Advice for living overseas but getting paid at home
August 2, 2007 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on banking while living overseas but getting paid in the US for a year.

The details: I will be working for a US company and being paid to a US account, but I will be living in Dakar, Senegal. I need to be able to get to my money for living expenses without paying ridiculous fees for the transfer / currency conversion. Almost everything is done in cash in Dakar. Online banking is a must, of course, but local access is just as important.

I have heard Citibank is pretty good for this kind of thing. And I have a PenFed account that might be useful. I plan to call my current bank and talk to them too. But I am sure anyone who has actually done this before will have lots of advice.
posted by Nothing to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did the same thing, living in Quito. Payments went into my account in the states, and then I was able to pull out cash from atm's. There was a 2$ fee each time, but that beat anything else.

You might want to check with someone living there to see if the same thing would work.
posted by korej at 12:35 PM on August 2, 2007

Your mileage will vary, but when I live in Japan I do the same.

My bank (First Republic) does not charge any fees for currency exchanges and changes money at market rates, so ask your bank about that.

Japan has no ATM fees, but not every ATM will connect to the US ATM networks, so this is something to research about Senegal. In Japan Citibank ATMs or Post office ATMs always work. Unfortunately looking at Citibank's web site the closest Citibank ATM is in Egypt.
posted by Ookseer at 12:48 PM on August 2, 2007

I was in Dakar and St.-Louis in 2003 and used my Bank of America ATM/Visa check card many times without incident (except for the $3 fee). Beat every other option available then.

You might also want to examine opening a local CFA-denominated savings account and setting up some sort of transfer from your bank to that account, but that might be a lot of hassle for a very small amount of gain. Here's a list of banks in Senegal to check out.
posted by mdonley at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2007

I do what korej does when living abroad. Some little ideas though: if there is an HSBC there, you can open a U.S.-based HSBC account and transfer your money/use the ATMs without a fee. BoA charges terrible rates for overseas ATM withdrawls. Non-chain banks often don't.
posted by k8t at 1:42 PM on August 2, 2007

Best answer: I did some more's SGBS's site (in French - SGBS is the Senegalese arm of Société Générale, a big, CAC 50-listed French bank) that details their services for individuals ("particulier"). At the bottom left, you'll see that to open an account, you'll need two ID photos, a copy of your passport, proof of residence (a certificate of residence, or a utility bill), and a way for them to contact you, like a phone number or an e-mail. You'd have all of those things if you were living there. It looks like they've got some kind of online banking ("sogeb@se"), mobile phone support ("Messalia") and they've got Visa-branded ATM/debit cards as well so you don't have to carry heaps of cash with you all the time. Checking ("current") accounts are under "compte courant" under "placements" in the sidebar. Various ways to transfer money into the account are also detailed on the website, from Western Union to using the SWIFT system.

I opened an account in Indonesia while living there for a year, and though I was being paid there, it was nice to have a local account that was trusted by merchants and didn't cost me $5 every time I wanted to buy some groceries or something. One way this might work for you is to have someone else (named on your account?) at home who can transfer a couple hundred/thousand/whatever dollars to your Senegalese account on a monthly basis and have the cost of the transfer deducted from the amount of the transfer so no one has to pay anything out of pocket. It will also be way easier dealing with a local bank if your ATM card is lost or stolen.

Senegal is awesome - you'll have a great time. Good luck!

[Heh - after going through that website I feel that my French is better than it was fifteen minutes ago.]
posted by mdonley at 1:54 PM on August 2, 2007

I lived in Germany and tried to live off an American account, but ended up having to break down and get a local account because it just made life so much easier. Even though I was getting most of my money from America, it wasn't always the case. Plus, you want to be able to pay rent and things locally and you don't always want to use cash, especially for larger transfers.

If you have an American account that does cheap wire transfers and move big amounts at a time, I think you'd be best off.
posted by atomly at 3:56 PM on August 2, 2007

Best answer: I used a credit union, thus my credit card and ATM cards worked overseas with no exchange rate fees and converted the money so close to the going exchange rate that it was effectively free. Local cash from ATMs coming straight out of your US account is unbeatable convenience too.

(When I did that sort of thing with a bank, they'd screw you twice - once on the exchange rate, and a second time with fees).
posted by -harlequin- at 12:14 AM on August 3, 2007

How about USAA? They're used to customers being overseas, they do on-line banking, and they refund any ATM fees you would have to pay.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:28 AM on August 3, 2007

Response by poster: The cash thing is not so much about wanting to use it, but how things are done. I was there for a month earlier this year, and only once was there the option of paying for something with a card. Rent will be cash for sure.
posted by Nothing at 10:21 AM on August 3, 2007

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