Top 4 international banks for expats & when going abroad

Adam Rozsa
15.02.22
6 minute read

If you’re headed abroad for work or study - or even if you just love to shop online with retailers based abroad, you may be able to save money with an international bank account. International accounts can make it easier to manage your money across different currencies, and cut down on banking costs.

This guide contains all you need to know about international bank accounts, including how to open an international bank account and a roundup of the 4 top options for an international bank account USA citizens and residents might consider.

📝 Table of contents

Can I open an international bank account?

You can open a global bank account with a traditional bank, or opt for an online specialist provider.

Traditional banks that are international in focus may offer accounts which let customers hold and exchange a range of currencies - but there are often strict eligibility criteria and high minimum balance requirements. You may also find that international bank accounts from regular banks only offer a handful of major currencies, which may not be convenient if you’re traveling somewhere off the beaten track.

Having the right international account can help you save money on currency conversion and foreign transaction fees. It can also make it easier to pay and get paid in foreign currencies. However, before you choose the best international account for you, you’ll want to do some research. The best option may be to skip traditional international bank accounts entirely, and go for a specialist service like Wise instead.

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How do I open an international account?

The exact requirements to open a bank account abroad will vary, but you can expect to be asked for the following in almost any country:

  • Proof of ID such as a passport or driving license
  • Proof of residency - often a utility bill or official correspondence from a government agency
  • Minimum opening deposit if required by the account type
  • Visa or other documents to prove your legal right to remain in the country
  • Proof of student status or employment

It’s important to note that if you hold over USD10,000 in total in foreign bank accounts at any point in a given year, you need to file a report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts - known as FBAR⁸. Filing is done online annually - and you’ll need to enrol and get a user ID to get started⁹.

international banks

Which US bank account can be used internationally?

Banking is a global industry, so you might well find you can open an account with a bank with branches in your destination country before leaving the US. Here are the top 4 international banks to consider.

HSBC - Best for long term expats

HSBC operates in 64 countries and territories, across Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East¹.

There are over 200 HSBC branches across the US, and an extensive network of ATMs here and overseas². You can open an international account in 30 different territories, allowing you to get an account set up before you move, using your local credit history in the US. If you’re a premier customer you’ll find there are no fees for this service, although other account types do come with transaction and service charges.³ Get a full HSBC US review here.

Charles Schwab - Best for frequent international ATM withdrawals

It’s possible to open a Charles Schwab account in the US which comes with no opening fees, no foreign transaction fees and unlimited rebates on international withdrawals. Accounts can be opened online provided you have all the documents required.

You can also open a Charles Schwab account once you move, in certain countries - but it’s worth noting that some international accounts are intended for investors and require high minimum deposits of the equivalent of $25,000.⁴ ⁵ Read a full Charles Schwab review here.

Citibank - Best for global transfers

Citibank has a network of over 4,000 branches and 30,000 ATMs globally, covering 42 countries. There are neat perks for customers including global deals and discounts and the opportunity to get emergency money from a Citibank branch if you get stuck without your card⁶. You can also send and receive global payments from your account. Learn more about Citibank international transfers here.

As with other global banks, you might choose to open an account at a local Citibank before you leave, or with a branch in your destination country. Terms and conditions of accounts will vary, so check out both options before you decide. Check out this Citibank review for more.

Capital One - Best for spending overseas

Capital One⁷ might be a good choice if you travel often and like to spend on your card with you do. You’ll be able to choose from a range of checking and saving accounts with Capital One, depending on your personal needs and preferences. If you choose a Capital One 360 Checking Account you won’t be charged any foreign transaction fee when you spend overseas - and Capital One’s credit card options also come with no extra international charges.

Capital One customers can use 70,000+ fee free ATMs, and no-fee overdraft coverage. Not sure if Capital One is for you? Check out this full Capital One US review to help you decide.

It’s worth noting that not all banking brands offer free withdrawals at all ATMs - some might limit the number of participating countries. There are also frequent changes to the list of participating banks, so it’s worth checking with your regular bank if you’re unsure⁷. Check the options for your destination before you travel.

international banks

Best international banks: How to choose

Choosing the best bank for your international travels can seem daunting. You’ll want to consider the costs and convenience of the accounts you look at, taking special care to read the terms and conditions of accounts offered from overseas brands.

Be aware that some fees which are not used frequently in the US may be common with foreign banks - and some of the fees you expect to pay here might not apply abroad. Taking some time to read through the key features, fees and limitations of a range of accounts will pay off.

Travelling around or spending time in one country

If you’re moving around a lot while overseas, you’ll want an account which has a linked card that doesn’t have ATM fees, has no foreign transaction fee and offers a good exchange rate.

The Wise multi-currency account could be a good fit. As a true multi-currency account you can hold dozens of currencies in the same place, and switch using the mid-market exchange rate when you need to. With local bank details to allow you to receive payments free from the US, UK, euro area, Poland, Australia and New Zealand, this card might also suit if you’re on a working break and need to receive payments in foreign currencies as you travel.

Larger or smaller countries

Your options - when it comes to banking - may be influenced by the type of country or countries you’re visiting. In smaller countries you might have fewer choices when it comes to international bank accounts and ATM availability.

Check out how locals and settled expatriates tend to manage their day to day finances - you might discover that online services are the norm for bill payments and so on. In this case, selecting a bank with intuitive and comprehensive online banking options might be the best bet.

Learn more about what you need to open a bank account here. Let’s take a more detailed look at the type of documents required to open a bank account in the following countries:

Does your US bank have a branch overseas?

As we have mentioned, banking is a truly global industry. Check if your regular bank has operations overseas, or world with recommended partners. You might find it easiest to get accounts with these linked banks if so.

international banks

Bottom line

If you’re living, studying or working overseas, you’ll almost certainly need to send money either to or from your new home. Maybe you have bills to pay back in the US after you leave, or perhaps you’re covering the costs of your rent or tuition fees from an account held at home, and need to receive it locally in your new international account.

If you need a fast, cheap and reliable alternative to international banks, try a provider like Wise.

With Wise you can hold 50+ currencies, spend in 200+ countries, and send money around the world in a flash. Right now, 45% of Wise transfers are instant money transfers - and Wise is on a mission to build instant transfers for everyone, everywhere. All currency exchange uses the real mid-market exchange rate, with just low, transparent fees to pay. That means you can send money faster - and for less - with Wise.

Learn more about Wise


Sources:

  1. HSBC Home page
  2. HSBC ATM Locations & Services
  3. HSBC Open an International Bank Account
  4. Charles Schwab Open an Account
  5. Charles Schwab Online Checking Account with Free Checks and ATM Fee Rebates | Schwab Bank
  6. Citibank Offshore Banking, Global Bank Account, Open Offshore Account
  7. Capital One
  8. FinCEN Report Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts
  9. FinCEN How Do I File the FBAR?

All sources checked on 15 February 2022


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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