Best Bank Accounts for Digital Nomads

Megan Lee

Whether you want to make it rain Pesos, Euros, or Australian dollars, you know the first step to a successful digital nomad stint is getting your bank accounts in order. But which travel bank account should you choose? What factors should you consider?

Researching the latest data in travel bank accounts, I cringed thinking back on my oversight while working abroad in China. Hefty fees and international transfer costs add up really quickly, and if I had been armed with more information about travel bank accounts, I probably could have afforded a few more wicker baskets full of steamed dumplings.

Best Bank for Digital Nomads

Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking Account is the preferred choice among American digital nomads. They refund unlimited ATM fees, which is crucial when traveling in a country where cash is king and ATM fees can be high (like, say, Argentina).

There are no service fees or account minimums. It’s an ideal choice and the only debit card several of the Tortuga team uses while traveling.

If you don’t want to get rid of your primary bank and want to only use Schwab for travel, transfers are easy. Say you’re using Chase as your primary checking account. You have the debit card stashed in your luggage in case of emergency, but you don’t plan to use it often.

If you request a bank transfer from Chase to Schwab on the Schwab online banking portal, the transfer takes 4 business days. If you push money from Chase to Schwab on the Chase portal, it takes 2 business days. Either way, it requires a bit of planning to ensure you always have enough money in the account.

Runners Up:

Best Bank for Expats

If you’re moving abroad, it can be wise to transfer some funds (or deposit your funds) into a huge international bank, one with branches in multiple countries — ideally your home country as well as any country where you’d like to live and work abroad.

HSBC (no stranger to lists of the best banks worldwide) has a number of services that appeal to international workers. If you are a premier checking account member, you can even send wire transfers between banks for free. Being a premier checking account member will unlock a hoard of privileges, but even if you are just looking for a solid banking option while you work abroad, you’re likely to be happy with the services offered.

Runners Up:

Get Paid: TransferWise vs. PayPal

If you’re working remotely and need to get paid remotely, then finding the most economical choice and reducing fees is important. If you run a company and are paying a number of employees remotely, perhaps in different countries, like Tortuga does, then reducing those fees is exponentially more important.

Everyone’s familiar with PayPal, but is there a better choice? Have you tried TransferWise yet?

Tortuga co-founder and CEO, Fred, broke down why he uses TransferWise to pay team members. The short version: It saves money in most cases and is more efficient.

Here’s how TransferWise and PayPal stack up

TransferWise, in brief:

  • Acts as a peer-to-peer money transfer service
  • Pay a flat fee of about 1% per transfer
  • Makes it easy to pay bills from overseas, regardless of location
  • Useful for invoicing clients based in other countries
  • Deposits directly into your bank account of choice
  • Works in America and many other countries, but not all of them

PayPal, in brief:

  • Costs 3.9% to send money
  • Must use their currency conversion rates
  • Flat fee of 3% for all business transactions
  • Deposits into PayPal account, funds must then be transfered to your bank, taking 3-5 days
  • The Paypal debit card is only available to American account holders
  • Works in America and many other countries, but not all of them

Let’s say you were transferring $100,000 between banks. For equivalent services, TransferWise would charge you $1000, whereas Paypal would charge you $6900. Bazinga! If you aren’t using TransferWise instead of Paypal yet, get on it.

No Fee International Withdrawls

When it comes to overseas ATM withdrawal during your digital nomad life, you would be wise to thoroughly review fee structures. While ATMs enjoy the best exchange rates, all of that goes to waste if you’re charged upwards of $5+ per transaction to access your money and enjoy less inflated exchanges.

If having zero international ATM withdrawal fees is important to you when you work abroad, then we highly recommend the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Accounts, which has $0 monthly fees and unlimited reimbursements for other banks’ ATM fees — even ATMs abroad. On top of that, with this account, there aren’t even extra charges for accessing to your debit account internationally, or any other foreign transaction fees.

Runners up:

 

Understanding the Global Alliance

If you live in a country where these banks aren’t an option, a better solution to getting access to the best bank accounts for international travel and work abroad is to find a national bank in your own country that participates in the Global ATM Alliance.

The perks? These major international banks waive any fees when you use your bank card at partner institutions, which can mean more dollars in your pocket (despite the fact that they still charge up to 3% in foreign transaction fees).

At the time of writing, member banks include Bank of America, Barclays, BNL, Scotiabank, Deutsche Bank, and Westpac, among others. This can be a particularly good option to pursue if you are working abroad in countries like France, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, or the UK and you are not a US citizen.

Get the Right Credit Card for Working Abroad

Many credit card providers will ding you with 2-4% fees for any foreign transaction, which can add up quite a bit over the course of your work abroad. Instead, apply for cards that charge no international transaction fees and don’t have an annual fee, like the BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card or the CapitalOne Quicksilver card.

If you’re a points nut, consider traveling with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, this is the favorite of the Tortuga team.

App-Based Banking & Finance Tools

With the onset of pocket internet and apps, banking in modern times sure beats the ledgers and check books of decades ago. But which app-based banking tools can you use abroad? Below, we size up a handful of popular app-based banking tools and their compatibility with working abroad.

These apps exist beyond traditional banking apps, so be sure to check with your chosen institution about the tools and services available within their individual applications, too.

Bank Mobile

  • Only available in US
  • Access to 55,000+ ATMs

Toshl

  • Track values in multiple currencies
  • Export data

Paypal

  • International transfers, 3.9%
  • Multiple currencies

Moven

  • Must be a US citizen to use
  • Supports only US accounts

Mint

  • Understand spending habits
  • Track savings

Venmo

  • Reimburse or request funds
  • US only with a US phone)

 Credit Karma

  • Monitor & manage credit
  • Free access to credit scores

Splitwise

  • Split costs among groups
  • Use various currencies

Tangerine

  • Canadian bank open to expats
  • No fee banking internationally

XE Currency

  • Exchange rates
  • Perfect for quick trips

Protect Your Finances While Traveling

Planning ahead to secure your identity, finances, and other areas of vulnerability prior to your travels is important. You should always make photocopies of your passport, debit cards, and credit cards. Secure those physical copies separately from your wallet. Furthermore, if you have a securely locked smart phone or will have regular email access while abroad, send digital copies of those scanned documents to yourself (and maybe your emergency contact person, too).

While traveling, you should only carry enough cash to cover your incidental and daily costs. Use your credit card to cover big purchases, or open an extra bank account in-country that will give you access to a debit card.

Only use ATMs in populated and safe areas; ideally, you can bring a friend along to serve as the look out. If you’re keen to cover all of your bases, consider getting travel insurance protection too.

TL;DR

Squaring away your money matters prior to working abroad is an important step before the move.

  • Identify your priorities and think through your greatest needs for an international account
  • Schwab is our top pick for a bank for digital nomads
  • Consider TransferWise over Paypal if you’re getting paid abroad
  • Weigh the pros and cons (and fees) between different services, from foreign transaction costs to ATM withdrawals to international transfer fees
  • App based banking and money management is convenient while you’re traveling