There are a growing number of banking alternatives for digital nomads. Most of these options began as e-money payment systems with pre-paid credit cards. But, more and more they are offering the same services as traditional banks, with lower fees and more features.
Not all banking apps are created equal. Some require proof of residency. Some only allow deposits through bank transfers or stored-value cards, others cannot accept bank transfers and require deposits through payment systems like SOFORT or iDeal.
This means they cannot completely replace everyone’s traditional bank account, yet. But the added features of these banking options can make travel and international banking much easier.
Here are the best known and established mobile banking options at the moment, with their main characteristics:
UK-based bank offering both UK and Euro accounts with IBAN; US accounts coming soon.
||Free standard account
£6/month premium account
|E-money account deposits must be made via bank transfers or stored-value card top ups|
German bank offering accounts with IBANs.
||Premium account €5,90 per monthfree account has transaction fees
free account has transaction fees
|Eurozone residents only|
UK-based bank offering a no-fee UK current account.
||Zero fees||UK residents only|
Dutch bank for EU residents offering IBAN account, Maestro and Mastercard.
||Free basic account||EU residents only; no ATM or bank transfers: deposits must be made by iDeal or SOFORT, withdrawals made by payment to SEPA bank account|
Offers a UK current account without a UK address for credit history.
||£4.95 per month additional transaction fees
additional transaction fees
|Maximums on balance, deposits, and transfers|
E-wallet account with IBAN available in multiple currencies.
||No monthly fees
€2–€4 ATM withdrawals
Other service fees
|Available to non-residents of EU|
E-wallet account with IBAN and SWIFT
No monthly account fee
Small fee for currency exchange
Some additional fees
|No ATM withdrawals; some restrictions on USD transfers.|
For North Americans
You may have noticed that these e-money online bank options are based primarily in the UK and EU. While some, such as Revolut are open to anyone (and coming to the US soon), others are really for residents of Europe only.
Despite the U.S. having a relatively unregulated banking industry (see 2008 Global Financial Crisis), it is actually more difficult to get a bank charter in the U.S. than in other countries. This means that U.S.-based online banking options are usually backed by existing traditional banks. Examples include Simple (from BBVA) and Moven (from CBW bank).
But, the competitive nature of the U.S. banking industry does provide good options for nomads. Several banks have introduced accounts and credit cards that offer low fees or no fees for international ATM withdrawals and foreign exchange fees.
In comparison, the Canadian banking system is more regulated and less competitive—ironically, with the same result. Canadian online banking options are also limited to banking options backed by traditional banks. There are some low fee or no fee online options, such as Simplii (formerly known as PC Financial) and Tangerine (formerly known as ING Direct), but credit card options with free foreign transactions are virtually non-existent for Canadians. Luckily, the traditional banks in Canada do offer decent online service, including mobile banking and mobile check deposit. And Canadians can do easy bank-to-bank transfers via email.
IBANs (international banking access numbers) are used throughout Europe and the UK and in several countries across the globe. But IBAN has not been adopted in the United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand; SWIFT codes are needed for transfers to these countries.