When traveling outside the U.S., you can save money by finding a bank with low wire-transfer charges, decent currency conversion rates and competitive international bank ATM fees.
Best banks for international travel
Best for using ATMs
Although some banks offer free ATM use — including reimbursement of any fees charged by the machine’s owner — it’s usually available internationally only for those with premium checking accounts, which tend to require high minimum balances.
Not so for Schwab Bank customers who use the High Yield Investor Checking Account. There’s no minimum balance and no monthly fee, and best of all, the bank reimburses all ATM fees you incur worldwide. There are no foreign transaction fees, either.
International ATM fee reimbursement is one of the most important account features on our list. Having free access to cash machines while you’re traveling is usually cheaper than converting money at an airport or retail center, where you may be charged exorbitant exchange fees. (Read our Charles Schwab Bank review for more details.)
CAPITAL ONE 360
Best on foreign transaction fees
When you make purchases abroad, or even if you buy something online from a retailer based outside the U.S., many banks charge special fees on the transaction. Capital One 360 doesn’t.
Though it’s not the only bank that doesn’t ding you for international purchases, Capital One 360 is a NerdWallet favorite because its fees are low across the board. The bank doesn’t enforce monthly maintenance or ATM fees, even if you use a machine in another country. The owner of the ATM might charge you, but Capital One 360 won’t. It also lets you receive international wire transfers for free.
All things considered, Capital One 360 is a good option if you want to make purchases in a currency besides the U.S. dollar, either online or on foreign soil. (Read our Capital One 360 review for more details, and check out NerdWallet’s best online savings accounts for a look at one of the bank’s savings options.)
Best for expats
If you’re moving out of the U.S. or trying to maintain financial ties with another country where you previously lived, opening a bank account with a large international bank can be a wise move.
HSBC helps people relocating to other countries by allowing them to open an account before they arrive, and its mobile app lets depositors monitor and move money between HSBC accounts in multiple countries. That’s especially handy for frequent globetrotters.
The bank has several other traveler-friendly services, including the ability to send money via wire transfer. Premier checking account holders can receive international wire transfers from other HSBC accounts for free. Outgoing international wire transfers may come with a fee, determined by the destination and the amount you send.
Unless you use Premier checking, the bank charges a foreign transaction fee on debit card purchases. Still, expats will find far more pros than cons.
Best for wiring money
If you have relatives or other ties to people in another country, you may need to send them money regularly — and preferably without paying through the nose each time. No matter what method you use, check the fees and currency conversion rates against the World Bank’s remittance database so you don’t overpay.
While many banks offer customers a way to send remittances directly without going through a third-party wire transfer service, few do it as elegantly as Citibank, which offers free international transfers to other Citi accounts through the Citibank Global Transfers service.
There is a major caveat. If you need to wire money internationally to someone who doesn’t have a Citibank account, the fee could be as high as $35. (Read our Citibank review for more details.)
To determine the best accounts, we took a close look at 70 financial institutions, including the largest U.S. banks based on assets, debit card volume, Internet search traffic and other factors; the nation’s largest credit unions, based on deposits as well as broad-based membership requirements; and other notable and/or emerging players in the industry. We rated them on criteria including annual percentage rates, minimum balances, fees, digital experience and more.
Financial institutions surveyed include: Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express, Aspiration, Associated Bank, Bank5 Connect, BankDirect, Bank of America, Bank of Internet, Bank of the West, Barclays, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Boeing Employees Credit Union, BMO Harris, Capital One 360, Charles Schwab Bank, Chase, Chime, CIT, Citibank, Citizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Commerce Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, TIAA Bank, Fidelity, Fifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, First National Bank, First Tech Federal Credit Union, GoBank, Golden 1 Credit Union, GS Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Huntington Bank, KeyBank, M&T Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, PurePoint Financial, Qapital, Radius Bank, Regions Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Simple, Star One Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, State Farm Bank, Suncoast Credit Union, SunTrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TCF Bank, TD Bank, Union Bank, UFB Direct, USAA, U.S. Bank, Varo, Wells Fargo, Woodforest National Bank, and Zions Bank.