Best banks and cards to use abroad

Living abroad for almost 10 years now, I have certainly learned a lot about the pros and cons of different banks, their service, apps and their debit / credit cards. I didn’t have much experience with using credit cards abroad (outside of Europe) when I came to Bali the first time in 2009. All I cared about was that I could pay with the card and withdraw money for free at any ATM worldwide. Even today many people still pay lots of money (fees) for getting their own money out of an ATM or spending it in a restaurant or shop. In this article I want to share with you everything I have learned in the past years abroad. I will share with you what the best banks / cards are that you should have with you when traveling or even being at home.

Overview of more secure cards

Security issues in Bali

Manipulated ATMs

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ATM’s in Bali get manipulated frequently. Usually thieves attach a small reading device to the ATM to copy the credit card details. These are difficult to spot. 

Solution: Best would be to withdraw money in a bank or inside a supermarket or convenience store. Criminals have more difficulties to install their hardware there.

Paying by credit card in the supermarket

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Usually cashiers in shops and supermarkets don’t check the name on the card or compare the signature. So anyone with your card could easily go shopping.

Solution: Use a credit card that sends you immediate push notifications to your phone as soon as there is a transaction with your card (ATM withdrawal / merchant payment / online payment)

Paying by credit card in restaurants

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Waiters in Restaurants often hand you a small book with the bill. Many people pay by card and leave it in the book to receive it back a few minutes later after the payment. The person handling the credit card payments could easily take a picture of the front and back of your credit card and use it later for online shopping.

Solution: If the restaurant doesn’t have portable EDC machines, offer to come to the cashier to sign / enter your PIN, so you can make sure nobody takes a picture of your card.

Bringing your credit card to night clubs

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Phones and wallets are a popular target in nightclubs. Often you don’t realize it immediately if someone took your wallet out of your pocket. When you get out of the club to get a taxi and you realize your wallet is gone the thief might have already used your card.

Solution: Use a credit card that saves all your cards in one. In case this one gets lost/stolen/broken you still have all your original cards in the hotel.

Do not pay any fees

Free ATM withdrawal

monkey-ATM
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Most banks still charge you a fixed fee or percentage of the withdrawal amount (some banks charge both!) for withdrawing your money from the ATM, especially abroad. 

Solution: Use a bank that lets you withdraw money anywhere for free.

Payments in other currencies

Currency exchange is a huge business. This is where hidden costs add up quickly when you are abroad. I still see too many people carrying cash in the plane in order to exchange it at a money changer (and hopefully don’t get ripped off). 

Solution: Use a bank that offers you interchange exchange rates, so you don’t loose money when paying with your card.

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International bank transfer

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If you have ever made a bank transfer overseas to a country using a different currency than yours, you already know how much money gets lost along the way until it arrives at the recipient’s account. 

Solution: Use a bank that offers fast transfers, full transparency and low exchange rates for international bank transfers.

Recommendations

N26

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N26 quickly became my favourite bank / app shortly after its release. Until today I am more than happy with the customer service (live chat, email and phone support) in multiple languages. I still recommend it to my friends and travellers or people who pay too many fees for banking. 

Unfortunately N26 is not available everywhere. If you are from one of the following countries consider yourself lucky:

Austria

Belgium

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

Germany

Greece

Iceland

Ireland

Italy

Liechtenstein

Luxembourg

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Sweden

UK

USA

Transferwise

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Transferwise is currently available in Europe, Switzerland and USA.

Detailed country list: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France (only Metropolitan), Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, Gibraltar (British Overseas Territory) and the UK Crown Dependencies: Guernsey, Isle of Man, and Jersey.

Revolut

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Revolut is available in Australia, Switzerland and the European Economic Area (EEA)

Detailed country list: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.)

Curve

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Curve is currently only available in the European Economic Area (EEA):

Detailed country list: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus,Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta,Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (excluding Crown Dependencies: Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man).

I hope this article helped you not to get scammed and to save some money while traveling to Bali Any questions? Please leave a comment!

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