Best Banks for Travelers

For international travelers and expats, the importance of having access to the right financial products can’t be overstated. While this can take different shapes and forms, it starts with the right bank account.

Choosing the right account is almost always based on personal preferences. Banks work hard to differentiate themselves, giving rise to a vastly competitive and contrasting scene. And as a world traveler, what might be inconsequential to someone might make a difference to you – so always start with understanding your habits and goals.

What’s the Best Bank for Travelers?

When choosing a bank account, the good (or bad) news is that there are tons of options, with many banks recognizing that people love to travel and offering bank accounts that help them do just that. When it comes to choosing the best bank, it all boils down to personal preference, banking habits, and requirements.

As a traveler, what you’re looking for in a bank account may be different, however, this does not mean all travelers want or need the same things. Financial goals and requirements tend to vary between individuals, so there is no general rule everyone can follow.

If you’re a millennial who thinks picking up the phone and calling someone is weird, then a bank with a strong mobile app will work out better for you. Equally, if you prefer to talk to a person, a bank with strong customer support will be a better fit for you.

Best Banks for International & Domestic Travel

If you are a frequent traveler, here are several top banks, checking accounts, and travel-related credit cards worth considering.

Charles Schwab Bank

  • Unlimited ATM fee rebates globally
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earns interest

Charles Schwab Bank is the banking arm of Charles Schwab Corporation – a multinational financial company based in the US. Aside from banking, Charles Schwab also offers investment and wealth management services, among other things.

Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account

Of particular interest to travelers is their High Yield Investor Checking account. While the name may sound like it’s an account directed towards investors, and to an extent it is, it also offers several perks that many travelers will love.

Firstly, the account has no fees and no account minimums, helping you keep more of your money. It also offers unlimited rebates on ATM fees globally, helping you ensure you can withdraw money wherever you happen to be in the world without worrying about exuberant fees (or finding the right kind of ATM).

The account does not charge any foreign transaction fees and earns an interest rate of 0.03% APY (Annual Percentage Yield).

Charles Schwab Travel Credit Cards

Charles Schwab also offers American Express credit cards. The Schwab Investor Card includes a welcome bonus of $200 and a statement credit when spending $1,000 in the first three months. It also has a 0% introductory APR for the first six months and no annual fee.

Capital One 360

  • No ATM withdrawal fees
  • Early paycheck
  • Interest-bearing

Capital One is an American bank with a stellar reputation for being technologically focused. A bank strong in technology is a huge plus for travelers who need to carry most of their banking through technology channels such as the internet and mobile banking.

Capital One 360 Checking Account

Their 360 checking account is worth considering if you’re going traveling. It has no monthly fees and minimums, helping you budget more effectively without worrying you’ll miss any requirements.

The account also earns interest and does not charge fees when using ATMs not part of Capital One’s network. However, keep in mind that the ATM operator may still charge you fees – which will not be reimbursed.

Incoming domestic wires are free of charge, and paychecks come in as much as two days earlier. Bill Pay and Zelle are also included – helping you keep up with any commitments you may have while traveling.

Capital One Travel Credit Cards

Capital One also offers a slew of credit cards, with several of them dedicated to travelers. Depending on the card you opt for, you’ll need a credit rating between good and excellent, with bonus miles for hotels and car rentals booked through the card. Annual fees start at $0 and go up to $395.

Citibank

  • Unlimited ATM fee refunds
  • Concierge services

Citibank, also known as Citi, is the banking arm of Citigroup – the 3rd largest bank in the US. The bank was officially formed in 1998 when Citicorp and Travelers Group merged to form Citigroup.

Citigold Account

Citibank has quite a few different accounts on offer, with some listed as Everyday accounts and others listed as Premium accounts. While you might think Premium will cost a lot more, this is not the case – most of them do not even have a monthly fee.

However, it has to be said that you need to maintain a hefty account balance with the Citigold Account Package, particularly requiring $200,000 across eligible accounts.

You’ll get unlimited refunds on non-Citi ATM fees and Citigold concierge services by Aspire Lifestyles. The account also offers a dedicated team and money other checking account features such as digital wallets and seamless money transfers.

Of course, this is not the only account Citi offers, but it is the only one with unlimited ATM fee refunds.

