When moving to a new city, state or country, having a local bank can come in handy. Originally, when we moved to Spain, we were not planning on opening a bank account for just our 9-month stay. We figured that without any income to deposit, there was really no reason to bank differently than we had while we were on vacation. Turns out, we were wrong.
We thought it might help other travelers to know how we opened a bank account abroad. While it’s not too different than opening an account in the US, you will want to know why you might need a bank account while living abroad, what services to look for, and what to bring along with you.
Bring a good bank card from home:
Before we embarked on our big trip in 2016, we opened a joint account with Charles Schwab, which was a great financial decision for us! With our Schwab checking account and ATM card, we are able to:
- Take money out of ANY ATM in the world without paying an ATM fee! Testing in 38 countries around the WORLD!
- A lot of the functions can be done electronically, which means you can manage your finances from anywhere with WIFI.
- Live chat on their website is actually AMAZING; we’ve used it many times and they are some of the best customer service reps we’ve ever dealt with! And again, if you cannot call due to being outside the country, this is a great alternative to get help when you need it.
I swear, I don’t work for Schwab, but they make a quality product that will make your life easier when you are traveling. We used it on short trips as well as when we lived in Spain and it has always been great. If you can find a bank that can offer these services for you, I would definitely open up an account before you leave. It may save you a lot of headache, stress and money in the long run.
But I still need an account abroad, what do I need to do?
Even with our fabulous Schwab card, we found that we still were in need of a local bank account. Some services, for example paying for gym memberships or cellphone sim cards, required a European bank account. There is also times when we needed documents or other paperwork services that only banks can provide, and being a customer definitely made it easier.
Opening a bank account in a foreign country, especially in Europe, has gotten more challenging over the past few years for US citizens. But it’s not impossible, and if you are staying for the long haul, it shouldn’t be too tricky for you. The main thing you’ll need to be able to prove that you are in the country for extended period of time and are in need of local bank services. Going for work or as a student studying aboard are sufficient reasons for you to be able to open a bank up!
Where to bank:
Start by researching local banks around where you will be living. For us living in Spain, our choices were Santander, Caixa Bank, BBVA and Sabadell. We looked for a bank that was not only popular in Spain, but also had branches in other European countries too. Be sure to look at the various types of accounts they offer, extra services or charges, and benefits that each bank provides. For example, BBVA has a higher ATM withdrawal limit which might be necessary if you pay rent in cash (like we did). Some banks, like Caixa Bank, are known to do better with international clients and might be better at accommodating your needs. Some banks require that you have a cellphone that works in the country for privacy verifications and alerts. Just be sure to do a bit of exploring and choose a bank that’s right for you!
What to bring with you:
We decided to go with Santander and this is what we brought with us to open up the account:
- Proof of student status/proof of employment status
- Passports with our Spanish visas inside
- Address verification, such as a piece of mail or rental lease
- Some euros to put into the account
With the help of a bank worker, you should be all set to open your new bank account! If you do not know the local language, try to bring someone who can help translate or an app so that you can communicate effectively.
If you are still concerned, or have more questions, check out this great blog from NerdWallet for more information.