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Eliminating Fees

Best Bank Accounts for Foreign Travel & Expats

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Best Bank Accounts for Foreign Travel & Expats

My sister is studying abroad in New Zealand this semester, and yes, I am totally jealous. A few weeks before she left, our entire family was running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to make sure everything was in place for her departure- passport, visa, international phone, and my responsibility- appropriate bank accounts and financial tools for her time away.

Not only do I write about money for a living, I’ve spent my fair share of time traveling and working around the world- most notably on a cruise ship around South America and prior to that, touring through Asia for seven months. If only I’d known then what I know now about accessing basic financial services internationally, I’d have saved myself a whole lot of cash on simple things like accessing my own money.

My sister is lucky enough to have the benefit of my experience (and mistakes) to avoid any unnecessary headaches that could potentially arise from minor financial details, allowing her to enjoy her international journey without stressing over mundane money realities.

Banking abroad can be simple and affordable if you know before you go and prepare properly with these steps.

Use the Right Bank

Some checking accounts and debit cards are better suited toward international travel than others. The best way to get your hands on local currency abroad is not through currency exchange companies- that while convenient, charge huge transaction fees and inflated exchange rates- but through ATMs.

While ATMs are known for giving the best exchange rates, they can also come with hefty fees if you don’t use the right bank. Chase for example, charges a $5 withdrawal fee at ATMs outside the U.S. That’s a high price to pay for accessing your own money.

Some alternatives allow you to avoid international ATM fees, regardless of which ATM you use.

The Global ATM Alliance also provides an affordable cash access alternative. The alliance is a group of major international banks that allows customers to use their debit card at another bank within the alliance with no international withdrawal fees. Members include:

  • Bank of America (USA)
  • Barclays (UK)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • BNL (Italy)
  • UkrSibbank (Ukraine)
  • TEB (Turkey)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Peru, Chile, and the Caribbean)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany and Spain)
  • Westpac (Australia and New Zealand)

Other fees- like an international transaction or currency exchange fees- might still apply though.

Research your options and put appropriate accounts in place before leaving. Again, you’ll want to notify your bank of all your travel dates and locales prior to departure.

Set Up Online Access

Before leaving, make sure you’ve set up online access to whatever accounts and bills you’ll need to maintain or access abroad. You don’t want to hassle over basic set up or linking appropriate accounts when you’re already on the road. Have systems in place so that payments can be made quickly, easily, and hassle-free. Designating a trusted parent or sibling equipped with your passwords to serve as a back up stateside financial monitor can give you additional piece of mind should secure internet access prove more difficult than originally anticipated during your travels.

Get the Right Credit Card

I know a lot of college students are being introduced to credit for the first time, and throwing traveling abroad into the mix can make things even more complicated. Credit cards are a great resource to have though- not only for day-to-day purchases, but also as valuable “in case of emergency” tools and added layers of fraud protection when making purchases.

While roughly 90 percent of credit cards charge foreign transaction fees there are some fee free alternatives. Not having to pay an additional two to four percent per purchase can save you quite a bit over the course of a semester. Notable fee free options include:

As soon as you’ve committed to dates for your semester abroad, start researching credit options. If, as a student, your credit profile is thin or your score is low, you may have trouble qualifying for cards that carry perks like free foreign transactions. I added my sister as an authorized user on my credit card so that she could enjoy the benefits of my good credit history during her time abroad. Don’t worry, I laid out the ground rules before she left and I can monitor all her purchases should spending start getting out of control.

Regardless of what card you choose, be sure to notify your credit card company of the locations and dates of your travel. You don’t want your card to be flagged and deactivated, leaving you financially stranded.

Exchange Emergency Currency Prior to Departure

Banks don’t always have the best exchange rates, but changing over some money at your local branch prior to your international departure can be helpful in case of an emergency situation or snafu upon arrival in your host country.

When I traveled to Germany last year, I went directly to the airport ATM to withdraw some Euros. The ATM wasn’t accepting my debit card so I had to use my credit card to take out a cash advance. It cost me $35 in fees just to get enough cash out for a cab ride to another ATM outside the airport. Save yourself from last minute financial stress and fees by having local currency already on your person when you land.

