Bank: how to avoid issues and fees while traveling!

Even if we spend little on travel, we use our savings to cover our visa and food costs mainly. So we had to find a solution to access our savings remotely, and exchange our currency easily. But how can you reduce bank fees and manage your account while traveling? Good question! Unless you have decided to travel without money, there are very simple, practical and reliable solutions to avoid issues… and bank fees abroad!


Security & expenses: how to avoid issues while traveling

Traveling with 2 creditcards

Having 2 credit cards is, for us, an essential security measure while traveling. So we travel with a VISA card and a MasterCard (some ATMs/payment terminals only accept one type of card) linked to two different accounts in our name. This prevents us from being blocked in the event of the loss or theft of one of these cards, when we have to object the lost one. Even if this kind of incident has not yet happened to us (fingers crossed!), it’s better to be careful!

Know the exchange rate and become familiar with the local currency

Sometimes some unscrupulous and dishonest sellers take advantage of our foreigners status  to inflate the bill…. And when you don’t know the real exchange rate, or not used to the local currency (especially large bills with several zeros on them), the risk of scam is much greater! It’s advisable to always check the exchange rate (through a mobile conversion application for example) and take your time to familiarize yourself with the local currency, away from the public eye.

Limit withdrawals

If your bank charges some fees abroad, we will give you one advice: limit your withdrawals. But be careful! Always for safety reasons, it’s important to avoid walking around with large banknotes denominations as much as possible! Personally, we are not fond of belts or other “notes hidden in socks” tricks: it sticks to the skin when it’s hot, and it’s very inconvenient when it comes to take out the money…  Another and much simpler solution was found: open a free bank account at a bank that does not charge any bank fees, and make small ATM withdrawals whenever necessary!

Traveling without money: good or bad idea?

Choose your bank

Contact your main bank

First of all, check with your main bank about the conditions for using your bank card abroad. If they are not advantageous, you can always try to negotiate new preferential rates. Take the opportunity to notify your bank(s) that you are leaving, by giving a postal address in your homecountry to avoid having your accounts blocked if they have any doubts about transactions made abroad.

Alternatives: online and digital banking

If you wish to change your bank, we recommend that you compare offers of different online banks. These are generally much more advantageous: the account is linked to a free VISA card, with a simple and fast management from a mobile application, and no account management fees. However, with a foreign currency, these banks apply bank fees (generally around 2% of the transaction amount). Plus, a certain amount of income is required to open an account. And to continue to benefit from the free VISA card, you must be able to make at least 3 financial transactions/quarter with the card…

But there are also digital banking alternatives (Revolut, N26, Monzo): these companies offer you to open a “virtual” bank account, linked to a (real!) MasterCard and entirely self-managed from a mobile application. The big advantage of this solution is that there are NO account maintenance fees or bank fees for withdrawing or paying by card abroad – up to a certain threshold. In practice, you recharge your “virtual” bank account by simple transfers from your current bank account. With each payment/withdrawal by card in a foreign currency, the amount will be directly converted at the daily rate!

Our solution

For our trip, we use two cards: a VISA card linked to an online account, and the Revolut digital banking alternative MasterCard which allows us to withdraw up to 200€/month in cash and make creditcard payments without any fee (above the mentioned threshold, 2% of the amount withdrawn/paid is charged). For long-term and alternative travelers like us, who spend little money on travel, this is a perfect solution! And to continue to benefit from the free use of our VISA card with our online account, we recharge our Revolut account via our VISA card (minimum 3 times/quarter).

Before we left, registrations were temporarily suspended due to the success of these offers: don’t forget to register as soon as possible to receive your card before leaving!

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List of banks with no extra fees using a MasterCard

Some banks add a commission fee to each withdrawal: this fee is linked to the withdrawal bank (not your own bank!) and is clearly indicated on the ATM screen when you perform the transaction. Don’t worry about testing all ATM and banks on site, we’ve listed everything below!
Warning notice: this list is from our own experience, at a given time. It’s subject to change – do not hesitate to share your feedbacks!

Countries in which we had no additional fees with the banks tested (outside the Euro zone)

  • Croatia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Serbia
  • Kosovo
  • Albania
  • Bulgaria
  • Turkey
  • Georgia
  • Armenia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Malaysia
  • Hong Kong

Countries for which most banks apply additional fees – with some exceptions (see list below)

  • Kyrgyzstan: DEMIR Bank (Bishkek, Karakol)
  • China: Bank of CHINA
  • Vietnam: TP Bank (Hanoï, Danang, HCMC)
  • Cambodia: MB Bank (Phnom Penh)
  • Singapore: UOB Bank
  • Philippines: HSBC (Manila, Ayala Street)

Countries for which it’s advisable to exchange money on the spot (preferably with US dollars)

  • Iran: withdrawals impossible
  • Turkmenistan: withdrawal possible only with additional fees
  • Uzbekistan: withdrawals impossible
  • Laos: withdrawal possible only with additional fees
  • Thailand: withdrawal possible only with additional fees

Get ready for a long trip: our guide about all the necessary travel preparation steps

* Post written according to our personal experience *

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