $75K in deposits and investments, 2. you receive 3rd party direct deposits of $5K+ per month, or 3. hold an HSBC mortgage loan where the original amount was $500K+.
If you are lucky enough to meet the qualifications for a premier account you will enjoy the following perks. No foreign transaction fees and 24/7 customer service (including access on WeChat). HSBC also has cool travel perks like up to $10K in emergency assistance if you lose your wallet. The biggest perk, however, is the ability to open accounts in different countries and easily transfer your money between accounts. Known for its great customer service, a live representative from HSBC can help you navigate a custom solution for your travel needs.
The biggest cons of HSBC are the stringent requirements to open an account and the fact that they do not reimburse ATM fees from other banks when outside of the US (however they do provide an extensive global network of their own ATMs). When traveling within the US they will reimburse ATM fees for up to 5 transactions per month.
Welcome to Revolut, the newer, scrappier cousin to HSBC’s international banking solutions. Revolut, founded in 2015, is gaining popularity with travelers around the world. The greatest advantage of this banking platform is the ability to electronically convert your money into different currencies using their mobile app. Additionally, they offer 24/7 customer service and will reimburse US customers for ATM fees for up to $1200 per month in withdrawals. Please note that Revolut’s fee policies can vary depending on your home country. This article focuses on fees for those who originate from the US.
Revolut’s other perks vary depending on the level of service your purchase. For US-based accounts, you have 3 options:
- The Standard account comes with no monthly maintenance fees and no foreign transaction fees for up to $1000 per month.
- The Premium account costs $9.99 per month and has no foreign transaction fees. Additionally, this level of service includes overseas medical insurance, airport lounge access, and priority customer support.
- The Metal account costs $16.99 per month and provides everything included in Premium with the additional benefit of insurance for delayed baggage and flights.
Other factors to consider
When choosing a bank it’s also important to keep in mind all of the factors that are not specifically related to a nomad lifestyle. For example, saving $5 on an ATM withdrawal is not worth it, if you end up paying a monthly maintenance fee of $10.
Aside from the nomad-specific factors identified in this article, the other major factors to consider are monthly maintenance fees, low balance fees, overdraft forgiveness, online/mobile banking experience, interest rate, limits on transfers, limits on direct deposits, rewards, track record/reputation, and whether or not the bank is FDIC insured.
Conclusion on the best bank for digital nomads
When deciding which bank you’ll use as a digital nomad, the most important factor to consider is your need to hold local currency in your checking account. If you do have this need, it is simpler (and cheaper) to focus on finding a good, US-based bank that will reimburse ATM fees and not charge for foreign transactions. As your need to transact in local currency grows, so will your fees.
Above all, it’s important to evaluate your specific needs, considering your style of travel. With that said, picking the “wrong” bank may cause some annoying delays, but it’s still a decision that can always be reversed. My final advice: do some research, pick the best option, and be willing to learn along the way. After all, that’s what nomading is all about!