Why Some Banks Offer Free ATM Withdrawals WorldwideMany online banks offer free ATM withdrawals because they want and need to raise capital but don’t have a large network of branch locations to offer to customers. Instead, their customers can go to any bank’s ATM machine, insert their card, agree to the fee, and withdrawal funds. Then, at the end of the month, the bank reimburses them for any ATM charges assessed by the other bank. That said, many of these online banks limit the amount of free ATM withdrawals you can make each month. Honestly, that would be absolutely fine with me normally, because in everyday life I only use an ATM a few times each month. However, on my trip I was going to eleven countries in just ten weeks, so I would be hitting the ATM machine quite frequently. Additionally, many online U.S. banks offer ATM fee reimbursements domestically, but won’t offer free withdrawals outside the United States. However, for this trip I needed a bank with unlimited ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world. Thankfully, there is a small group of banks that offer that.
Top Banks with Free ATM Withdrawals Internationally
Charles Schwab BankThis is the checking account I used for my trip and the most highly recommended. Since I already had investment accounts at Schwab, a rep there mentioned the checking account several years ago, and I have loved it ever since. There are no limits to how many free ATM withdrawals I can make each month, both domestically and internationally, so I can use almost any bank’s ATM machine in the world to make these withdrawals — for FREE! In fact, I have used ATMs in Mexico, Colombia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic, and many more, all without any ATM fees or foreign transaction fees. And even though Schwab has very few physical locations, I actually use them as my main bank for all my checking and savings account needs. Their iPhone app allows me to deposit checks remotely, and they offer a full-featured bill-pay service as well. There are no account minimums or monthly account fees either. What’s more, the ATM card also doubles as a VISA debit card, which you can also use at any store anywhere in the world (that takes VISA) without foreign transaction fees! (Personally I prefer to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees for purchases outside the U.S., but the debit card is a nice thing to have around just in case.) The bottom line is that whether you use Schwab bank for your everyday banking or just for foreign travel, you won’t be disappointed. Last, I should also mention that Schwab offers a comprehensive list of international phone numbers, just in case you need to speak to a bank representative when you’re traveling abroad.
Needham BankIt took a lot of searching to find Needham Bank, but apparently they’ve been around since 1892. This small, Massachusetts community bank also offers unlimited ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world. With a Needham Bank checking account, you can make worrying about ATM fees a thing of the past, along with monthly fees, minimum balance requirements, and foreign transaction fees. How does it work? When you open a checking account, you get a ATM/debit Mastercard along with it. Then, you can use that card as a debit card wherever Mastercard is accepted, or use it at any ATM machine worldwide for free. I was initially concerned about using the Mastercard network over VISA’s (which is what the Schwab debit card uses), but according to Nerdwallet there is very little difference between the the two networks internationally. So, if you prefer a community bank with actual branch locations, and happen to live near a Needham Bank branch, you might prefer them over Schwab. Other than that, I can’t find much of a difference between the two.
First Republic BankWhile First Republic Bank perhaps is not a household name, it should be on your list if free ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world is important to you. Why? Because this small California bank offers all the perks that any traveler would need:
- they rebate all ATM fees, both foreign and domestic
- no foreign transaction fees
- online billpay
- free electronic transfers
- extended phone support hours (until 9pm PST all days except Sunday, and even then they’re open until 5pm PST)
Other Options for Banks with Generous ATM Withdrawal PoliciesThe three banks listed above are the most generous in reimbursing ATM fees for their customers. However, if you prefer more options, here are a couple more banks that offer refunds on ATM withdrawals albeit with some limitations.
Fidelity InvestmentsFidelity is primarily an online brokerage firm (similar to Charles Schwab) offering investment accounts for stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. However, they too have jumped into the banking world, and without physical locations have also decided to rebate ATM fees to attract bank customers. Therefore, I expected to find that their fee reimbursements would be as generous as Schwab Bank’s. And, they are for the most part, but there are a couple of important differences to watch out for. While Fidelity reimburses all ATM fees charged by foreign banks worldwide, they still charge a 1% foreign transaction fee. So, while a $4 ATM fee on a $100 ATM withdrawal is 4%, a 1% foreign transaction fee on a $400 ATM withdrawal gets you to the same number. If you’re traveling a lot, those costs could add up over time.
CitiBank Gold CheckingCitiBank is known for being particularly friendly to international travelers. With branch locations in over 20 countries, you’re usually not far away from a branch representative. In addition, they offer many of the same benefits as the other recommended banks above, including ATM fee reimbursements worldwide. However, the Citibank checking account requires a minimum balance of $200,000 to waive the monthly account fee. Until that minimum comes down, I can’t recommend them as highly as the others.
ConclusionTraveling outside the United States requires a plan to get access to your money in the most convenient and cost-effective way possible. While most banks can accommodate foreign travel, very few make it easy and cost effective, especially when it comes to ATM transaction fees. Thankfully, there are a handful of banks that reimburse ATM fees no matter where you are in the world. Of the three I found, Charles Schwab Bank comes with the highest recommendation. After them, Needham Bank and First Republic Bank are solid alternatives as well. Do you have any experience with these banks? Or maybe a story about accessing money while traveling? Leave them in the comments section below!
Note: Considerable effort was made to accurately represent the policies of the banks mentioned, however I cannot guarantee accuracy or that policies will not change in the future. Please, do you own research before trusting your money with any bank.