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I will be traveling the world over the next 1.5 years: mostly Europe, but some Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia.

I am looking to switch to a US based bank that can provide me with a debit card that has:

  • No international ATM fees/reimbursement
  • Mobile check deposit
  • No monthly fee
  • Pin & chip? I am seeing references of this, unsure of what it is, but seems important?
  • The only banks I know that provide service with such requirements are for high net worth individuals and some brokers. Also, which checks will you be depositing? – Karlson Aug 26 '15 at 2:33
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    @Karlson interestingly there's citibank in Australia that has zero overseas ATM fees. But no monthly fee? How does the OP expect the bank to make money? – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Aug 26 '15 at 3:19
  • @MarkMayo There are banks in the US that offer accounts that under certain conditions don't have monthly maintenance fee. For most they will have an ATM fee if not for withdrawal itself then for Currency conversion or the rate will simply be prohibitive. – Karlson Aug 26 '15 at 3:23
  • @Karlson yeah, they need to many money somehow, either monthly fees or fees of some type. ING Direct in Australia does no ATM fees in Australia, but will charge for other stuff. – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Aug 26 '15 at 3:25
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    Look at online banks only. They are getting bigger in Europe and offer exactly what you list. Not sure about these type of bank in the USA though. See also medium.com/nomad-gate/… – Adrien Be Aug 26 '15 at 4:58
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You can look to see which banks have branches in your hometown area better than we can (the old fashion yellow pages, chamber of commerce, etc). So that is a good starting place to research your needs.

Mobile check depositing is becoming pretty common place with bank apps in the USA. I work with three different banks (2 national banks, 1 local credit union) and they all offer mobile check deposit in their apps.

US based banks do not issue chip & pin cards, rather they issue chip & signature cards. The chip & signature cards work fine in card readers tied to the major card networks (MasterCard, VISA, etc), but don't work on some private networks (there are a few threads about this in regard to bus and train tickets in Europe). As you are traveling you do want to have a chip & signature card, not a swipe only card.

You also want to make sure it is a Visa or MasterCard debit (often called a check card) not an ATM debit card. The Visa / MC branded debit card works anywhere credit cards are accepted as well as ATMs, the ATM debit card only works at ATMs outside the USA.

Most banks offer fee waivers if you maintain a certain minimum balance or have direct deposit of pay checks or other such conditions. Generally the more fees they waive, the higher the minimum balance will be. Unfortunately, these same accounts come with really high fees if you let your balance drop below the minimum so you have to stay on top of your balance if you are near that threshold.

Banks that claim no international transaction fees either play the exchange rate to gain a few dollars or require a high minimum balance. I am sure someone will chime in about their great card and tell me I am wrong, but bottom line banks are in business to make money and they don't give away something without getting something back 2 fold.

  • It has to be caveated that mobile check deposit only applies to checks written from US based accounts, that have ABA on them. – Karlson Aug 26 '15 at 3:24
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    FWIW, USAA will issue chip & pin cards. I don't know if other US banks do. – Tom Harrington Aug 26 '15 at 4:46
  • Only a few US banks are issuing true Chip & PIN cards; they are not entirely impossible to find. – Michael Hampton Aug 27 '15 at 1:40
  • @MichaelHampton - Name the banks that do, otherwise your comment is of no use to the OP (or any other future readers of this thread). – user13044 Aug 27 '15 at 1:46
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I use two cards overseas. One is a Visa debit card tied to an account at Charles Schwab. They are slowly switching to chip-and-sign, but not yet for my type of account. However, I get unlimited ATM fee rebate (including retroactively when their automated system did not parse Icelandic ATM fees). The fine print admits to charging between 0.10% and 1.00% on the exchange rates. I have a preferred customer status there because of a separate retirement account. I have no idea what the minimum is to activate these features. There is no monthly fee. There is an app with mobile deposit (I think this has become near-universal).

My second card is a credit card from Discover, chip-and-sign. That used to be useless outside the USA, but they have made an arrangement with Diners Club. In some countries this is accepted widely, and in others, nowhere at all. (Map at their website.) My results with it have been hit-or-miss, even different readers at the same hotel. On a recent trip, their exchange rate for the Euro was about 0.7% in their favor, but their exchange rate for Icelandic crowns was the same amount in my favor. Whatever. Of course, I do not use it in an ATM because it is credit, not debit. However, Discover also has an Internet bank and I have no doubt some sort of debit card is available there.

(I also once was at a movie where the 25% discount for a special deal with American Express outweighed AmEx’s appalling 2.75% currency conversion fee, for a one-off buy.)

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The actual answer to your question will vary because there are always campaigns co-branded cards, travel specific accounts, and fees and features that vary from bank to bank. So I doubt even if someone were to provide you with a specific product name (like, for example, American Express Blue) it would be valid in the long term. Therefore, I am giving some general tips that you should be aware of when negotiating with your bank and investigating the account types available.

