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Best International Bank for Expats and Digital Nomads in 2019

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 2019.

Best international bank for expats
Winter is coming

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 2019, 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 debuts 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. I can get paid instantly from a local PayPal account or load up at 7-Eleven. And finally, I also use 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.

Thailand has a similar outfit called TrueMoney, offered by True Telecommunications that’s available in both Thailand and the Philippines.

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.

Best International Banks Expats
SCREENSHOT: Things got worse for PayPal users on May 10, 2018

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.”

Is Transferwise the Top International Bank for Expats?

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 international banking 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 expats 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’s 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.

Transferwise Review

Best International Bank for Expat
Transferwise is without a doubt a top international bank for digital nomads

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.

best international bank for expats

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.

Related: International Nomad Insurance Review: World Nomads vs SafetyWing

What Countries does Transferwise Support?

American Expat Bank

Best Banks for American Expats

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.

est Banks for American Expats

Why Transferwise is the Best International Bank for Expats

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.

Transferwise Fees

Consider Transferwise the “Skype/VOIP of 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.

Bank for Expats
Click on this image for detailed international banking fee information

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.

Nomad Blog - Michael Hulleman

PayPal in the News:

I can’t help myself.

Click a headline below to read why PayPal isn’t the best bank for expats:

Related Article:

Ready to give the finger to FIAT? Learn about the 5 different types of cryptocurrency wallets.

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  1. I’ve been looking for the best international bank for expats for 6 months and Payoneer it is. Thank you for this information.

    1. Glad you dig this, Alec. And thanks for your comment.

      What’s considered the “best” international bank for expats will probably not be as robust as our in-country checking accounts –but Payoneer is definitely a good solution when accepting payments from businesses around the globe.

  2. Hi I am very new to all of this. I am in the process of freelancing my own business. It will require mainly international transfers of monies to me. My question is an I am Canadian as well, would my payments for services be easy for all international customers to use the Payoneer or would Transferwise, be easier. Most site say and use Paypal, would the international’s be up to using something else. I want this process to be easy and accessible for my service for internationl’s.

    Let me see if I was to use transeferwise, I would have to set up an US fund account and then transfer to a Canadian bank and frees would apply to use this service.

    Can you recommend a Canadian bank that has no fees charges and offers the best interest on my funds.


    1. If you are being paid by businesses, Payoneer. If it’s people (individuals) then use Transferwise.

      As a Canadian, Payoneer is the best with least effort. You could also try ING Direct or HSBC and carry enough balance to get a no-fee travel account and then link it to your Payoneer account.

  3. its like you work for transferwise, i used them years ago, was ok, and ditched them. transferwise wanted to verify documents for me sending approx. 10 GBP, my account was verified in the past. they think you are a terrorist. transferwise OFF my list never again. sameshit as paypal. ok paypal is def worse, those are criminals.

    1. Heyo!

      lol Well I don’t work for Transferwise, and the payback isn’t even that great as an affiliate.

      Personally, digital nomad banking is still a moving target. I use my Payoneer account much more often than Transferwise. And I’m still stuck with PayPal for proper invoicing. Transferwise really shines when you send/rec cash money often.

      Europeans seem to have the best PayPal alternatives.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. this is the most helpful information i have ever read. I tried opening it and it is so fast. Thank you so much and more power to you and your Filipina wife too. =)

    1. Very kind words Dani, thank you. Be sure to check back once or twice per year, the digital nomad bank situation is always evolving and we’re going to keep an eye on it here.

  5. Hi Michael,

    Do you have any experience with Shopify? Currently it would appear that Transferwise is not setup to receive payments. Any suggestions? Payoneer for the win?
    Sometimes it sucks to be a Canadian, we seem to have a lot more hoops to jump through usually.

    1. Great question Skyler! My experience with Shopify predates my experience with Payoneer. But I can tell you two things as a Canadian; Payoneer is currently the best bank for Canadian digital nomads in 2018. The majority of my readers come from elsewhere, thus the article coming out the way it did (neglecting my own people!).

      However, in 2019 Transferwise has some good news for us. Getting a Transferwise account as a Canadian currently involves a big heap on, but it's possible. Next year it's supposed to get easier.

      If you signed up for Payoneer and give it a shot with Shopify, could you do me and our readers a solid and come back to tell us about your experience? Would really appreciate it.

      (PS. Really dig your site!)

      Thanks for stopping by Skyler.

      1. Payoneer does not allow you to add money to your OWN account whatsoever, so I am unable to even start out with Payoneer haha.

        It seems like a very useless service unless you are a freelancer that gets paid from a large 3rd party website. I cannot add any money to even get the prepaid mastercard ($30USD) Without the mastercard you cannot pay any bills for an ecommerce store, such as your dropshipping bills.

