In my Ultimate Guide to Traveling With Money, I discuss using ATMs, debit cards, and credit cards on the road.
But what about banking on the road? For example, what banking institution do you start with?
Vague Answer: It depends on where you’re from.
While I’m hesitant to recommend specific institutions since your country of origin has a lot to do with what’s available, here are some criteria for choosing a bank account that will serve you well while you travel:
Generally if you use an ATM associated with your home bank, the withdrawal fees will be minimal if anything, and the scope of services will be more comprehensive. HSBC tends to be a favourite among travelers for this reason, with more ATMs around the world than most – if not all – other banks.
However, don’t expect the bank abroad to be able to manage all the things you might do at a bank at home; just because it has the same name doesn’t mean it’s 100% connected.
When choosing the specific bank account within any institution, you obviously don’t want to pay an exorbitant monthly fee. (In fact, paying nothing is even better).
Some bank accounts waive the fees if you maintain a certain minimum balance; but make sure the minimum balance in question isn’t too high, since your financial risk is higher if your debit card is stolen and your account cleaned out. To minimize the risk of having your account cleaned out, you can also set maximum daily and weekly withdrawal limits for your account.
Then again, sometimes paying a small monthly fee and getting a certain number of transactions for free is worthwhile. This will depend on your personal banking style; how many ATM withdrawals or debit transactions you expect to make, whether or not you write cheques, etc.