Best bank for travelers?
December 26, 2012 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Best bank for an American traveling Northern, Eastern, and Southern Europe, as well as Russian?

Graduating with my second Bachelor's (this one in Primary/Junior Education) in May. I'm working all summer which will net me about $3,000 to travel. I'm buying a flight August 20th to Amsterdam (cheapest ticket to get to Europe at $300) with little to no plans except countries I'd like to see. I have some money from my Grandmother that I'd also like to use.

What bank is the best for international travelers of Eastern Europe specifically? I will be investing in a Capital One credit card for no international ATM fees, but what base bank should I open a new account in for traveling? Suggestions? I currently have a Bank of America account (debit and visa card linked to that), as well as a savings account with my local bank. I am currently studying in Ontario, so I also currently have a ScotiaBank account since I am an international student.
posted by fuzzysoft to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Charles Schwab does worldwide ATM rebates, but you need to open a brokerage account with them at the same time; something that offers rebates is probably going to work out better than the ATM alliances that BoA has (Barclays, Deutsche Bank, etc.) once you're in eastern Europe.

(Long comments thread here is worth a read.)
posted by holgate at 8:05 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

For credit card charges, you're all set with Capital One internationally; that's what I use.

If you're looking for a bank with a savings/checking account so you can withdraw cash, you can look into Bank of America or Citibank. It's been at two years since I've looked into this, so can't find the most comprehensive up-to-date website, but BOA had a pretty huge network with banks worldwide throughout the world for taking cash out of ATMs and waving the ~$5 fee per side. It was tough at times to find the exact bank in the cities (I crossed nearly all of Madrid and dozens of ATMs before finding the one Spanish bank in the BOA alliance with an ATM), but it saves heaps of money in transaction fees if you plan it right. They also have an alliance with a bank in Russia.

With Citibank, they are in every major city in Europe, including Russia, but to hunt down their ATMs can be a bit troublesome as well.
posted by peachtree at 1:44 AM on December 27, 2012

As a side note, you'll want to keep chip-and-pin/chip-and-signature issues in mind. (Google suggests Russia is chip-and-signature.) There are a handful of US banks issuing such cards if you press them on it.

I must admit that my travel is such that I'm willing to carry my budget in cash, so I've never satisfactorily solved the ATM problem (and had BofA for a long time, which made it
more of an irritation in the places I went then).
posted by hoyland at 5:18 AM on December 27, 2012

When I first traveled to Europe (France) my debit card didn't have a chip, and I couldn't use it at a lot of places (buying train tickets at kiosks, booking flights online, some shops, etc). Ireland and England are the same (chip+pin). So definitely ask whatever bank you decide on for a card with a chip.
posted by fruitopia at 2:11 PM on December 27, 2012

Don't open a new bank account for traveling unless your primary checking is a tiny local credit union that you could conceivably have trouble with abroad. (Especially if there's no toll free 24 hour customer service/emergency number for people outside the US!)

I've used a few of the major American banks over the years and never had a problem traveling -- including to some far more exotic destinations than Amsterdam. The only issue I've ever had is that once upon a time, one of them (either BOA or WaMu?) allowed PINs that were more than 4 numbers long. If your PIN is currently more than 4 numbers long, you should change it, as it may not be compatible with European ATMs.

I've traveled to Europe several times (mostly Italy and the Balkans, but also France, Switzerland, and Austria) with a non-chip debit card. Never been a problem. No idea what folks are on about when they bring this up.

The only way I'd advocate you change banks (aside from the teensy local credit union issue) would be if you are planning to move to one of these countries or something, in which case you'll want whatever is most compatible with that country. But for a vacation? You're drastically overthinking this.

(By the way, be aware that you'll need a visa to get into Russia. If' you're serious about going, better to take care of that from home than show up at the border with Estonia or whatever you had in mind and just hope they take pity on you.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:09 PM on December 28, 2012

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