A Guide to Opening an International Bank Account in 6 Easy Steps

International Money Transfer Services

If you’re relocating, planning to spend an extended period traveling, or heading away to study abroad, you might be considering getting an international bank account. International bank accounts may be foreign currency accounts set to the currency of your destination country only, or multi-currency accounts which let you manage a broad range of currencies in the same place. In either case, choose the right account for your needs and you can cut transaction costs and manage your money more efficiently.

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When it comes to opening a foreign bank account, you'll have two major options, broadly speaking:

  • Opening an account with a high-street bank 
  • Opening an account with an international digital providers

This guide covers all you need to know about opening an international account - and helps you figure out whether an account with a traditional bank, or an online provider, might work best for you.

 

6 easy steps to open an international bank account with a traditional bank:

While every bank will have a slightly different process to open an account, the steps you’ll take to get started are usually fairly similar. Check your preferred bank’s process before you start your account application - here’s what you’ll usually have to do:

Step 1. Choose and contact the bank

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, like:

  • Citibank
  • Capital One
  • HSBC 

Once you’ve decided which bank might suit your requirements, get online or in touch to check the process for applying for an account.

Step 2. Choose the package suitable for your needs

The next step is to pick the right account for you. 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.

Step 3. Fill in the application

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 4. 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. Different accounts will have different requirements, but you’ll usually need:

  • 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

Step 5. Fund the account

Traditional bank accounts aimed at expats and international travelers will usually require a fixed minimum deposit. Once you’ve finished the application process the next step will be to add funds to your account to meet this benchmark.

Step 6. Start using the account

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.

6 easy steps to open a foreign account with digital providers:

While traditional bank international accounts are often aimed at high wealth individuals looking for personal advice and investment support, digital options are usually more flexible. Signing up can be done online or using your mobile device - here’s how.

Step 1. Choose a provider

Check out the account providers and options which may suit you. You might not be as familiar with digital account providers as you are with the more famous high-street banks - so doing some research is the only way to find the one that suits your needs. We’ll highlight some providers to consider a little later. Pick a provider and the account that works for you, looking at the fees and features along the way.

Step 2. Sign up for an online account

As digital banks exist only online you won’t need to visit a branch to open your account. It’ll often only take a few minutes to get started by applying online and entering your personal details.

Step 3. Provide the requested info

Digital banks and account providers aren’t the same as traditional banks, but their account opening processes are often just as rigorous as banks because they’re regulated in the same way as any other financial institution. Therefore you’ll need to provide identification documents and details, just as you would a regular bank - but in this case you can do so by uploading images of your paperwork instead of presenting it in person at a branch.

Step 4. Wait to get verified

The account provider will check over your documents to verify your account. This shouldn’t take long but you won’t be able to use your account fully until you get the go ahead from the provider.

Step 5. Fund the account

Add as much money as you choose to your account balance. Online accounts are usually flexible about how customers operate their accounts, so it’s common to find no minimum balance requirement. 

Step 6. Use the account

You’re all done. Operate your account online and in the provider app, order a linked card if you haven’t already got one, and you’re good to go.

Online providers to open an international account with [USA]:

While online providers are relatively new compared to physical banks, they’re usually regulated in the same way, meaning your money is just as safe. Here are a few providers to check out.

Depending on the country you want to open an account in, you have a few options:

Best Overall Online Service

Wise

Hold 54 currencies in your Wise international account, send payments to 80 countries, and spend with your linked card in 200+ countries around the world. Whenever you need to exchange currencies with Wise you’ll get the real exchange rate with no markup and no hidden fees, which can make this account 3x cheaper than regular US bank accounts. Get 10 different receiving accounts to get paid like a local in USD, GBP, EUR and other major global currencies, and only ever pay a low, transparent fee for currency conversion.

Remitly Passbook

Remitly Passbook is aimed at immigrants in the US - although any US citizen or resident can open an account. Add cash from your bank account or have your salary or other direct deposit payments added to your balance, then send international remittances, and get a linked Visa card for spending and withdrawals.

Online providers [UK]:

Wise

Wise UK accounts are up to 6x cheaper than some local UK banks when it comes to sending and spending money overseas. Hold 54 currencies, get local bank details for 10 currencies, and send and spend money all over the world using the real mid-market exchange rate. Use your linked debit card to shop online, make withdrawals, or spend in person no matter where you are, and avoid foreign transaction fees every time. There’s just a low, transparent fee for currency conversion instead.

Monzo

Monzo is a UK based bank which operates digitally - so you can open your account using just your phone. There are a range of account options from current accounts to business accounts and even products for young adults, and because it’s a fully licensed bank you can also get overdrafts and loans if you want them. Although you can’t hold foreign currencies in your Monzo account, you can use your linked Mastercard anywhere in the world to spend and make cash withdrawals.

Revolut

Choose between 4 different plan types, including a fee free standard plan option, to hold and manage up to 30 currencies. Revolut account holders can also get spending analytics, buy and sell cryptocurrencies, and spend internationally with a linked debit card. All account types come with some free transactions, but these are more limited for the free and lower cost plans. Upgrade to get higher transaction limits and unlock more perks.

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FAQs

International bank accounts - which you may also see called multi-currency accounts or global bank accounts - allow customers to transact more easily in a range of foreign currencies. You’ll often find international bank accounts let you hold a selection of different currencies as well as your home currency, so you can send and receive cross-border payments, and access your money more easily when you travel.

 

If you’re taking an extended trip overseas, frequently visit the same country, or are moving permanently, you may be debating whether to get a local bank account or an international account. Both have different advantages. If you’re relocating permanently, having a local bank account probably makes good sense - it can be useful to set up essential services, receive a salary and make payments in the local currency. However, holding a low fee international account can still be a helpful way to cut costs when you travel, or if you need to send or receive payments from your home country. 

If you’re not expecting to remain in the same location for long, an international account might be the better choice as you retain flexibility to switch between currencies when you need to. Compare the costs of using a local bank account in your destination against international bank account options to help you decide.

There’s not really any best international account - it’s more a question of personal preference and how you like to organize your spending. 

You can find international accounts from banks and also from online providers - which means you’ve got a good selection to choose from. Check out the features and fees of any accounts you’re interested in, including regular service fees and transaction costs. Some accounts support only limited currencies, so you’ll have to make sure those you need are covered by your preferred account. You’ll also want to look at the exchange rates which will apply when you need to send, receive, or spend currencies you don’t already hold in the account.

Do a bit of research before you open your international account, to make sure you get the perfect match for your needs.

Different banks - and different countries - have their own account opening processes and rules about the documents required to open a bank account. In almost all cases, to open an account with a traditional bank you’ll need to provide:

  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of address
  • Personal details
  • An opening deposit

Depending on where you are you may also need to visit a bank branch, provide a sample signature, or employment details. Online account providers tend to be somewhat more flexible and allow customers to upload their details and documents in the most straightforward way possible while complying with local laws.

International accounts - either from a traditional bank or a newer online provider - can make life easier and cheaper if you live, work or study abroad. Or even if you just love to travel and shop online with international ecommerce sellers. Check out the ideas and options here to get the best international account for your needs.

Most online companies do. When you have an account with any of the online money transfer services highlighted above, you can make transfers through their website, or via their iOS Apple and Android apps. However, some are easier to use than others. Click here to learn more about the best money transfer apps.

By Ileana Ionescu Updated October 1st, 2021