Citi Travel Credit Cards

Citi has a very wide selection of credit cards, with five different cards focusing on travel benefits. Most of the cards are co-branded with American Airlines.

The co-branded cards come with an introductory bonus that will earn you extra miles when spending a stipulated amount of money in the first three to four months (depending on the card).

HSBC

  • Multi-currency
  • Instant transfers
  • Mobile-only

HSBC is a British multinational bank with offices in the US and 63 other countries. It started its US operations in 1980 when it acquired 51% of Marine Midland Bank and has grown its presence to 148 branches.

HSBC Global Money Account

Their HSBC Global Money Account is a deposit account addon that will surely appeal to travelers. It’s an addon as you need to hold an eligible deposit account to get this account – which is mobile-only.

Global Money is a relatively new addition that holds eight different currencies up to $1,000,000. You can transfer money to other eligible HSBC accounts anywhere free of charge and instantaneously. The bank promises competitive exchange rates updated every minute and a half.

There is a transfer limit of $200,000 per day to your own HSBC accounts and $50,000 per day to HSBC accounts held by others. The bank is currently working on introducing new features such as instant transfers to other banks and different currencies.

If you’re an HSBC Premier client, you can also be eligible to receive an emergency encashment of up to $2,000 instantly or up to $10,000 upon authorization – a handy feature should something happen to your card or you face an emergency. Eligibility depends on several factors, including account balance and your country.

HBSC Travel Credit Cards

When it comes to credit cards, HSBC’s Premier and Elite cards offer perks for travelers, including bonus points on travel-related purchases, credit towards a TSA Precheck application, and access to airport lounges – depending on the card you use choose.

Chase Bank

  • No ATM fees worldwide
  • No wire transfer fees
  • Lounge access

Chase Bank is the banking arm of JP Morgan Chase – a multinational financial company that’s also one of the Big Four banks in the US. The bank has over 5,100 branches globally.

Chase Sapphire Account

The Chase Sapphire Banking account is a premium account with a monthly fee of $25. To waive the fee, you’ll need to have an average balance of $75,000 at the beginning of each day throughout linked eligible accounts.

The account comes with zero ATM fees worldwide, and Chase will even refund any fees charged by the ATM network operator. You also get access to their 24/7 banking service line – perfect if you’re traveling in far-flung countries at the opposite end of the world.

The account waives several other fees, including forex rate adjustments, wire transfers, and fee-free overdrafts – as long as you don’t exceed four in a 12+1 statement period. Furthermore, you also get higher limits on services such as Chase QuickDeposit and Zelle and higher limits on debit card purchases and withdrawals. The cherry on the cake is access to lounges and early ticker sales.

Chase Travel Credit Cards

Chase has more credit cards than you can shake a stick at, including several co-branded cards with several airlines, including Southwest, United Airlines, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Iberia. You’ll also find co-branded credit cards with hotel chains such as Marriot, Hyatt, and IHG.

Wise

  • No minimum balance requirement
  • 53 different currencies
  • Send money to accounts in 80 different countries

Wise, formerly known as Transfer Wise, is not a bank in the traditional sense. The account you get with Wise is more like a brokerage account. Wise is licensed to operate in most states. It offers its services through Community Federal Savings Bank in the states it is not licensed.

Wise Accounts

Wise accounts behave very differently than bank accounts. You can hold accounts from different jurisdictions, including the US, UK, EU, etc. The account has no minimum balance requirements and can hold as many as 53 different currencies, helping you avoid foreign transaction fees and exchange rate losses.

It’s important to note that this does not mean there are no transfer fees. A comparison chart of Wise’s website shows that one competitor is cheaper. These fees may change, so it’s always better to check different options before making a transfer.

Wise is very transparent about its fees and will even help you make sure you send the correct amount through the freely-available conversion and fee calculator available right on their website.

You can send money to accounts in 80 different countries. The account includes Direct Debit, which allows you to pay bills from pretty much anywhere.

Wise Debit Card

Wise does not offer credit cards but has an optional debit card you can use with your account. There is a one-time fee of $9, and the first $100 withdrawn from any ATM (including foreign ATMs) is free of charge every month.

Other financial institutions to consider

You might want to consider some additional financial institutions when choosing a financial partner for your travels. Worth mentioning are credit unions such as Navy Federal Credit Union and American Airlines Credit Union – both of which have excellent accounts for those who travel.