Dealing with a different form of currency, ever changing exchange rates, and long lists of potential fees can be a bit overwhelming at first. Do your research well in advance of your departure to make sure your money is easily accessible in the country of your study while minimizing any fees from the banks and credit card companies. If you can set up all the appropriate accounts before your trip, you can enjoy the life of the Kiwis or the history of Europe or the culture of South America without stressing over banal money needs- like how you’re going to pay for your newly assigned textbook or that skydive you’ve been talking about with your new international friends.

*The information related to Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Stefanie O
Stefanie O'Connell |

Stefanie O'Connell is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stefanie at [email protected]

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Eliminating Fees

What You Need to Know About Wire Transfers

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Need to send money quickly? Or maybe someone wants to send money to you fast. If so, a wire transfer might be the solution.

In some cases, like closing on a new home, it might even be a requirement. But the term wire transfer is often confused with other types of electronic transfers including services from places like Western Union, ACH transfers and peer-to-peer payment apps such as Venmo or Square Cash. We’ll explain the differences and how to complete a wire transfer safely.

What is a wire transfer?

Speed is what sets a wire transfer apart from the other services we mentioned earlier. With a wire transfer, you can send money electronically from your bank account to another person’s or company’s bank account instantly. And if you are owed money, a company or individual can send money to you with the same speed.

If you are sending a wire transfer domestically — to another individual or company in the United States — the funds you are sending should be available during the same business day. If you are receiving funds from a company or individual based in the country, you should also receive those dollars in your account the same day.

Wire transfers happen quickly because they are electronic. When someone asks for a “bank wire,” a bank or credit union sends funds to an account holder at another bank or credit union through an electronic network. The most common of these networks are SWIFT, Fedwire or the Clearing House Interbank Payments System known as CHIPS.

There are two main types of wire transfers: domestic and international.

  • A domestic wire transfer occurs between individuals or companies in the same country. These transfers can happen quickly. To complete a domestic wire transfer, you’ll usually just need some basic information such as the recipient’s bank name and address, the bank’s routing code, also known as its ABA number and bank account number.
  • An international wire transfer happens when a person or company sends money to an individual or company in a different country. For an international wire transfer, you might need to provide additional information. For instance, Bank of America says that you’ll need to state the purpose of the wire transfer, the currency that the recipient of your transfer is using and the recipient’s SWIFT code or International Bank Account Number, better known as an IBAN.

How to complete a wire transfer

Fortunately, wiring funds is an easy process. The fastest way usually involves signing up for online banking at your local bank and then initiating a transfer from your financial institution’s online banking portal.

Wells Fargo, for instance, recommends that its customers sign up for its online banking and then visit the “Transfer & Pay” section to enroll in its wire transfer service.

You then simply choose the recipient of your funds and the account from which you want to send your money. You might have to provide additional information if you are sending funds to a different country.

There might be a limit on how much money you can send through a wire transfer. For instance, if you a completing a wire transfer from Chase online, you can only transfer a maximum of $100,000 a day if you have a personal account at the bank. You can transfer up to your available bank account balance if you send a wire transfer through the phone or by visiting a branch in person.

Make sure, though, that you have enough funds to cover your wire transfer. Your bank won’t complete your transfer if you don’t have enough money in your account to cover the amount you want to send.

How long does a wire transfer take?

Speed is the biggest advantage of sending a wire transfer. It’s no surprise, then, that wire transfers can take as few as one business day to clear.

Gurnee, Ill.-based Consumers Credit Union says on its website that it usually takes half a business day for the funds from a domestic wire transfer to arrive in an account. If you send a transfer to a U.S. account in the morning, the funds will usually be available that afternoon.

Wiring money to international destinations takes longer, usually from three to five business days. TD Bank, for instance, says on its website that international wire transfers usually take three to five business days to close.

How much does it cost to send a wire transfer?

Most banks and credit unions will charge a fee to send a wire transfer. These fees vary according to the bank or credit union you are using.

Ally Bank, for instance, charges a $20 fee every time you wire money to another financial institution in the U.S.

