Every few years there’s a new challenger for ‘best international bank for expats’. Expats and digital nomads alike have very specific requirements when it comes to international internet banking –find out which top international bank we switched to this year, and why.
First there was PayPal. Last year Payoneer was all the rage. The best international bank for expats has a new contender. This article has been completely gutted and updated for 2020.
What’s this all about?
Get paid instantly just like a local with a “virtual USA bank account” (and another 28+ countries all with one login!), get the real exchange rate, use Apple Pay, overall lower fees to you and those you pay, and a debit MasterCard mailed to you wherever you are –in our opinion, this is the best international bank for expats. In 2020, at least.
You will need:
Not every situation is the same. If you choose to sign up for Transferwise as a digital nomad bank solution you’ll need your passport (or driver’s license), bank statement from your existing home country bank and/or utility bill from billing address in country you’re currently in, and one other piece of ID in some cases. You’ll also need your financial institution’s number, transit number, and account number.
Note to Canadians:
Transferwise still doesn’t have a physical prepaid Mastercard for Canadians, that debuted in 2019. I have three go-to workarounds for this; Payoneer took my Canadian account registration and shipped my card to the Philippines where I currently live.
I also use GCash (referral code 9X55VB), a Philippines-owned prepaid Mastercard issued by a Globe Telecommunications subsidiary for digital nomad banking in Southeast Asia. I can get paid instantly from a local PayPal account or load up at 7-Eleven. And finally, I also use Coins.ph which also allows cash-ins at 7-Eleven and they have a Bitcoin exchange so I can basically buy Bitcoin from 7-Eleven in the Philippines, it’s pretty sweet.
I assume most countries will have a prepaid Mastercard option worth looking into, often provided by a telecommunications company and available as an international “bank” for expats.
PayPal vs Transferwise
Transferwise operates differently from PayPal, leveraging recent legislative and technological advances –where PayPal struggles to keep up and continues to raise fees.
In addition to costly withdrawal-to-bank account fees, PayPal can take up to 7% of the total amount you’re sending across borders as profit.
View a third-party cost comparison between PayPal vs Transferwise. It’s mind-blowing.
From a report by Consumer Intelligence Ltd, published on January 16 2018;
“In one example, PayPal took £147.66 when sending GBP 2000 to EUR. TransferWise charged £7.77 for the same transaction. That’s 19x less.”
When I first started freelancing during my nomad travels, I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be to get paid as a Canadian. Back then, the only viable option was PayPal, and it was a far cry from being a top digital nomad bank account solution.
There were a number of obstacles I had to jump through as someone who works virtually with companies from a number of different countries before I found what I consider the best international bank for expats:
- Direct bank deposit is not available for most international services to Canadian banks, and I am obligated to receive checks in the mail instead –hard to do when you only go home every year or so (ie. Most freelance websites, international clients, or accepting payments from Amazon Associates)
- If PayPal can be used to accept payments, I was unable to get a plastic card I could use in international ATM machines like American citizens can because I am Canadian, so I’m obligated to transfer funds to my bank in Canada
- When using PayPal I had to wait 3 – 9 days for funds to appear in my Canadian bank account
- Fees were insane: When withdrawing money from international bank machines I had to pay an “international card fee” to the bank supplying the ATM, another $10 to my own Canadian bank, and PayPal was also skimming their own fees
- My Canadian bank wouldn’t mail a new card outside Canada when I lost it in Thailand –big hassle
- And don’t get me started on PayPal’s trigger-happy account freezing “for security reasons” –I was locked out of my account for days at a time which caused another set of problems entirely
Between the fees and the man-in-the-middle reliance on PayPal, I’d spent years looking for the best international bank account for ‘digital nomad banking’ to accept payments as a freelancer.
“In one example, PayPal took £147.66 when sending GBP 2000 to EUR.
TransferWise charged £7.77 for the same transaction. That’s 19x less.”
We’ve signed up for other international banks for expats like N26 and Payoneer, but all the ones we tried either had delays during verification, rigid, slow, or terrible customer support, had trouble requesting money/invoicing from clients, or we just weren’t satisfied with their added costs. The Transferwise Borderless account is probably one of the top N26 alternatives.
