It is quite obvious that digital nomad banking is different from traditional banking. Currency exchange rates, ATM fees, and withdrawal fees can quickly add up. When you are a perpetual traveler, these problems get even worse, because many banks require you to have a residency in their country.
So yes, banking for digital nomads can be a real pain. Luckily, there are already a few great virtual bank accounts on the market. Let’s have a look at the top online banks and see, if which one works best for your situation.
Note: The following options are mainly for private banking. If you are looking for an online banking solution for your business, you might have to double-check the conditions with the respective bank.
Why is Digital Nomad Banking Different?
Just like other tourists and long-term travelers, digital nomads have to face hefty fees when trying to access their funds from abroad. More than that, they often experience difficulties getting money into their bank account.
Since many nomads generate income in another currency, e.g. because their client is located somewhere else, they have to pay additional fees for that transaction.
Here are some more disadvantages traditional banks have for digital nomads:
- You need to physically go to a branch to register, online registration is often not possible.
- You need to be a resident of the country the bank is located in.
- They charge you when you are receiving foreign currencies on your account.
- They charge you when you withdraw money in a different country and/or currency.
- Sometimes your card gets blocked when withdrawing from an ATM in a “not so common” country.
- Sometimes transactions outside of the resident country are not possible at all.
It becomes clear, that digital nomads need a special online banking solution since the traditional way of banking causes massive problems with that lifestyle.
Luckily, the financial technology (FinTech) sector is coming up with more and more ideas to address these difficulties.
Top Online Banks For Digital Nomads
In general, digital nomads (and everyone else) have four options when it comes to banking:
- Getting a traditional local bank account in the destination country
- Getting a traditional local bank account in your home country with good international options
- Getting an online bank account
- Use specialized money transfer services
Let’s look at these options a bit closer:
1. Traditional Local Bank Account
When you are a slow traveler and stay at a certain place a little longer (at least a few months), it might be worth looking into local bank account options.
For example, you are traveling around Europe and want to stay in Spain for the next 8 months. Check out if you can open up an account at a local bank.
This is one of the cheapest ways to get money out. However, you’d still have to get the money into that account. If your clients, or your income source in general, are not located in Spain you will have to transfer it there (see options below), which will cost you extra.
2. Traditional International Bank Account
You could also register a bank account with good international options in your home country before you leave.
Make sure that this bank allows you to register and to do all transactions online, so you won’t have to go to a branch. They should also provide you credit and debit cards, which are widely accepted and don’t charge you any fees on international transactions or withdrawals.
Downside: You have to be a resident of these countries. So if your plan is to leave and become a non-resident for tax reasons, you won’t be allowed to keep the account.
3. Online Bank Account
There are quite a few top online banks out there, which provide fantastic solutions for digital nomad banking problems. Here are some of the most popular:
I have to admit that this is the virtual bank account I personally like the most. N26 is a Berlin-based start-up that has now a full banking license. You get a MasterCard and they pay real exchange rates on every purchase.
You get to choose between the basic N26 plan, the N26 Black and the N26 Metal. The upgraded plans come with additional services.
For instance, you get an insurance package included which covers things like emergency medical treatments without limits, a flight delay and trip cancellation insurance, mobile phone theft coverage and much more.
In addition to these account options, they also offer a business account.
To give you a short sneak peek: I’ve been using their online bank account since 2016 and I’m more than happy with it.
b) TransferWise Borderless
A third and relatively new online banking solution is TransferWise Borderless. You might have heard about their money sending service (see more info below). Now they are offering an online banking option, too.
You get proper bank account details for Germany, the UK, and the USA, plus 15 other currencies. This is particularly handy when you receive income in different currencies.
Another plus: There is no subscription fee and they also offer a business account.
UK-founded bank Monzo used to give their customers a kind of pre-paid visa debit card, which they could top up with money from an already existing bank account to spend it abroad at no additional fees.
For a few months now, they provide fully-accredited checking accounts so you can ditch your old bank. You get proper bank account details, like an IBAN, and get to spend the money all around the world without paying fees.
Downsides: You need to have an address in the UK. Also, if your source of income is not GBP-based, you are likely to pay fees for getting it into the account.
Revolut is another very popular online banking solution. Once you’ve signed up with them, you get to hold five different currencies and can interconvert them with no fees. You get your UK bank account details and a MasterCard with which you can withdrawal money all around the world at no additional fees.
However, there are limits: With the standard account, you can withdrawal up to 200 GBP/200 EUR a month for free. If you need more than that, you have to pay additional fees.
With the premium account (6,99 BGP a month) you get better options, e.g. a higher withdrawal limit of 400 GBP/400 EUR a month.
Although they advertise that they give you the real market exchange rates, many digital nomads report different experiences. Apparently, you get a very bad rate on the Thai Baht, which is very interesting, because many nomads spend their time in Thailand.
A fifth online banking solution would be Payoneer. I personally don’t have any experience with them but I heard good things about their bank accounts. They work pretty much the same way as the other banks I’ve just mentioned.
However, I don’t find them as cheap as the other options. For example, you have to pay 29.95 USD annual fee for the pre-paid MasterCard. Withdrawing at an ATM costs 3.15 USD per transaction and there is a currency conversion fee of up to 3.5%.
4. Transfer Solution
If you are only looking for options to send money at a good rate across currencies and borders, you should check out the following options:
My personal go-to money transfer service for years: TransferWise. They are not only up to eight times cheaper than regular banks when it comes to sending money, but also very easy to use and super-fast. Transactions are usually completed within 48 hours.
What makes them so fast and cheap? When you send money with a normal bank to another country, it has to pass through multiple regulatory structures and intermediaries. This results in long waiting times and high fees.
TransferWise has bank accounts in 38 countries. Instead of sending your money from let’s say Germany to the UK, they simply take the money out of their UK account and send it to the payee in the country.
The money you’ve paid into their German bank account will stay there and will be used when another customer wants to send money to Germany.
As I said, I’ve been using them for countless of transactions now and I’m very pleased with the process.
Again, I’ve written an extensive review of the TransferWise transaction service where you can find more details on how it works and how much it costs.
b) Azimo & WorldRemit
I don’t have any experiences with them yet, but they are surely worth checking out.
Note: The banking landscape changes all the time. Especially, the new start-ups and online banks with a digital nomad banking approach. I try to update this article every now and then.
But you should always double-check with the banks to get their current conditions. In case you know of any recent changes, please let me know.
Digital Nomad Banking Is Easier Than Ever Before
Ok, let’s summarize:
1. You could open up a local bank account in the country you are staying for a while but will have to manage to get your money into that account.
2. Another way would be to open up a bank account in your home country with good conditions for international banking, but you most likely have to stay resident in that country.
3. Probably the best way is to get a bank account with a great online banking solution, such as N26 or Revolut. Their premium accounts may cost you a little monthly fee, but international transactions and withdrawals will mostly be free and you might even get some extras, such as insurance coverage.
4. If you are only looking for good ways to transfer money from one country to another, transfer services, such as TransferWise, are brilliant options with low fees and short transaction periods.
As you can see, there are plenty of digital nomad banking options out there. The FinTech sector is becoming more and more sensitive to the higher demands of location-independent professionals.
I’m convinced that we will see even more top online banks in the future, which make the digital nomad lifestyle more convenient and thus, even more popular.
What are your experiences with online banking and fees while traveling? Do you know of any other digital nomad bank option? Let me know in the comment section below.