With the globalization of the world economy, taking jobs overseas has become quite common. In the midst of digging up your passport, packing and perhaps brushing up on a foreign language, it’s important to remember to prepare your bank accounts for travel as well.
Even if you’re not working and are simply voyaging abroad for an extended period of time, it would be pertinent to review your accounts.
Before setting off
The first step is to make sure everything will be squared back home. That means setting up automatic bill payments or whatever is necessary to ensure that you won’t have to take care of some financial crisis when you’re an ocean away. Pay off as many outstanding taxes or expenses as you can, continue to contribute to your savings or retirement, and if possible, appoint a family member or trusted friend to have access to your bank account in case something happens to you. Also, notify your bank(s) of your plans so they can provide the appropriate security measures in case of theft, or so they don’t needlessly freeze your accounts when you suddenly start spending euros instead of dollars.
It’s wise to bring at least one credit card with you: the more travel-friendly, the better. A credit card with no foreign transaction fee could definitely come in handy overseas. (For our recommendation for a solid travel rewards card, scroll down our best credit card offers of January, or compare them in our credit card reviews section.)
When working abroad, you’ll most likely need to open a local bank account to access ATMs and make deposits. It is most convenient to, if possible, use a bank that has branches in your home country as well as your destination. If you can’t find one, do some research (perhaps ask some local folks) to choose a bank that won’t fail or run off with your money without warning. To open an account, bring your passport and cash/checks, as well as your work contract and proof of address if you can.
Before I set off for a short-term internship in Hong Kong last year, I opened a U.S. Citibank account because it has numerous branches there. When I arrived in Hong Kong, I had to set up a separate Citibank HK checking account to deposit checks from my company. Each account charged its own maintenance fees that could be waived with the right amount of money (which I didn’t have). I wasn’t eligible for a fee-free account because I was only under a temporary contract, and I wasn’t a citizen.
I wasn’t prepared for this extra hassle because my U.S. Citibank branch couldn’t offer me any information on opening an account overseas — they were basically separate entities. However annoying, the trouble was worth the convenience of easily transferring money between my U.S. and Hong Kong accounts without having to worry about foreign exchange fees.
When my internship ended and I prepared to return to the U.S., I discovered that Citibank HK charges extra for trying to close an account before a certain amount of time transpires. The teller advised me to simply withdraw all my funds and wait until the next time I visit Hong Kong to close it properly. And so my empty Citibank HK account languishes still.
Going to a different country always presents its own set of potential problems. In order to make sure that you won’t be left without a source of money, especially in countries that use mostly cash instead of credit, do an adequate amount of preparation and bring extra cash or traveler’s checks in case of emergencies.