Keep in mind that most credit unions are membership-based. You will need to satisfy their membership criteria before joining, usually restricted to those who work with a particular company or live in a specific geographical area.

You might also want to consider online-only such as Chime. While neobanks might not offer all of the services a traditional bank offers, they tend to have much lower fees and are extremely app-focused, which will help you get the services you need from your phone.

How To Choose The Right Travel Bank

Instead of preparing a definite list, we thought it might be best to prepare a list of things you might want to consider. Of course, some of the items in the list may not apply to you at all.

The important thing here is to understand your requirements and how much you value different features and perks. Following this strategy is your best bet for choosing the right bank for you.

Checking account

A checking account is the most basic financial product, allowing you to make and receive payments and hold money. Here it’s essential to check for any account requirements, such as minimum balance requirements.

Foreign transaction fees

Foreign transaction fees are fees charged when transacting in a foreign currency other than US Dollar.

If you’re traveling as a digital nomad or for work, taking such fees is important as they may eat your income.

Mobile app and online banking

If you’re jet-setting around the globe, visiting your local branch whenever an issue crops up might be logistically impossible. Avoid unnecessary frustration and pick a bank that offers solid mobile apps that allow you to access the banking services you need.

Check out the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for customer reviews to ensure there are no glaring problems that might ruin the experience.

ATM fees

As a traveler, paying an ATM fee for ATM withdrawals may be very costly, whether through a debit card or a credit card. Having access to free ATMs can help you save a lot in the long run.

Very few banks offer ATM fee reimbursement for withdrawing money from an international ATM, but it’s not unheard of either.

Account fees and bank charges

Some fees and bank charges are inevitable, but some may be optional. Different banks tend to have different fee structures.

Understanding how you use banking services can help you choose the bank that offers the most cost-effective structure for you. Be careful of additional fees such as overdraft fees and currency conversion fees. Make sure you know how much they are and how to avoid them.

Interest

You need to be on the lookout for two types of interest – APY and APR. APY is what you earn on your balance, while APR is what you pay on outstanding balances.

APRs are typically low, especially on a checking account, but can provide you with a tidy sum over time (don’t expect it to pay for your next trip).

APRs are mostly associated with credit cards and can be pretty high – depending on several factors, including your credit score.

Traveler rewards

Getting paid to travel may sound like a dream job, but it is entirely possible thanks to traveler-focused credit cards.

You’ll earn rewards for purchases related to traveling, with miles being one of the most common rewards available. Some credit cards will reward you with free meals and hotel stays, so it’s always worth looking out for them.

Bonus travel banking tips

To make sure your travels go as smoothly as possible, it is always a good idea to notify your bank of where you will be traveling.

Many banks geo-locate login attempts and temporarily block the account if they sense unusual activity, such as logins from different countries. The last thing you want is not to be able to check in to your hotel in the middle of the night. We’ve all been there!

You might also want to stay away from public Wi-Fi, especially when logging in to your banking app. Consider getting a VPN service before flying out, which encrypts all of your data before leaving your phone, ensuring it is safe from any prying eyes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best bank for international travelers?

We all have different financial needs, requirements, and goals. With different banks offering different packages, the best bank for you is the one that meets all your needs.

We looked at vastly different banks in our list of top picks, giving you a clear picture of what is on offer today. Some might focus on low fees and low minimum balance requirements, while others may offer more perks that a frequent traveler might appreciate, such as exclusive lounge access, cash back, and others.

Where should I put savings for travel?

There are different types of accounts for keeping your travel savings. The best account for you will largely depend on your travel plans.

Suppose you are planning on travel soon. In that case, a CD (Certificate of Deposit) might offer you a higher APY (Annual Percentage Rate) interest rate while giving you a strong incentive to not spend the money on something else.

A high-yield savings account might be better if you’re traveling soon or frequently.

What American banks are overseas?

Most if not all major American banks have an overseas presence. Large investment banks such as Chase have investment offices in many different jurisdictions. Keep in mind that even US banks with an international presence often serve different purposes. Investment banks are more than likely to have offices where they can trade the market rather than branches you can visit to deposit checks.

Other banks, such as Wise, are international by their very nature and will offer the same service in the US as in the most exotic country you can think of – with some exceptions and as long as you have an internet connection.