Best Mobile Banking Apps and Debit Cards for Digital Nomads

There are a growing number of online and mobile banking services for expats and digital nomads, allowing to open borderless accounts, send and receive money online or through an app, foreign transactions with reasonable exchange rates, as well as to withdraw cash with a minimum cost from any ATM around the world with debit cards that can be easily managed through apps.

These relatively new mobile banking services have been a game changer (and money saving alternatives) for digital nomads. Most of mobile banking services began as e-money payment systems with pre-paid credit cards, but, more and more are offering the same services as traditional banks, with lower fees and more features.

Not all banking apps are created equal or are as beneficial for digital nomads though, 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 mobile banking options can make travel and international banking transactions much easier.

  1. Why using Mobile Banking?
  2. What to look for in a mobile banking service?
  3. Mobile banking do’s and dont’s 
  4. What are the best mobile banks with apps?

1. Why Using Mobile Banking?

There are lots of reasons to look into mobile banking apps and online services when you’re a digital nomad. Some of the greatest benefits these services have to offer include the following:

1.1. Easy Transfers

Online banking and mobile banking apps make it easy for you to transfer money from one account to another. Whether you’re paying bills or need to receive money from someone else, you can do this with just a few swipes when you make use of online banking services.

1.2. 24-7 Availability

With online and mobile banking, you have access to your bank accounts on a 24-7 basis. No matter where you are, you can send or receive money without having to worry about completing transactions during business hours.

1.3. Monitor Your Money on the Go

Online banking apps and services allow you to monitor your money and keep track of your transactions while you’re on the go. There’s no need to hunt around for a bank that’s open at a time that fits your schedule. Everything you need is right there waiting for you whenever you’re ready.

2. What to Look for in a Mobile Banking Service

In order to experience all the benefits of mobile banking, you need to make sure you choose the right app or online service. Here are some key factors you should consider when looking into different mobile banking options:

2.1. Easy Balance Checking

Look for a mobile banking app or service that allows you to easily check your balance. It also helps to choose services that send you texts or email notifications when your balances are low or when money leaves your account.

2.2. Easy-to-Use Apps

If you’re going to use a mobile banking app, make sure it’s an app that’s well-designed and easy-to-use. Some apps are not designed with the user in mind, and they make for a very unpleasant mobile banking experience.

2.3. Secure Bill-Pay

Security should be of the utmost importance when you’re choosing a mobile banking app or service. Make sure the service offers a secure way for you to transfer money and pay your bills. Check to see if they’ve had any past security breaches, too.

2.4. Mobile Deposit

When you’re a digital nomad, it can sometimes be hard to deposit checks that you receive from your clients, especially if you’re not near a bank or credit union. Look for an app that allows you to deposit checks on the go by sending a picture of the check’s front and backside.

2.5. Low (or No) Fees

Avoid apps and services that come with high fees. You shouldn’t have to pay a ton of money just to send or receive funds. If there are fees for overdrawing your account, check to see what they are before agreeing to use a particular app or service.

3. Mobile Banking Do’s and Don’ts

In addition to keeping the factors listed above in mind, there are also some important dos and don’ts you ought to know about when searching for and using an online banking app or service. Here are some essential dos and don’ts to remember:

3.1. Do Confirm App Legitimacy

If you’re downloading an app that’s attached to an online banking service, make sure the app is legitimate. It’s best to download the app directly from the bank’s website to ensure you’re using the right one.

3.2. Do Set Strong Passwords

Set a strong password for your online banking account and, while you’re at it, make sure you have a strong password for your mobile device as well. This will make you less vulnerable to hacking and security issues.

3.3. Don’t Use Apps in Public

Avoid using your mobile banking app or service when you’re also connected to a public Wi-Fi network. Wait until you’re somewhere with a secure network to avoid potential security or theft issues.

3.4. Do Turn Off Your Bluetooth

Turn off your mobile device’s Bluetooth function when you’re not using it. This will help to shield you from identity theft and security breaches.

3.5. Do Update Your Apps

Make sure you’re always using the most updated version of your mobile banking app. This will help you avoid glitches and reduce your risk of security issues.

3.6. Don’t Stay Logged In

Always log out of your mobile banking app when you’re finished with it. Many apps will log you out automatically after a certain period of time, but it’s always best to do it yourself, just to be certain.

3.7. Do Monitor Your Transactions

Finally, make sure you monitor your mobile banking transactions carefully. Check your balance on a regular basis to see how much money you have and where it’s coming from and going. This will help you spot potential issues right away.

4. What are the best mobile banks with apps for digital nomads?

Now that you know more about what to look for in a mobile banking service, it’s time to put these tips to the test and search for the perfect service for your needs. Remember these guidelines as you get started and it’ll be much easier to find a service that works for you. Don’t forget to consider these great mobile banking apps and online services, either.