Citibank, though, charges a range of fees depending on the type of account you have with the institution. Citi’s fees for domestic wire transfers range from $17.50 to $25. It charges more for international wire transfers, $20-$35. Citi does waive both its domestic and international wire transfer fees for customers with higher-level accounts.

Bank of America charges a $30 fee for outbound domestic wire transfers, $35 for international transfers sent in foreign currency and $45 for international wire transfers sent in U.S. dollars.

You might also have to pay to receive wired funds. Wells Fargo, for instance, charges $15 for its clients to receive a wire transfer.

Are wire transfers safe?

Wire transfers are generally safe, if you are wiring money to someone you know or to a company for a service provided. Even then, it’s recommended that you call to confirm wiring instructions rather than rely on emailed instructions — read more about phishing scams targeting homebuyers below.

Scams can happen when people wire money to strangers, both in the U.S. and in other countries.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation says that criminals like wire transfers because the money in these transactions arrives in bank accounts so quickly. Because of this, criminals can get their money before their victims discover they’ve been scammed.

Why would anyone wire money to a stranger? The FDIC says that scammers might convince victims to wire them funds to claim their winnings from a lottery that doesn’t exist. Others might offer victims a profitable work-from-home opportunity, but require a wire transfer of funds to get this opportunity started.

The FDIC recommends that you always ignore requests from strangers asking you to wire them money. As the agency says, this is usually the sign of a scam. Anytime someone pressures you to wire money quickly, you have probably been targeted by a scammer.

A common scam? The FDIC says that a criminal might call you, saying that one of your loved ones is stranded in a foreign country and needs you to wire cash so this relative can get home.

The best way to avoid scams is to only send money to people you know and companies that have performed a service for you or from which you have ordered a product. Never wire money to a stranger, no matter how convincing a story that stranger may be telling.

Mortgage closing scams. Fraudsters take advantage of the flurry of emails common at the end of a homebuying process as the closing date approaches. A common phishing email might falsely claim that wiring instructions have changed, instructing the homebuyer to send closing funds to an account that scammers control. Even if you don’t receive any suspicious emails, it’s good to call your real estate agent or settlement agent to confirm instructions and that funds have “cleared.”

Wire transfer vs. ACH payment

Wire transfers and ACH payments are similar. Both are ways to send money from one account to another without the use of physical checks.

But an ACH payment — a payment made with the help of an automated clearing house — differs from a wire transfer because it relies on what is known as a batch process. ACH payments typically power the transactions you make when you use online banking to pay bills.

Your bank will receive ACH transactions in a batch, which are then processed by the Automated Clearing House. Then, these transactions are dispersed to the proper bank accounts.

Because of this extra step, it takes longer for the money from an ACH transaction to show up in your account. The money could appear in your account the next business day, though this can vary depending on your bank.

Alternatives to wire transfers

You could always choose a personal check or cashier’s check, but if you want to send money to another source electronically, you do have some other options. However, if you’re looking to skirt your bank’s wire transfer fees, several of these have fees of their own.

Apps: You can use financial apps such as PayPal, Square Cash and Venmo to send money to service providers and individuals. Beware, though, that “instant” transfers usually carry a fee — Venmo, for example, charges $0.25 for a transfer to an eligible Mastercard or Visa debit card.

Be careful with these, though. As with wire transfers, you might fall prey to a scammer. Never send money to a stranger. And if someone you don’t know requests money from you through an app such as PayPal or Venmo, don’t send anything unless you can verify that the request is legitimate.

ACH transfers: As mentioned above, Automated Clearing House transfers — better known as ACH transfers — can help you move money from your bank account to the account of another. The money, though, often won’t show up for several business days.

Most banks don’t charge ACH fees, but Bank of America is an exception, charging $3 for its customers to send an ACH transfer to another bank account.

Money transfer services: Western Union or MoneyGram transfers are sometimes called “wires” and although you could walk into a Western Union store today, send money (for a fee) to your sister in Dubuque, Iowa, that she pockets a few minutes later, it would take longer to show up in her bank account.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter |

Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here

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