Where is the Optimal Choice for Expats to Open an Account: an Overview of International Banks and Payment Systems

International Banks and Payment Systems

Relocating to a new place, whether it’s a permanent or temporary move, entails addressing a multitude of questions, ranging from finding housing to selecting a new grocery shopping list. Amidst these considerations, expats sometimes overlook the importance of choosing a new bank and opening an account. Later, they discover that continuing to use their previous account and card comes at a steep cost due to fees and unfavorable exchange rates.

Which bank is the best for expats to open an account with, ensuring profitability, security, and convenience? Providing a definitive answer to this question is impossible. Sometimes, it would be best to open an offshore account in Cayman Islands, while other times, selecting one of the European payment systems proves more advantageous. It all depends on your specific needs and the conditions of the country you are relocating to.

However, there are reasonably universal solutions that can meet the requirements of a majority of expats. The experts at International Wealth, a leading website on offshore services, have shared insights on these solutions.

How to choose the optimal international bank?             

There is no single bank that would be suitable for every expatriate. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the key criteria for selecting the appropriate institution.

The criteria are as follows:

  • expat’s citizenship
  • country of residence (temporary or permanent)
  • country of relocation
  • need for a multi-currency account
  • eligibility to open a bank account in the new country
  • frequency of travel
  • planned transfer amounts and frequency
  • bank reliability and convenience of its services.

Naturally, all transactions must be legal and supported by proper documentation.

Based on these criteria, banks should be chosen. As practice has shown, in many cases, expats, especially those who travel extensively (such as digital nomads), may find digital banks or payment systems more suitable due to their greater flexibility.

Which banks do expats from different countries choose?

Overall, the choice of bank is individual, but there are solutions that are popular and proven by expatriates from around the world. Here are a few examples.

For American expats, Charles Schwab is recommended. This bank reimburses the ATM withdrawal fee directly to the account. However, it is only available to US citizens.

STACK is recommended for Canadians. It is not exactly a bank, but this system is suitable for expats for card top-ups and fee-free cash withdrawals (if a suitable ATM is found).

Among European residents, N26 and Revolut are popular digital banks that can be accessed through mobile applications. They are extremely convenient for travel, as expatriates can make fee-free currency conversions and withdraw small amounts of cash from ATMs without fees. However, fees may increase when crossing certain thresholds. Revolut has relatively weak customer support, while N26 receives praise for theirs.

If you are interested in money transfers, the Wise system is highly respected. This system does not charge transfer fees and uses real exchange rates for currency conversions. Expatriates can order a card and withdraw money from one of the 2.3 million ATMs worldwide.

If you are interested in traditional banking for significant amounts of money without any trendy neo-banks or payment systems, then consider banks in Switzerland for non-residents. This country offers a wide range of options, ranging from the classic UBS to a true, traditional private bank like Reichmuth. Only a few such banks are left, and in this case, bankers take full responsibility for the funds in the client’s account without any compromises.

When it comes to Asia, there are specific challenges. On the one hand, you can open an account with HSBC, an international bank providing services for expats. However, in many popular regions, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, there may be difficulties with opening accounts quickly, both for personal and business purposes. This can be resolved through patience or by opening an account with a local payment system.

South America is popular among expatriates and has its own peculiarities when it comes to opening accounts. However, in some countries, obtaining permanent residency, such as Paraguay, is relatively easy. And after that, you can open an account already as a resident.

As for the African continent, there are also solutions available for those interested, particularly for high-risk businesses.

How to open an expatriate account in an international bank?

The recommended list of steps is as follows:

1.       Determine the characteristics of the bank and the list of services that interest you as a client.

2.       Find out which banks are willing to accept you (this depends on your citizenship and the country where you reside permanently).

3.       If you are having difficulties selecting an account, seek a free consultation from International Wealth experts. Specialists will help assess your individual needs and suggest the most suitable account options that can be opened, considering local requirements and limitations.

4.       Prepare the required set of documents, translate them, and have them authenticated.

5.       If you are dealing with payment systems, you can open an account remotely. If it is a traditional bank, you may need to schedule a personal visit and go to the bank yourself or hire a representative with power of attorney.

6.       Wait for the bank’s decision.

The standard set of documents that banks typically require when opening an expatriate account includes the following:

  • personal identification document (passport, for example)
  • proof of residential address (utility bill not older than three months, tax or bank statement).
  • source of funds confirmation (employment contract, purchase agreement, etc.)
  • minimum deposit (in some cases)
  • professional recommendations, CV (in some cases).

The bank has the right to request additional documents from the expat at any time.

There is another aspect worth mentioning. The easier it is to open an account, the easier it is to freeze and block it. This primarily applies to digital banks and payment systems. Some of them allow you to open an account within a day, but they can also close it instantly and freeze your funds with minimal justification.

The takeaway is to avoid keeping all your money in one account. Whenever possible, consider opening a second or even a third account.

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