Banks abroad for US folks?
June 8, 2005 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I am preparing for a lengthy (read: years) international trip to a number of different countries. One thing I need to get resolved before I go is to identify a bank that is based in Europe or Asia with branches in the US, so that I can effectively access, manage, and move funds while I am out of the country. I'm not interested in tax evasion or other illicit activity, just convenience and good service. Are there any banks that are based outside of the US and commonly accessible in most European countries? Extra points if they have good online features.
posted by arimathea to Work & Money (14 answers total)
HSBC do a decent job for me, with good+secure online management. I only do basic banking but imagine they can do pretty much everything. My HSBC account is with a branch in a small town in England, which may or may not be relevant. I live in the US and bank with Wells Fargo here. HSBC and Wells Fargo seem able to wire money between each other without problems -- not the case for all US banks.
posted by anadem at 11:51 AM on June 8, 2005

My recommendation can only be vague and general: I remember I was shocked when I discovered I could pop my ScotiaBank bank card into an ATM in Thailand and have it dispense baht from my Canadian bank account. At a ludicrous penalty, of course, both in exchange rate and service fees.

I can only imagine that all Yank banks of any real size will do this. The devil is in the (service charge, etc) details, I suspect.
posted by docgonzo at 11:52 AM on June 8, 2005

If you don't mind keeping your money stateside, the old hand at this game is the double barrel of American Express Financial Services and the Amex Travel Agency, but if you want to put your money in Europe (and converting a large chunk of Dollars into Euros might be sensible given the current forex market), you could just open an account with the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation or ABN-AMRO -- both of them have a pretty significant presence in Europe and Asia.
posted by bl1nk at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2005

oops, sorry, you said "with branches in the US" which I'm unsure of ...
posted by anadem at 12:15 PM on June 8, 2005

Bank of America has arrangements with a number of overseas banks to allow you to withdraw money without ATM fees. It works at Barclays (UK), Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas (France), Scotiabank (Canada), and Westpac (Australia and NZ). You would still pay for currency conversion, but the hefty fees are eliminated. They have a fantastic online banking site as well.
posted by paschke at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2005

HSBC does retail banking in the UK, US, and Hong Kong (natch), to name a few. I have both US and UK accounts. Their online services are better than the other banks I have used. If you have more than $100,000 they will make things even easier for you.
posted by grouse at 1:41 PM on June 8, 2005

I know a guy who breaks into banks for a living. He uses HSBC.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:45 PM on June 8, 2005

As a dissenting voice, I'll tell you that I have had horrible experiences with HSBC's offices in the UK. They've been slow, unconcerned about matters of urgency, and on the whole, incompetent. I'd avoid using them, at any cost.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:11 PM on June 8, 2005

Citibank. You may also want to consider an offshore account depending upon how long you spend in each country.
posted by holgate at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2005

AMEX has a much better reputation for helping out in emergencies (like having your purse/wallet stolen), at least according to an account (if memory serves me right) of an Italian experience in a recent book called Adventure Capitalist.
posted by WestCoaster at 6:09 PM on June 8, 2005

Citibank is very deceptive. Their BRAND is used in other countries, then they tell you they are a separate bank and make troubles. Yes, they are correspondents with other banks by their name, and that does help, but it doesn't work as well as you'd expect.

AMEX is no longer as prolific as it once was, BUT they can be a major asset at times. I've no Asian experience, so maybe they are still big there.

International banking is a big hassle these days. Any transaction (moving funds) of $10k or more requires special paperwork. I believe that too many transactions below that mark can get you in trouble for evading the paperwork, but I'm not certain on that.

Opening an account in another country can be a major hassle as well, likely you'd have to prove residency. The stuff they require would be considered invasive of privacy by American standards (like a copy of your employment contract). All this is to thwart them evil terrorists, of course, and money laundering (drug wars). Remember, "global economy" is only for the benefit of the mega rich and corporations.

What you need is a combination of good internet banking and ATMs that are low or no fee internationally, with good availability, plus credit cards. Occasionally it is useful to use AMEX if you need, for example, a money order to send overseas (like to the States). Such instruments cost very high in European banks, and are less than half the price from AMEX. I needed this when I had to send money to the FBI for a police check for a visa. Of course, if you have American checks, this helps.
posted by Goofyy at 11:11 PM on June 8, 2005

I have mixed feelings about Citibank UK. They were incredibly incompetent--in the first year I was with them, literally EVERY time I needed to interact with a human employee, they managed to screw something up.

This seems to be a common thread with the big UK banks, as evidenced by the above comments on HSBC.

That said, once I finally get everything set up, I've found it very easy to transfer funds between UK Citibank accounts and Citibank US accounts, or to transfer between US$ and UKĀ£.

One thing to note: most US banks will charge out up the wazoo for using ATMs provided by other banks. By contrast, most UK and European ATMs will let you use cards from other banks without charging fees. So, if your account is with a UK bank, the question "Do you have ATMs in other countries?" is much less relevant.
posted by yankeefog at 4:14 AM on June 9, 2005

The nice thing about international Citibank branches/ATMs is there is never a charge for withdrawing cash.

Plus at Citibank ATMs you can withdraw the equivilent of up to US$1,000 per day per account.

Also you can check your US account bank balances and make inter-account bank transfers at any Citibank ATM in world.
posted by Brussels at 4:52 AM on June 9, 2005

Um, along the lines of the previous post, I hate the fact that HSBC charges me to use an HSBC ATM in another country (apparently unlike Citibank).

I live in Hong Kong, take the ferry one hour to Macau, or train half an hour to Shenzhen, and get charged 2.60 USD fee by my own bank. That's enough to buy a decent lunch here.

Why shoud I have any loyalty to their ATM's when traveling?
posted by dougpy at 9:42 PM on November 1, 2005

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