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How to Open an International Bank Account

My first job outside the United States was in London. I worked for a travel company in Maine with international locations, so when an opportunity came up for me to hop the pond, I grabbed it. After making the move, the most important detail I had to deal with wasn’t where to live or how to get to work (although these things certainly caused some stress). The thing I was most concerned with was how to get paid! As an American citizen living and working abroad, I had no idea how to go about managing everyday banking in foreign country.

Choosing the Right Overseas Bank for You

In most countries., as in the U.S., there are a lot of banks to choose from. (If you happen to be in the U.K., HSBC and Barclays are two I would recommend. The Bank of Scotland is another, a recent acquisition of the Lloyds TSB group.)

Be sure to look into fees that banks charge for withdrawals, especially within the European Union. (Most European banks won’t charge to withdraw money anywhere in the E.U., some will.) Some, like HSBC, have locations worldwide, which can be reassuring if you’re on the move. In that case, an online banking system is also a must. Fortunately, many European banks are ahead of U.S. banks when it comes to online and mobile banking.

If you can, visit a few different banks before choosing a bank that has the right features for you.

What You Need to Open an Overseas Bank Account

At the very least, you’ll need:

  • Your passport
  • Proof of your U.S. address

Remember, your passport does not have your American address on it, so be sure to bring something that does. A driver’s license is usually fine, as long as the name on the driver’s license is the same as the name on your passport.

To be on the safe side, also bring:

  • Any government-issued work permits, ID numbers, or insurance you have acquired in the foreign country.
  • Proof of your new address (a utility bill or lease agreement will suffice).

Finally, you should also let the financial controller of your company know what you are up to so he or she can vouch for you if the bank wants to call them.

International Money Transfers

Can I send your from the U.S. to my new overseas account?

Sure. Just watch out for the fees!

It costs money to send money, so if you need to transfer money on a regular basis, try to make as few transactions as possible. (That said; remember that if you transfer more than $10,000USD, your bank will declare your transaction to the IRS).

There are a few numbers you will need to transfer money internationally that you won’t know off the top of your head, so make sure you prepare in advance. All banks have a SWIFT code and an IBAN number. The SWIFT (also known as BIC) code is essentially the address of a particular bank, and is usually made up of capital letters. Check with your local bank branch for this information as all locations have their own unique code.

IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number, and is your unique routing number for your account no matter where you are in the world. Although most US banks do not format account numbers in a typical European IBAN style, you do have an IBAN and it does work! Check with your local branch before you go to make sure you have the correct information on hand.

Check back next week for more posts about banking abroad, including how to open an international credit card and how to establish credit in the U.K.

Published or updated on May 20, 2010

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  1. Donna says:

    Me too will be trying to open a French account and if things go smooth who know i will opt for more good options through them after all its all in the curtsey of the staff to attract the client.

  2. Larissa says:

    Good to know. I’ll soon be opening a French bank account, so hopefully that goes smoothly. Low fees would be good, but we’ll see… there’s a reason why banks usually have the tallest and nicest towers in most cities!

  3. Walter Buck says:

    How do I get an overseas banking account, Caymans, HSBC etc.? What info should I have? I presently do not have a passport. Any info will be appreciated..

  4. Elli D. says:

    I have UK account with Lloyds, which lied untouched for several years. I asked for a new card during my recent stay, but it was a horror story! I was in the bank 4x, and all I finally got were promises ‘it will come in 3 days!’ Then I gave up…

  5. Sebs says:

    Going to university in Canada but being paid in the US, I have a TD Bank account in the US and a TD Canada Trust account in Canada.

    TD doesn’t charge for currency conversion on their debit cards, so I generally use that for most of my purchases here.

    If I need to move money to a Canadian account, I either write myself a cheque or just go up to a TD ATM, take out cash, walk inside and deposit it into the other account. It’s better than paying $15 to wire the money!

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