For U.S. citizens living abroad, referred to as expats, maintaining checking and other financial accounts in the United States provides several advantages, including the convenience of paying bills or making payments in the country and the ease of direct deposits for employment or Social Security payments.
However, using these accounts while living in a foreign country can be expensive due to fees. For example, ATM transaction fees can be high-anywhere from $1 to $5, if you choose the wrong bank. And without a strong mobile platform and 24-hour help centers, it may be difficult to access funds when overseas.
Below are 10 top checking accounts for expats—with proven track records. Some of the banks listed have a hefty physical presence abroad, think HSBC and Citi, and others, like Ally Bank or Capital One, operate, for the most part, as online entities. All the banks listed have been vetted with ex-pats and travelers in mind. All information has been updated as of February 2019.
Expats can use the Capital One 360 interest-bearing checking solution offered by Capital One Financial Corp. (COF) without paying maintenance, foreign transaction or ATM fees. Account owners can set up direct deposits and link 360 checking to investment accounts at Capital One to manage their portfolios online. In addition, Capital One allows you to use other forms of currency, not just the U.S. dollar when you purchase something abroad or online.
Charles Schwab Bank
For expats seeking a low-cost checking account for international use, the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account offered by the Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW) pays rebates on all ATM charges, processes transactions in foreign currencies at no charge and does not charge service fees. The account pays interest and can be linked to Apple Pay. When you open a checking account with Schwab Bank, you will need to open and be linked to a Schwab One brokerage account, as well.
There are Citibank ATM Network is available in over 40 countries, so accessing an ATM may not be a problem. A subsidiary of Citigroup Inc. (C), offers expats the convenience of handling their financial affairs in offices around the world, as well as online. With the Citi International Personal Account Package and the Citigold checking account, both of which require a minimum balance of $50,000 between deposits and other linked balances within the bank, there is no monthly maintenance fee, and international ATM and transaction fees are waived.
The downside? if you think you will be wiring money on a frequent basis out of the country, be prepared to pay upwards of $35 a transaction, if the person on the receiving end doesn't bank with Citi.
The international footprint of HSBC Holdings PLC (HSBC) provides expats an unparalleled physical presence with approximately 6,000 offices in over 70 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. HSBC Premier checking offers a variety of features, including no ATM or transaction fees, no annual fees, and emergency cash up to $10,000 if customers' cash or cards are stolen. To qualify for the Premier account, customers must maintain a minimum balance of $100,000 in linked accounts with the bank.
If you can't afford a Premier account, try an HSBC Choice or Advance checking account, both of which allow you to bypass ATM fees in specific countries.
HSBC is known for its customer service and will help you open an account overseas, even before you move. In addition, you can move your funds via its mobile app between any of your HSBC accounts, which can come in handy if you have multiple accounts across multiple countries.
Alliant Credit Union
The high-interest rate checking account at Alliant Credit Union pays an annual percentage yield (APY) of 0.65% with no minimum balance requirement and no monthly fees. Unlike many banks, credit unions often pass processing charges on transactions through to customers without markups. As a result, fees charged to expats on foreign ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases are 1% of the total transaction.
First Republic Bank
The ATM Rebate checking account offered by First Republic Bank (NYSE: FRB) offers free withdrawals at 800,000 ATMs around the world, refunds on charges for withdrawals from non-network ATMs and waived transaction fees on debit card use. The account pays interest when a minimum of $3,500 is maintained throughout each monthly statement cycle. There is a $500 minimum to open an ATM Rebate checking account.
While it only offers online banking, Ally Bank has a robust online interface for expats with free bill paying, no maintenance fees, and no monthly maintenance minimums. ATM withdrawals and debit card transactions are charged 1% of the amount of each transaction.
For expats holding investment accounts with Fidelity Investments, the debit card included with the Cash Management Account can be used to withdraw cash from over 1 million ATMs worldwide. Fidelity reimburses all ATM fees and charges 1% on transaction fees. The account also offers travel and emergency assistance, accident insurance and damage waivers for car rentals.
Navy Federal Credit Union
For active and retired members of the military who banked with the Navy Federal Credit Union while living stateside, the credit union also adds value for members living abroad. International debit card transactions are charged 0.8%, and ATM withdrawals are charged $1 plus 0.8%. The credit union pays a rebate of up to $10 per month to cover ATM charges for direct deposit accounts. The Flagship Checking account pays tiered dividend rates with a maximum APY of 0.45% for balances over $25,000.
State Department Federal Credit Union
If you or an immediate family member is employed by the U.S. Department of State, this federal credit union has a lot to offer its members. You can open a basic checking account (no minimum required) or an Advantage account with $2,000. Both accounts incur no ATM fees, and members can utilize the credit union's robust online banking system, plus its 24-hour call center. International debit card transactions are charged a debit fee of 1% of the transaction amount, but if you use your credit card instead, the fee is paid by the credit union. The advantage account pays dividend rates with an APY of 0.40%.