How to open an international account 2023

Looking to open an international bank account? Whether you’re planning to move to a different country or you need to make regular transfers abroad, managing your money across different countries and currencies can be challenging.

In this article we’ll look at how to open an international bank account with a traditional bank or online specialist service, including the documents you need. We’ll also analyze the best options available to show you some of the most cost-effective international accounts, such as Wise or Revolut. But more on that later, read on.

Go to WiseGo to Revolut
 

Here’s a rundown of what we’ll cover:

  • What is an international account?
  • How to open an international account
  • Can I open an international bank account from the US?
  • 4 best international bank accounts
  • Benefits of international bank accounts
  • What are the costs?

What is an international account?

An international account lets you hold one or more foreign currencies, and make easy payments internationally. While different providers have their own features and fees, accounts can often come with linked cards for payments and withdrawals, and ways to pay and get paid in foreign currencies.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the people who may benefit from an international account:

  • Anyone who travels internationally for work or leisure
  • People who split their time between countries, like snowbirds who need a way to manage USD and CAD side by side
  • International students and expats living away for work
  • Travelers to Europe who need a EUR non-resident account
  • Freelancers and contractors getting paid in foreign currencies
  • Business owners looking to send and receive overseas payments
  • People who choose to invest in foreign currencies or assets

Depending on the international account you select, you may find it’s easier to send and receive foreign currency payments, and hold multi-currency balances. That means you can send international money transfers without the need for currency conversion, bringing down the costs overall.

How to open an international account

The exact steps you need to take to open an international account will vary based on the provider you pick. Traditional banks often ask you to visit a branch to get your account set up and provide your paperwork for verification. Digital specialist services will allow you to complete the entire process from home, usually with nothing more than your phone to upload your documents.

Here’s how to open an international account step by step:

Step 1. Choose the bank or provider you prefer

Doing some research to find the right bank and account type is essential. Take a look at the international accounts on offer from some of the big global banking brands available in the US, as well as digital specialist services like Wise and Revolut.

Step 2. Fill in the application in a branch, via an app or online

Complete the application form online or in hard copy, and start to gather the paperwork and evidence you might need to support your application.

Step 3. Provide the necessary documents

All banks need to follow verification processes, so you’ll have to provide documents either by scanning and uploading them if you can apply online, or by visiting a bank branch.

Step 4. Fund the account

Depending on the account type you choose you may now need to add a fixed minimum deposit to get started.

Step 5. Start using the account

Once your account has been verified – which can happen instantly, or may take a day or two – you’re ready to start using your account. You’ll be able to set up online or mobile banking, order a bank card and begin to manage your international account in your preferred way.

What do you need to open an international account?

Exactly what’s needed to open your account will depend a lot on the provider you select. It’s a good idea to double check before you start your application, so you’ll know you have all you need to hand. Here’s a rundown of the documents often needed to open an international account:

  • Proof of identity – a passport, driving license or other government issued photo ID
  • Proof of address – a utility bill or government correspondence in your name, usually from within the last few months
  • Proof of minimum funding or salary, depending on the eligibility requirements for the account

Can you open an international account online?

Yes. Some banks will let you open an international account online – but this isn’t always an option with a traditional banking brand. Digital providers like Wise and Revolut offer online application, verification and onboarding processes.

Go to WiseGo to Revolut

Can I open an international bank account from the US?

Yes. You can open an international bank account in the US, either with a traditional bank or a digital provider.

There’s not a huge selection of multi-currency accounts on offer from mainstream banks, particularly if you’re a personal customer looking for a day to day international checking account.

Banks do tend to have a broader selection of services for businesses and customers looking to invest, though. We’ll cover more on these options in the following sections.

4 best international bank accounts

Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. In this section, we’ll cover 4 providers that offer international accounts, such as online specialists like Wise and Revolut as well as traditional providers like Charles Schwab and HSBC.

ServiceWiseRevolutCharles Schwab Global investing accountHSBC Global money account
Multi-currency accountHold 40+ currenciesHold 25+ currenciesInvest in 12 currenciesHold 8 currencies
Account detailsLocal details in 10 currenciesNot availableNot availableNot available
Open account onlineYesYesYesYes
Account opening feeNo fee for personal customers

31 USD fee for business customers

No feeNoneNone
Minimum balance requirementNoneNoneNoneNone
Fall below feeNoneNoneNoneNone
Maintenance feeNoneNo fee for a standard account – up to 16.99 USD/month for a premium tier accountNoneNone (you’ll also need an HSBC USD checking account which may have a fee)
International transfersFrom 0.41%International transfer fee from 0.3% once no-fee transactions are exhausted

Currency conversion fee of 0.5% – 2% once no-fee conversion is exhausted

15 USD when arranged online + any applicable currency conversion fee (0.2% – 1%)Free – to HSBC accounts only

Exchange rates may include a markup

International debit cardsAvailableAvailableNot availableNot available
Close account fee NoneNoneNoneNone

Go to WiseGo to Revolut
 

The accounts available from digital providers like Wise and Revolut tend to be more designed for day to day use, with linked multi-currency cards and easy ways to pay and get paid.