  • ATMs & Cash Withdrawals

Due to the nature of how ATM networks work, there will always be a charge/fee if you are using an ATM that isn't part of your bank's network. Now, some large multinational banks (for example, HSBC, Chase, BoA) have ATMs in different countries. You might be able to get favorable rates or exemption of fees - but this depends on the type of account you have. Usually, these favorable rates are only provided for HNW (high net worth) individuals and their associated accounts.

Charges vary greatly between the debit and credit networks. Make sure you check with your bank what are the various types of credit cards available. Some banks offer credit cards that are specifically tailored for frequent travelers. They usually come with benefits such as lounge access, travel insurance (if the ticket is bought on the card), free/expedited replacement, fixed exchange rates against major currencies, and so on.

However, this does not affect the ATM, because at the ATM - no matter what type of card you have or what type of account you are holding - you will be subject to exchange rate fees. This is because when you are traveling, 99% of ATMs will only dispense the local currency (exceptions are at airports, where you will find ATMs that dispense the local currency + major international currencies like USD or GBP).

All in all, at the ATM there are the following fees:

  1. Fee from the bank whose ATM you are using.
  2. Fee from the network that the ATM is using (in the case of international cards in foreign ATMs, this is the network of the card network - VISA, MasterCard, etc.)
  3. Rate margin based on the trading currency. For example, if you are in the UK and withdrawing GBP from your bank account that is issued in USD, you will be charged (generally the mid-market rate + a percentage) of whatever the USD to GBP rate is.
  4. Fee from your bank on using an off-network ATM.

It is always best to withdraw the maximum you will need so that you are not hit with the fees on subsequent ATM visits.

  • Mobile Check Deposit

Unless you will be using an ATM that is part of your bank's network, this is not an option. You may be able to do this using your bank's mobile app, but it will not work for foreign issued checks.

For depositing checks into your US account while abroad, you'll have to approach a bank and pay their check processing fees.

If your bank offers this function as part of their mobile application (some banks offer this as a feature - you can take a picture of the check through the app), this may work for foreign checks (you will have to confirm with your bank) - although I highly doubt it would be an option due to lack of controls and a central clearing process.

  • Monthly Fees, etc.

This depends entirely on the type of account, the length of business you have with the bank, and various other factors - there is no right or wrong answer here. You'll have to shop around based on your banking profile/requirements.

  • CHIP and PIN (or CHIP and Sign)

To ensure the widest acceptance while abroad; use a card that is enabled for CHIP and PIN. Your bank can enable this for you.

  • Types of Cards & Transaction Networks

Each major card network (VISA, MasterCard, American Express) has two different types of transaction networks:

The debit network, which is either:

  • VISA Electron (for VISA issued cards)
  • Maestro (for MasterCard issued cards)

The credit network, which is the same name as the network itself - so VISA and MasterCard.

The reasons for these two networks and the differences between them are a long story - but suffice it to say that for maximum compatibility you should use the credit network.

There are two types of cards issued in the US:

  1. Debit cards (sometimes called "check cards"). These are cards that are linked to your account balance, but are configured so that they use the credit transaction network.

  2. Credit cards - these work the same everywhere.

Your check cards and your credit cards will work abroad; however, in order to ensure that both are accepted universally - they should be CHIP and PIN enabled.

You may find that some ATMs or automated kiosks (like at ticketing stations, or on the bus/train/tram etc.) reject your card if its not CHIP + PIN enabled; ATMs are generally more liberal and will work (if they are configured on the credit network - look for the VISA and MasterCard signs) if the ATM is configured for the in-country local network, it will most likely reject your card especially if its not CHIP+PIN enabled.

Bottom line is - CHIP+PIN = Maximum Compatibility; and use a card configured on the credit network.

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    Most of the cards you mention are European based and not available from US based banks. Visa Electron is not available in the USA, the Visa owned ATM debit network there is Plus System. The same for Maestro, in the USA it is Cirrus. Chip & Pin cards are not available from US banks, only Chip & Signature. Some banks will offer a "pin" for your card, but that is only for ATM withdrawals not pin based merchant terminals. – user13044 Aug 26 '15 at 4:32
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    Cirrus/Maestro/Plus are the same thing; different brands. The pin (once enabled) works for POS and ATM (abroad, specifically). PIN is available (but you have to specifically ask for it). – Burhan Khalid Aug 26 '15 at 4:38
  • Yes they are all owned by either MC or Visa, but when the OP is asking his potential bank, he needs to know the correct US names not the European names. – user13044 Aug 26 '15 at 5:36
  • I have one card which charges me no overseas cash withdrawl fees, no additional fees, and offers the mastercard interbank spot rate (no additional %). Oh, and the card is free! They are a bit rare, but can exist – Gagravarr Aug 26 '15 at 8:28
  • Wow that's a sweet deal.....ah wait, variable APR. Yeouch. – Burhan Khalid Aug 26 '15 at 10:29

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