And then Transferwise made it’s Borderless account available to Canadians (sans card –that was not available until 2019) and secured itself as my go-to PayPal alternative — the ultimate international bank for expats. It’s great for getting paid and moving money around, even without a card.
In cases where I need a card, I still rely on Payoneer from time to time, and my main banking is done with GCash (a local Philippines-run company), a prepaid Mastercard I can link to PayPal and get paid instantly.
As one of the best international banks for expats, Transferwise is ideal for;
- Both private and business use
- Best bank for American expats, as well as those from the UK, Europe, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, India, to name a few
- Absurdly competitive rates for sending and receiving money abroad
Transferwise generally has lower fees than PayPal, provides you with the option of getting your own shiny new debit Mastercard, and it will ship it just about anywhere in the world you might be to an alternative shipping address. Which makes Transferwise one of the best banks for digital nomads.
But that isn’t the most convenient part.
Transferwise also provides you with virtual bank accounts, also known as electronic money accounts, in other countries so you can accept currencies from other countries and suck them all up into one Borderless account. Just as you would if you had a local bank account in said country.
Best Bank for Digital Nomads
The Transferwise Borderless account is the best international bank for expats because it provides users with a receiving account for different countries / currencies and is handled by a bank in the country you’re receiving funds within.
How Transferwise Works
If you have a bank account in XYZ country and need to accept bank deposits in ABC country, Transferwise will provide you with a bank account number / financial institution in ABC country.
You can use those bank details to add to just about any account profile you receive funds from, in almost 30 countries as I understand it, to get paid instantly. No PayPal-style turnaround time until it hits your account –those days are over. As soon as you’re paid, it’s in your Transferwise Borderless account and available on your debit Mastercard.
Payments deposited internationally into your virtual bank account for ABC country can then be transferred with your Transferwise account into either your own home bank account, or deposited directly onto your debit Mastercard for use anywhere in the world you might be.
The Mastercard logo is accepted in more places than some traditional debit cards, and the turnaround time of these transactions is light-years faster than PayPal ever was.
What Countries does Transferwise Support?
According to Transferwise, the Borderless account can hold 28+ currencies in accounts that are based in their respective countries –and their headline act of wire transfers works in or around 45 countries and counting. They are working on expanding that list, so make sure you’re current: view their supported countries.
Everyone knows that bank-to-bank transfers are the fastest, as they eliminate the middle man (ie. PayPal) –although your geography may be a problem.
It’s usually either impossible to get a bank account in another country online, or in the very least it’s a time vampire. For obvious reasons, creating a bank account in a foreign country is typically an in-person sort of affair.
Being able to open multiple bank accounts internationally, online, and get paid instantly with a single login, in your own local currency at the real exchange rate is what really makes this the defacto bank for expats.
Transferwise is an expat-friendly bank suitable for getting paid from freelancing websites or customers who pay their invoices directly through their local bank, wherever in the world it is.
Transferwise is the perfect way to collect money from websites like Upwork, TextMaster, Flexjobs, Clickbank, Amazon Associates or FBA. And those are only a small handful of examples for this top international bank.
Other extremely necessary features of the Transferwise Borderless account include requesting money, wire transfers, making payments, and generally, all of the other functions or tasks you would expect from PayPal.
Consider Transferwise the ‘Skype/VOIP of digital nomad banking’, in that it is an electronic money account and is different than a traditional bank account. This means that its fee structure is very different (cheap) than those of traditional international banks.
Transferwise has a very detailed explanation of their fees here.
Is Transferwise the Best International Bank for Expats?
What do you think? Is Transferwise the best international bank for expats, or is there another winner out there you prefer? Let everyone know in the comments, good expat banks are hard to come by.
PayPal in the News:
I can’t help myself.
Click a headline below to read why PayPal isn’t the best bank for expats:
- ‘It is killing my small business’: PayPal under fire for freezing money
- ‘PayPal locked up my money for 207 days’: What happens when an online company decides you’ve broken its rules
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