Choosing the right bank as an expat: A how-to

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Published on 24 June, 2024
Moving to a new country is a whirlwind of new experiences, full of people to meet, places to go and cultural nuances to navigate. But, it carries its fair share of uncertainty, and when it comes to banking, uncertainty is the last thing you need. Whether you're a digital nomad, an international student, or relocating for work, we've got four expert backed tips to help you choose the right bank for your new adventure.

With over 50 million expats globally, there are plenty of tried-and-tested tips to make your transition into expat life a little easier.

Assess your needs and non-negotiables

Banks today are more than places to store your money, they're essential in helping you live a full and friction-free life. 

But picking the right bank as an expat requires a little bit of soul searching. Before you launch into your research, start by creating a list of your needs:  

  • What are you looking for at this stage of your life? Are you saving for a big purchase or experience; has your income increased or reduced; how will your lifestyle change; are you looking for financial flexibility; will you be traveling more?
  • What are your banking non-negotiables? What products, features and benefits do you need, or want, to be able to bank with ease?
  • Do you understand the way local banks work? If not, what information are you missing and how/who do you need help?

The answers to these questions should act as your personal banking checklist, so you can confidently choose a bank that works with your lifestyle, not against it. 

Understand the application process 

Moving to a new country can feel like one big, contradictory, loop.

Take opening a bank account. Many banks require proof of residency to open an account. While rentals require local bank details. To get a rental, you need a bank account, to get a bank account, you need a rental… 

To skip the confusion, look for banks that waive or delay proof of residency, allowing you to open an account and provide documentation later. 

With bunq, you can skip the branch visits and long waiting times, all you need is a valid ID, your phone and 5 minutes. 

Review their accessibility and security 

Accessibility and security are standard features for all banks, but as an expat you can guarantee you'll be traveling more than usual, so it's essential you opt for banks that's as mobile and contactable as you are. 

When reviewing banks, look for features like: 

  • An easy to use app or web portal
  • 24 hour customer support in your native language  
  • Offers internationally accepted cards 
  • Is fully licensed and offers deposit protection for your savings
  • Provides easy budgeting tools and ability to open multiple accounts
  • Offers additional features like worldwide travel insurance

Local language tips 

When it comes to communication, many banks will use English on their website, while using local languages for all official communication and support. Make sure you're able to select, or customize the language you need when making your decision. 

bunq offers communication in a range of languages, including: English, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Ukrainian and Russian.

24/7 Support

Make sure you're choosing a bank that's available when you need them most. bunq guides are available 24/7 via the secured in-app chat, email, or SOS phone line.

Personalized travel features

With bunq's Travel Assistant, you know the currency exchange rate, local tipping culture or if you need to go to an ATM. 

Plus, worldwide travel insurance ensures you're automatically covered wherever, whenever. 

Understand their fees and hidden costs 

International transfer fees and currency exchange rates are easy to overlook, until you see just how much they're costing you. Luckily, they're easy to avoid. 

When reviewing banks, be sure to look for expat features and packages that waive or discount international transfer fees and offer competitive exchange rates.

When it comes to expat packages, bunq includes feature like: 

  • Multiple IBANs for NL, DE, ES, FR & IE IBANs
  • Spend, save and receive in 22 currencies without any hassle
  • Up to 6 worldwide ATM withdrawals free every month
  • No additional fees for making payments in a foreign currency, saving you up to 3% every trip

Bonus tip: Don't compromise your values 

Choosing a bank should never impede your beliefs and values. If sustainability is important to you, look for banks that give back, or offer green investment options. 

bunq's commitment to sustainability makes it easy for you to make a real difference with your money, thanks to features like: 

  • Planting trees: Every user contributes to planting trees as they tap their bunq card 
  • Rewards for going green: Get up to 2% Cashback when you pay for public transport with your bunq card
  • Track your CO2 footprint: bunq tracks the CO2 impact of your transactions, so you know exactly how to make the biggest difference
  • Ethical investment: bunq is the only bank in the world that lets you decide how your deposits are invested

Now that you've assessed your needs and done your research, it's time to embrace your new life as an expat. 

And if you're ready to experience expat banking made easy? Sign up to bunq in 5 minutes and try bunq free for 30 days, no strings attached. 

Discover mobile banking that makes life easy with bunq! The perfect bank for expats, bunq helps you spend, save, budget and invest—all while offsetting your CO2

footprint. Try it free for 30-days. Sign up in 5 minutes.