I love to simplify my finances and have been ever since online banking started. Automated payments, savings, and rent deposits from my tenants make my life so much easier. But there is one thing I can’t do: having just one bank account. I need my French account to pay my taxes and receive birthday gifts from my mum :). International bank number one is in the UK, I get rent money on that one, the occasional freelance work payment, and pay all my bills and taxes on my UK property. International bank number two is in Guatemala. I have a US dollars account there, to add to the fun. Because the Guatemalan currency is something few banks deal with, I can’t really have all my banking under one roof.
The good part is that if a bank fails me, I still have a few more institutions to turn to in order to retrieve part of my funds. I can also spread the currency fluctuation risk between US dollars, British Pounds and Euros. During the year, if the Euros come to a high, I will transfer some of my savings into Pounds, then do the reverse operation once the Pound is high. I can lose money on those transfers too, but thanks to a financial institution that has tight spreads, that is rarely the case.
Are expats bank accounts worth it?
In France, I used to have an expat bank account that cost $30 per month to use. It came with a debit card that had no withdrawal or foreign exchange fees, and you could receive your salary in a foreign currency, or wire funds abroad for free. Considering every ATM withdrawal abroad would incur a charge of $10 or more, it was very well worth it when I was country hoping. It also allowed me to avoid opening a local bank account. I could just withdraw small amounts at a time, which was also a safer option.
Now that I am more rooted, I have chosen to open a local bank account. I can wire some funds from my European accounts, and keep local currency for my everyday needs. I still rely on a UK credit card with no withdrawal fees for big purchases, to enjoy the 50 days interest free shopping, and keep my accounts open for the reasons mentioned earlier. But I need the local bank for small transactions, like paying the workers on my house with a check and not having to go withdraw lots of cash to pay them.
Something that was not available in Guatemala was that a bank that had branches in Europe offers expat services. You can do this if your high street bank has branches abroad, they will help you set up a bank account and get you all ready to go before you even move to your new country. It took me about a month to get my account sorted here, and I wish they had had that option to get my credit and banking history over and facilitate my application.
This ease of life is well worth the expat account fees, although if you stay somewhere long term you should look into local banking.