You probably have your bank at home, but now that you decided to travel, or to expatriate, which one are you going to choose? Which one is better while travelling around the world?
Of course, in this post, I will talk about my experience, my needs and expectations from my bank. Your choice will clearly depends on what you need.
Also, it is just my advice and opinion, I am not paid to write this post (unfortunately…:) ).
The different banks
Today, you have 3 different types of bank (just speaking of the main ones):
You can think that is great that you can contact your usual bank advisor while traveling because he/she knows your profile and can help you quickly. However, I do not recommend to ask your local bank to accompany you during your expatriation or your travels.
First, your advisor has knowledge about local currency and local regulations and laws. He/She will probably be helpless if you have any problem abroad. Maybe just to freeze your card and that’s it.
Sometimes, the banks have partners with other banks in different countries. It could be easier to open a local bank account and the transfer fees might be a little bit cheaper between the 2 specific partners.
However, the fees are always quite high as international transfers and international cards are definitely a very good business for these banks. And I don’t even talk about the outrageous currencies’ rates.
I clearly don’t recommend having a retail/commercial bank for your travels. It will be way too expensive and not quite helpful.
However, if you decide to expatriate, choosing a local bank might be a good option. You might as well need one for real estate.
When I moved to Ireland, I didn’t have a local bank account and just an online international bank account. The country accepted it quite well. As long as you had the money, real estate agent don’t care about the bank you are using. And shops as well. Just make sure your card is a Mastercard or Visa. There are the 2 networks that are mainly accepted everywhere in this world 🙂
In the UK, I wanted to settle a little bit, and the currency rate was awful with my french bank, so I decided to open a local bank account. I chose HSBC as I knew they were operating in France too and it could be helpful if I wanted to retrieve my account, just in case. But you have plenty more firms and you will easily make your choice with the bank that meet your requirements.
They do exactly like retail/commercial bank… But they only do it online! A few new brands, but also most commercial banks also offer online banking nowadays.
If you take the online offer from a commercial bank… You just have access to your bank account online and have access to an online advisor… For most cases. And that’s it. No change. No lower fees or additional cards.
Some commercial banks also open a new brand, totally independent, and you also have new companies (like insurances) that didn’t have agencies anyway. In these cases, yes, there is a difference. You don’t have access to the existing agencies and everything need to be done online. Usually, they attract customers with a free debit/credit card but you also need a certain level of revenues in some situations. You have access to an online advisor, and the transfer fees or currency rates are also cheaper and more attractive than commercial banks.
They could be a nice and smooth transition from your commercial bank. HSBC is actually famous for online banking and also to facilitate opening new bank account operating different currencies. But definitely not cheap.
That’s what I am talking about! THE solution for sure. Well, to me at least 😉
Basically, a neobank is online banking. However, I would like to differentiate it with a traditional online bank. A neobank doesn’t offer you the same services (yet) than an online or commercial bank. At the beginning, you could only open a current account. Nowadays, they offer plenty of services. I think Revolut is the one that developped the most I think. Revolut added investments accounts and many services. Of course, others developped different services as well, regarding their customers’ needs.
They don’t have advisor because there is no need. There is no life insurance. Sometimes simply no insurance at all. The needs are really basic: to have a bank account and a debit card that can be accepted everywhere in the world with low transfer fees and great currency rates.
Most of them are free. Wise, Revolut, N26, etc. They are simply free. Some offer options and you will have to pay every months. They offer some services like the access to airports’ lounges or higher transfer or monthly payment options.
Revolut now offers medical and travel insurances with a premium account (but it’s not free of course). N26 followed, and did the same. They both do like traditional bank: you have different cards and associated services, and need to pay 🙂
On the next part, I will talk to you about Wise, as this is the one I know, and use of course.
One last word about them. You are probably worried because you don’t know these names. So you think you can’t trust them. However, they are approved banks, authorized by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority). Without this authorization… Then no right to be a bank.
I left France and started to expatriate in 2016. I needed a bank who can follow me everywhere, that I could open before leaving my country and without too much paperwork.
Wise was quite new at this time and was extremely basic. A debit card. A bank account. And that’s it.
Well, actually, they offered 2 bank accounts in one. One in Euros based in Germany and another one in British Pounds in London. You could open these accounts without being a German or British citizen.
The currency rate is exactly the one on the market! No charge! Absolutely brilliant. They actually make their revenue on the transfers. But they are cheaper than online and commercial banks for sure. And they are fast as well.
What's nice with it?
What I like with Wise is that they evolve with time. At the beginning, when you opened you bank account, you only had 2 accounts, in Germany and London and maybe a few currencies, the main ones.
Now, with only one profile, I have a Euro bank account (now located in Brussels, Belgium), one in British Pounds, one in US dollars, one in New-Zealand, one in Australia, and the most recent, one in Singapore. And I can pay around the world with more than 50 different currencies without worrying about enormous fees.
More recently, they even opened Romanian, Turkish, Canadian and Hungarian bank accounts.
In one click on my app, I can just transform my Euros in US Dollars or Russian Rubles. I don’t have to think about going to the exchange agency or withdrawing money at the ATM.
I also have an online card, that I can use for online shopping. It is different than my debit card and it is not linked to it. If you buy from a weird website, it offers you an additional security.
In addition, I have now the ability to host my direct bills and my salary.
Again, this is free. I only pay my transfer fees when I transform my currencies or when I send money to my commercial bank that I kept in my country.
Wise offers only one unique debit card. Unless it’s competitors, it didn’t choose this path with multiple services and insurances. If you choose Wise, it’s for its simplicity and efficiency. You usually have another bank account in your home country.
I started to cruise in 2019, I guess you can imagine that this is very useful when I stop in a different country with a different currency every day, right!? 😉
Finally, a small update. Since 2022, Wise offered me cashback on my Euro and US dollars balance. Probably to keep up from their competitors that already offered cashback on current bank accounts.
There is also an interest-earning fund on the British pounds balance in partnership with BlackRock. But I haven’t tried it yet.
How to register?
Simply go to their website and follow the process!
You can also register with my link. As I am a existing customer, this special will offer you the transfer fee for your first transfer (up to 500 euros or equivalent). For me, it’s 90 euros on my account when 3 people register with this link.
I shall remind you that this is my personal opinion, based on my experience and my expectations/needs.
I chose a neobank to follow me on my adventures as it was convenient. One unique debit card. Several current accounts in multiple countries. And sooooo many different currencies with a great transfer fee.
I only regret that neobanks don’t offer (yet) credit cards as it could be convenient in many countries. For example, in the USA as credit cards are a very popular payment method.
I also noticed that online bank’s cards and neobank’s cards are still not recognized everywhere. For example, in France, some rental cars’ companies simply refused my cards (online and neo). They said they didn’t trust these banks and wanted a card from a retail bank.
I hope I was just unlucky and it changed by now 🙂 But just in case, you should probably keep your local bank account 😉