Traditional banks which offer multi-currency or foreign currency account services often have more of a focus on customers who want to invest in foreign currencies, and high wealth individuals who want additional perks and services.

Here’s a summary of the international account providers we’ve picked out:

  • Wise: hold and exchange 40+ currencies, get local bank details for 10 currencies to get paid for free, send money to 70+ countries and use your linked Wise card in 170+ countries
  • Revolut: hold and exchange 25+ currencies with some no-fee currency exchange included for all account types, plus linked international debit cards, budgeting, investment and saving features
  • Charles Schwab Global Investing Account: invest in 12 major currencies, with real time quotes, multi-currency reporting and no trade minimums
  • HSBC Global Money: hold and exchange 8 currencies, from the HSBC app. Exchange with preferential rates, and send to your own or others’ HSBC accounts for free

We’ll cover each providers’ account in more detail, next.

Wise account

You can open a Wise account online or through the Wise app, and are a good choice for day to day money management across currencies. You can hold 40+ currencies, send payments to 70+ countries, and get local bank details to get paid for free in up to 10 currencies. Wise accounts also come with the option to add a Wise international debit card which can be used for spending and withdrawals in 170+ countries.

Best features of the Wise account:

  • No monthly fees to pay and no minimum balance
  • Hold and exchange 40+ currencies
  • Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with low fees from 0.41%
Pros of Wise accountCons of Wise account
  • Broad multi-currency features
  • Mid-market exchange rate for currency conversion
  • Low, transparent fees
  • No branch network
  • No cash or check payment options

Go to Wise

Revolut account

Revolut customers can open an account in the Revolut app, and hold 25+ currencies. Revolut has a selection of account plans, from the standard account which has no monthly fee but also comes with more limited features and no-fee transactions, to premium tier accounts which have higher fees but a broader selection of services available.

All Revolut accounts have linked cards for payments and withdrawals around the world, plus some no-fee currency exchange, based on the account type you pick.

Best features of the Revolut account:

  • All accounts have some no-fee currency conversion included
  • Hold and exchange 25+ currencies
  • Earn interest on your balance
Pros of Revolut accountCons of Revolut account
  • Pick the plan that suits your needs
  • Hold and exchange 25+ currencies
  • Get extras like kids accounts, investment options and interest
  • No branch network
  • Transaction and fair usage fees apply

Go to Revolut

Charles Schwab Global Investment Account

Charles Schwab offers a global account you can pair with a Schwab One brokerage account, to extend your investment options and pay in foreign currencies rather than USD. You can invest in 12 currencies with the Global Investment Account, and trade online easily whenever you want to. Broker assisted trades are also available.

Best features of the Schwab account:

  • No maintenance fees and no minimum balance
  • Invest in 12 foreign currencies so you don’t need to switch back to USD between trades if you don’t want to
  • Online and broker assisted services
Pros of Schwab accountCons of Schwab account
  • Invest in 12 foreign currencies
  • No need to convert currencies between trades
  • No minimum balance or minimum trade amount
  • You’ll also need a Schwab One brokerage account
  • Currency conversion fees of up to 1% apply

HSBC Global Money Account

If you’ve already got an HSBC USD account you can also add in the HSBC Global Money Account to make it easier to hold and exchange 8 foreign currencies. HSBC offers competitive exchange rates, and you can then hold a foreign currency balance or withdraw your funds back to an HSBC account in your own or someone else’s name.

Best features of the HSBC account:

  • Hold and exchange 8 global currencies
  • Manage everything from the HSBC app
  • No fee to transfer money back to an HSBC account
Pros of HSBC accountCons of HSBC account
  • Supports 8 foreign currencies
  • No fee to send a payment on to another HSBC account
  • Manage everything from your phone
  • You’ll also need an eligible USD account with HSBC
  • Exchange rates may include a markup

Who is the international bank account for?