Here are the best known and established online and mobile banking services for digital nomads at the moment, with their main characteristics:

4.1. Revolut – revolut.com

UK-based bank offering both UK and Euro accounts with IBAN; US accounts coming soon.

Special Features

  • Free global ATM withdrawals up to £400/€400 per month
  • VISA and MasterCard
  • peer-to-peer lending scheme
  • No residency requirement
  • Transfer in 26 currencies at interbank rate
  • Send and request payments

Fees

  • Free standard account
  • £6/month premium account

Restrictions

E-money account deposits must be made via bank transfers or stored-value card top ups

4.2. N26 – n26.com

N26 is a German bank offering accounts with IBANs.

Special Features

  • No foreign exchange fee on Mastercard
  • Withdraw from any ATM
  • Expense tracking and spending reports
  • Transfers via Transferwise

Fees

  • Premium account €5,90 per month
  • Free account has transaction fees

Restrictions

Eurozone residents only

4.3. Monzo – monzo.com 

Monzo is a UK based bank offering a no-fee UK current account.

Special Features

  • Maestro card for Europe and world-wide Mastercard
  • Group bank accounts available
  • Responsible investing
  • Send payment request via text message

Fees

Zero fees

Restrictions

UK residents only

4.4. Bunq – bunq.com 

Bunq is Dutch bank for EU residents offering IBAN account, Maestro and Mastercard cards.

Special Features

  • Prepaid Mastercard
  • Free transfers to Monzo users
  • Spending notifications and budgeting
  • Direct debits and other banking services coming soon

Fees

Free basic account

Restrictions

EU residents only; no ATM or bank transfers: deposits must be made by iDeal or SOFORT, withdrawals made by payment to SEPA bank account

4.5. Monese – monese.com

Monese offers a UK current account without a UK address for credit history.

Special Features

  • Foreign exchange at interbank rate
  • Payments, direct debt, and online shopping
  • No credit history required
  • Cash deposits available

Fees

  • £4.95 per month additional transaction fees
  • Additional transaction fees

Restrictions

Maximums on balance, deposits, and transfers

4.6. Leopay – leopay.eu

Leopay offers an E-wallet bank account with IBAN available in multiple currencies.

Special Features

  • No foreign exchange fee on Mastercard
  • Withdraw from any ATM
  • Expense tracking and spending reports
  • Transfers via Transferwise
  • Pre-paid VISA
  • Send and receive transfers in 10 currencies
  • Accounts available in EUR, USD, GBP, CHF, HRK, BGN, JPY, and RON
  • Available to non-residents of EU
  • All transfers between LeoPay users will be free of charge

Fees

  • No monthly fees
  • €2 – €4 ATM withdrawals
  • Other service fees

Restrictions

  • Available to non-residents of EU

4.7. Transferwise – Borderless by Transferwise

Transferwise offers an E-wallet bank account with IBAN and SWIFT

Special Features

  • Works like local bank in UK, US and Eurozone
  • Transfer via TransferWise
  • 25+ currency options

Fees

  • No monthly account fee
  • Small fee for currency exchange
  • Some additional fees

Restrictions

No ATM withdrawals; some restrictions on USD transfers.

Mobile and Online Banking Services For North Americans Digital Nomads

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.

In fact, at the moment we can see a few differences in the way bank transfers work in the EU vs. the US. For example, IBANs (international banking access numbers) are used throughout Europe 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.

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.

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Comments (7)

  1. Don’t know about Revolut and “No residency requirement”. I tried, and when I entered my phone number it got “Not avaiable to Canada yet”. To me that is a residency requirement. Even with a EU phone, they want to see a proof of address in EU.

    raul
    23 January, 2018 Reply
  2. same that raul said “Not avaiable to Canada yet”

    Lesly
    5 April, 2018 Reply
  3. Those of you who love to hack together your own automation Bunq has really nice APIs. Negative site default card is Maestro which outside of Netherlands is pretty useless in Europe… MasterCard is on the paid plans.

    What his article doesn’t tell is Bunq does business banking as well for both limited companies and freelancers.

    N26 customer support can take more than 30min to show up in the chat and that is a disqualifier for me right there.

    Kimmo Hintikka
    14 August, 2018 Reply
  4. Same, Revolut is still not available in Canada yet (Aug, 2018) and there is a wait list when I signed up.

    Jeez
    16 August, 2018 Reply
  5. Any option for latin american countries/people?

    Carlos Riquelme
    29 August, 2018 Reply
  6. Hi there,
    Really awesome article! I opened Revolut and it was pretty easy and useful. I will do the same for monese, monzo and n26 to figure out which one is the best solution for me.
    Thanks.

    Ruben Lozano
    5 December, 2018 Reply
  7. Great article.

    Peter
    4 July, 2019 Reply

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