        You can set up a shopify store to payout into your Payoneer account using 2Checkout, but until I can verify that I can receive a Mastercard that will work, this would be a highly risky move. It is also very expensive, 2.9% + $0.30USD for each transaction, in addition to the 2% Shopify charges you for using a 3rd Party Service such as 2Checkout.

        The only move now is to open up a USD account at a brick and mortar Canadian bank with high fees.

        I am not sure how you are using Payoneer exactly, but it seems too restrictive for most things.

        1. I really appreciate you checking back in Skyler. Sounds like Payoneer and Shopify don’t play nicely enough together to make it worth your while.

          When I was copywriting fulltime I’d use Payoneer to get paid from smaller sites like TextMaster, and now I use it for just about every affiliate program I’ve ever joined that accepts bank account details.

          Never had a problem receiving funds. I also got my first card for free, and they sent it to the Philippines. In this way, it’s a great bank for international expats, digital nomads, and freelancers. Less so for dropshippers.

          I think it will be a long time before Canadian Shopify users have access to progressive banking solutions like other countries have.

          Don’t be a stranger, I’ll keep my eye out for a better solution as well.

          Happy New Year.

          1. Ya I definitely feel it is better suited to freelancers. Without being able to add your own funds I feel that it would fail most criteria for funding capital intensive projects etc.

            I have settled for a traditional USD account at a Canadian bank for now, mostly because every failed Shopify payout continues to charge service charges. Waiting on Transferwise to do something meaningful in the marketplace.

            I like your How To Be a digital nomad articles, very insightful. Also the angle for Canadians, sometimes our roadblocks are rather unique (banking, phones, taxes etc) Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of literature out there without going through expensive accountants etc.

            Keep up the good work, Happy New Years brother!

          2. Thanks Skyler.

            Have you tried HSBC?

            If you keep a predefined minimum balance I believe you can use an HSBC account globally with no fees. Ish.

            Go Canada for not having a homegrown solution.

            Thanks for all that other stuff, we’re really trying to inspire people to get a passport and show them what’s possible.

  6. Hey Michael,

    Thank you for your very helpful post. Quick question for you. I am a Canadian living in Cambodia. Just wondering, which do you think would be better Payoneer or Transferwise to be able to lower the banking fees as much as possible ?

    Thanks for your help

    1. Hey Enrico! Transferwise has more hoops to jump through, whereas I was able to join Payoneer and get my card sent to me in the Philippines.

      I’ve had other Canadian readers point out they had a greater difficulty getting a Transferwise Borderless account. Until Transferwise makes it easier for us Canucks, I’d choose Payoneer.

      Hope that helps Enrico, feel free to swing by in the future and discuss your experience here.

  7. lol so much for a "borderless" account – even from USA, Nevada residents are rejected. Seems that less than 1/2 of USA *states* aren't even supported. Why wouldn't this be listed out plainly?

    What a joke.

    1. That’s no good –does Nevada get excluded from a lot of things? For example, Quebec and parts of the east coast in Canada often get excluded from things like contests, banking opportunities, etc.

      I have a solution for you –I think– I’m not well versed with Nevada laws, but I strongly recommend you check out Payoneer (link opens in a new window).

      If you come back this way, let me know how it goes and thanks for your comment.

    2. D,
      Banking licenses are issued state by state in the USA. TransferWise is licensed in 49 states with only Nevada missing from the list. You could try getting a virtual street address in any state but Nevada to work as your profile address for transferwise.

      Please find all the states they are licensed in as of January 2019 here –

      Hope this helps!

    1. I’ve never had to so I can’t say for certain. China is on the list of currencies you can hold with a Transferwise account, so I would assume so. I do know for certain that Payoneer will allow it. Both financial companies have strings attached due to the regulations of China’s financial market. Payoneer states “Only CNY currency transfer from Chinese marketplaces is supported”.

      Transferwise China

      Hope that helps!

  8. Can I deposit my Amazon Associated EU checks there? And if so, how? By taking a picture of the check perhaps? My business checking used to be free to deposit foreign checks but the bank merged and now they want a $25 collections fee per check. No option for direct deposit as you know. I was considering opening a checking account in England just to deposit this one check each month. Maybe TW would work instead. What do you think?

    1. Not sure about photos of cheques, but with either Payoneer or Transferwise you can eliminate the need for cheques from affiliate accounts altogether. Just use the bank account details either will provide you after signup. I’d been using Payoneer for this for years and I can drop money, no fee, to my Canadian bank account or use the Payoneer card.

      So no more cheques. Direct deposit, all the way. The reason I’ve moved on from Payoneer (as far as our review is concerned) is because Transferwise allows for more currencies to be used than Payoneer yet operates in fundamentally the same way but with better customer service.

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