International bank accounts can be handy for people moving to a different country for a limited time to work or study, people transferring money in different currencies, and people receiving salaries in different currencies.

If you pick an account which offers multi-currency balances and a linked payment card you could also find it’s handy for any international travel, and even when shopping online with retailers based overseas.

Different providers have quite different account options which suit different customer needs. It’s worth noting that international accounts from traditional banks often come with strict eligibility requirements such as minimum balance or salary levels, and monthly fees.

However, in exchange you can often access wealth management services, rewards and priority treatment. Digital services can be more flexible with lower overall costs – we’ll look at a comparison of some traditional banks vs specialist services, later.

More information: Best international banks

Is it safe to keep money in international accounts?

All of the providers we’ve profiled are safe to use and comply with the required legislation to offer services in the US, and often, internationally, too.

  • Wise: globally licensed and regulated, with strong digital security features
  • Revolut: US services offered in partnership with Metropolitan Commercial Bank
  • Charles Schwab: Safe banking brand – it’s useful to know brokerage products aren’t FDIC insured
  • HSBC: large and trusted banking brand which is globally regulated

Go to WiseGo to Revolut

Benefits of international bank accounts

An international account is a valuable resource for people who travel frequently, or who are living abroad for work or study. International accounts are also helpful for freelancers, and online sellers who receive payments from overseas, as well as businesses that engage in global trade.

Here are some of the key benefits of an international account:

  • Spend conveniently when you travel or shop in foreign currencies – particularly if you have a multi-currency account which lets you hold a selection of currencies
  • Lower fees and better exchange rates when you send a payment overseas or spend using your linked card
  • Receive foreign currencies – useful if you’re an international freelancer or business owner getting paid from overseas
  • Hold foreign currencies for future use, to pay overseas bills, or to invest
💡 Good to know
Multi-currency accounts with a linked card can mean you cut out foreign transaction fees when you travel or shop online in foreign currencies – saving around 3% compared to using many normal bank cards

What are the costs?

Opening an international account is usually free of charge. However, different accounts do have their own fees, which can include maintenance fees. Some accounts may also require you to make and maintain a minimum deposit amount to access features and services.

Finally, international accounts from traditional banks might also be available only to eligible customers who hold a USD account already with that bank – so you’ll need to double check if there are any fees involved in maintaining the USD account too, before you decide which international account to pick.

Tips for saving money with an international account

Here are a few extra ideas to help you get the most out of your international account:

  • Avoid unnecessary currency exchange – if you’re paid in a foreign currency you can hold it in that currency instead of switching back to USD unnecessarily
  • Get better rates – buy currencies you need when the rates look good, and hold the balance until you need it
  • Avoid foreign transaction fees – international accounts often let you spend foreign currencies for free with no additional charge to worry about

Conclusion: Which international bank is best in the US?

Ultimately the best bank for your international bank account will depend on your personal preferences and needs. Traditional US banks don’t usually have such a broad range of international account products for personal customers. Investors and businesses are better served, but you’ll need to shop around to find a bank and account that suits you.

Alternatively, specialist providers like Wise and Revolut can offer more flexible international account options which can hold dozens of currencies and which come with extra perks like low cost international transfer and currency conversion which uses the mid-market rate.

Go to WiseGo to Revolut

How to open an international bank account FAQs

What’s the best bank to open an international account in the US?

Traditional banks in the US don’t usually offer a very broad selection of international accounts – although global brands like HSBC may be able to help. Alternative providers like Wise and Revolut may be a better option if you’re looking for a more flexible international account which has a good selection of supported currencies.

Can I open an international account online?

You can open an international account online or through an app if you pick a digital provider like Wise or Revolut. If you’d prefer to use a traditional bank you may be eligible for online account opening if you’ve got a full set of standard documents available for verification – if not you’ll need to visit a branch.

What’s the bank with the cheapest international fees?

Banks tend to have fees for international transfers, overseas spending and currency exchange. While bank international fees can vary widely, customers often find they can access lower international fees by picking a specialist online service for their foreign currency transactions instead.

How much does it cost to open an international account?

It’s often free to open an international account, although some account providers do have maintenance fees. Transaction fees usually apply when you use your account, including currency conversion charges and ATM fees. Related: Best no-fee accounts in the US

Is it safe to keep money in an international account?

As long as you pick a reputable and properly licensed provider, it’s safe to keep money in an international account. All the providers we profile on Exiap are regulated and safe to use.

Sources:

Ileana Ionescu
Read more
Last updated
November 11th, 2023