One of the most anxiety-provoking expat challenges is how to manage finances from a distance. From foreign cash exchanges to investment visa requirements, the ability to securely handle funds is critical to expat life.
Fully embracing my geek heritage, I’ve used online banking from its inception. The ability to remotely manage funds any time of day or night is a huge time saver. I can count on one hand the number of times in the past few years I’ve stood in line to complete a transaction.
In the U.S.A. we use Bank of America as our primary finance partner. Their online platform includes a number of features we find particularly useful when traveling internationally.
Member of the Global ATM Alliance saves on annoying ATM fees in many countries. ScotiaBank is in Peru, Chile, and Mexico.
- Easily set international travel notices to prevent credit card and ATM card fraud alerts.
- International wire transfer fees are waived with a minimum average balance.
- Online bill payments automatically pay on time (no more late fees!).
- A mobile app that can deposit a check using a smartphone camera.
- Budgeting tool does a great job of tracking month-to-month spending.
For budgeting, there is also Mint which is solid for tracking expenses every month. Citibank has a global presence with offices in nearly 60 countries. Their minimum average balance is on the high side to get full international benefits though.
Nearly a decade ago PayPal established the ability to move funds electronically with only an email or phone number.
It’s been a great way to pay the service people who maintain our properties while we’re on our journey. This is also how we manage payments for our Airbnb rentals (both as hosts and travelers).
There is now a multitude of payment platforms to choose from. Our daughters like Venmo for its ease of use and social network. Apple Pay and Android Pay use the NFC chip embedded in many smartphones that allow you to pay by placing your phone on NFC enabled retail terminals.
Credit cards abroad
Apply for a credit card with no foreign exchange fees. Credit card exchange rates are typically much better than what you’ll get at a currency exchange. We use a credit card when possible even though many countries primarily use cash, especially in the mercados (markets).
As discussed in a prior column, security is a major issue, especially when your funds are at risk. To review, here are some tips I use:
- Subscribe to a reliable VPN (Virtual Private Network) service.
- Subscribe to a trusted Anti-Virus provider.
- Be careful to only connect to secure websites (which use an address beginning with ‘https’).
- Never (just to be clear, I really mean NEVER) open an email attachment or weblink unless you trust and know the sender.
- The never rule also applies to any email requests to reset any of your accounts.
- Always back-up your device in the Cloud in case your device is ever damaged or stolen.
No matter how hard you try to use a credit card you will find many countries where cash is dominant.
ATMs remain the easiest method for securing cash in spite of their nasty fees. These fees are offset a bit by usually getting a good exchange rate.
There will be moments when you need to use a money exchange on the street (avoid the airport exchanges due to their extreme fees).
In any case, stay up-to-date on foreign exchange rates. I like the GlobeConvert app when using my iPhone since it converts everything (money, distance, temperature, hectares/acres…anything!). On Android, I like the conveniently named Currency Converter which also works great.
There are so many facets to securely managing precious funds as an expat. Share with us your favorites and why they work best for you.