Choosing correctly your bank is absolutely fundamental as fees (at ATMs or maintenance of the account) and services can be very different depending the bank you will choose. What are the traditional criteria to meet in order to differentiate all the different propositions by the banks and are the online banks able to compete with traditional ones when it comes to fees and services?
How to choose and what are the best criteria to differentiate the banks?
Here comes the tricky question of the access to our savings while travelling and what to do in case of emergency and big issues (loss and stealing of credit card, too low weekly withdrawal cap, transfer which is not happening…). What are the most reactive banks and the most flexible ones when it comes to withdraw and pay abroad?
First of all, the banking fees, one the main issues for travellers. We can split them in different categories:
- Fees when you withdraw some cash at the ATMs, if the bank of the ATM is not your bank or a partner bank, such as the Australian Westpac and the French BNP Paribas)
- Fees of management of your account, they are deducted from you bank account once a month.
- Fees when you pay with your card.
- Insurance against loss or stealing of your credit/debit card.
- Subscription fees of the credit/debit card itself
Which bank offers?
The traditional banks (as for France, BNP, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole, but also HSBC, Santander…) may not the best ones adapted to a long-term trip, as they are often compared to online banks (in France, Boursorama belonging to Societe Generale, Hello Bank belonging to BNP…). Indeed the online banks allow to make savings on withdrawal as well as they are more accessible in case you have any problems.
Be careful as some offers may appear extremely attractive but this may not be the case after all, like the International Jazz option from Societe Generale, which is removing any fees when you withdraw money from foreign ATMs but is coming with a prohibitive annual subscription (more than €300).
A interesting solution, if you continue with your traditional bank is to choose the ones having many partnerships with other foreign banks allowing the withdraw without any fees in other partners’ ATMs. The best ones are BNP and HSBC, more information on their website. But annual subscription and fees of management of the account are not free.
Among the online banks, Monabanq (which offers 25 withdrawals and 50 payments without fees per year, then 1.5% per withdrawal and allows you to benefit from a good insurance for the first three months of your trip for €3 per month) or Boursorama (1.97% of fees for withdrawals outside of the Euro zone) are the best ones according to us. In comparison withdrawal at BNP would 2.90% + €3 in non-partners banks for example. The credit cards respectively cost €110 at Monabanq and free at Boursorama. You can also take the premier visa card: Even if it slightly more expensive, you will have more flexibility (weekly withdrawal cap is higher, around €920 per week and €5,000 per month at Boursorama, the insurance for the first three months of the trip, free annual subscription costs…)
A few last advice to respect when you manage your online bank account and your cards while travelling:
- If you open a new bank account before leaving (at an online bank for example), do it around 3 months before leaving. Indeed, you will save some last minutes worries or if you need to justify your monthly salary to the banks, sometimes mandatory to open an account at online banks (around €1,000 for a normal credit/debit card, €,1800 for a premier card at Monabanq or Boursorama, or €5,000 savings at Boursorama). Generally no conditions required for traditional banks.
- Bring two cards per person in two different places (for example ventral bag or small backpack) in order to have one in case of emergency if you have lost/been stolen the first one. Also, sometimes (but it is rare), the Mastercard or the Visa is not working so bring the two kinds of cards if you can!
- Note the phone numbers if you need to do opposition quickly with your bank (often written in the card itself ou you can find it on internet) as thefts or scams (internet, taxi…) are diversified and plentiful!
- Tell your bank you are going travelling, as some of them may block mechanically if you withdraw too many times in one week or if they think it is coming from a strange source abroad as they suspect a fraud.
- Be careful with weekly withdrawal caps as it can happen you have taken out too much the week before resulting you are stuck the following week! If there was an emergency, or another big purchase…Talk to your bank to fix that before you go, and increase the cap.
- Very often, some cards ask you to confirm your purchases with a code you just received by sms, but be sure you have access to it! If you don’t have phone connection, didn’t keep your original mobile phone number…You can be in trouble so ask you bank to remove this safety reason or, if it is impossible (in rare cases), just keep a chip from you home country as well as a prepaid card valid for 1 year (or with €5 monthly subscription for example, just enough to receive sms).
- Always prefer the ATMs which don’t take any commissions for the withdrawals you do abroad. For example, if you are BNP Paribas customer, much better to withdraw from the partners banks ATMs such as Scottiabank in South America or Westpac in Asia-Pacific. Anyway fees will always be shown on the screen before you take out the money.
- Bear in mind it is always better to leave your card at the hotel (locked room or in a safe if you sleep in a dormitory) if you spend the day outside visiting and coming back to your hotel for the nigh. Take only cash if you can, you never know. Same principle as for the other precious documents (passport, driving license…)
- Try to change local currency even before arriving to the country to avoid last minute annoyance (no exchange counter, or only the expensive ones of the airport or no ATM to withdraw money quickly)
- Travellers cheques are now obsolete.
- Open a local bank account if you are going to stay for a quite a long time in the country and do some transfers on it to avoid paying multiple fees (for example if you do a working holidays visa lasting for several months and you will receive an income in Australia or New-Zealand, you can open an account at Commonwealth Bank or Westpac)
- Don’t withdraw multiple low amounts at the ATMs as you will also multiply the fees. Indeed the home bank will always take fixed fees on each and every withdrawal (and in some cases both the home bank and the local bank will do so!). According to us, a “correct” withdrawal is around €250/300 (not too much either). Just be careful as some countries (like Indonesia) limit the amount of money you are able to take out each time (around €150 in Indonesia).
- Ask for a power of attorney to a trustworthy person at home in case of any problems related to your bank, so he can sign papers on your behalf.
Our personal choice
After several weeks hesitating which banks and cards were the best ones for our trip, we finally chose N26, a German bank now present in 17 countries (it means you have to have an address in one of the 17 countries to be able to order a card and open a bank account) but it is now expanding internationally (notably in North America). Referenced by the European Central Bank, N25 offers great advantages for frequent travellers, with different kind of contracts and card:
- The offer N26 Mastercard basic => Taking money in Euros are free for five times during the month (after you will need to pay 2€ for each of them, not depending on the amount). Also, the payments with the cards are free and unlimited whatever the currency and the country you are travelling are.
- The offer N26 Mastercard premium => No fees for when you take money abroad, with the official Mastercard exchange rate (obviously, you could still have potential fees linked to the ATMs you are using, they are not linked to your bank), but also insurances for your travel (delayed flights, stolen belongings bought with your N26 cards, health fees…). This insurances is valid for the first 90 days of your trip and we advise you to take another one beginning right after this time. All information available on this page. The Mobile App is very good and useful and you can choose your secret pin. The card is 5.90 euros per month with a minimum 1 year contract.
Revolut in on the same niche, very good as well but a bit less interesting according to us. Very dynamic start-up, however it is not an official bank agreed by the European Central Bank, so you can consider it “less safe”. Moreover, fees are beginning as soon as you take more than 650euros per month from your account, very quick then. And there is not an official insurance offered by the service, like N26 through its partnership with Allianz. Lastly, services are free only if the currency is considered into Revolut option, so you can reckon it potentially limits you in your travels, However, it is a good option and you can find all details there.
Always take 2 or more cards minimum with you, in different bags, as one may be stolen or lost. Also, take at least 1 Mastercard and 1 Visa card as some ATMs can only recognize a specific card. Lastly, it is recommended to have a bank from an online bank but also a card from a traditional bank, as they can offer better services (customer services, 24hours availability…). Have a good and safe trip!