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How To Open A Bank Account As An Expat?

Money is still a very uncomfortable subject for many people to openly talk about, in fact many people would talk about anything else than money, even their sex lives!

Your salary, how you manage your money, if you inherited money, or make a lot of money (or very little), can be very uncomfortable. But, if you're going to live a global lifestyle, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable about talking about money.

As a foreigner, many people and businesses will presume you have "a lot of money" (varies depending on the location), because traveling, working, immigrating, studying, and doing business abroad does cost money.

The average person, in developed or developing countries, often doesn't have the financial resources, academic excellence, or freedom of responsibility, to uproot their lives (and family), to a new location and start over.

Usually those that do, have to start from scratch (you know the American dream: my grandpa came to the US with $5 in his pocket and now is a millionaire!).

Well when you're in a new country, you will have to open a bank account to manage, save, and even invest your money. And while each country has their own rules, there are some universal steps every foreigner/expat needs to take to open a bank account.

Step One: What Type of Visa Do You Have?

Okay you've finally moved to your dream city, you found a place to live (that will be another blog post), a job, or may be following your spouse (sorry legal partnerships that a government will recognize, so this doesn't apply to girlfriend/boyfriend status), the type of visa you have will determine if you can even open a bank account. In many countries this includes the following:

  1. Work Permit

  2. Permanent Residency

  3. Residency Permit

  4. Marriage visa (married to a local or foreigner)

  5. Dual Citizen

Tourist visas are not enough in most countries around the world. If you start your stay on a tourist visa, and transition to one of the aforementioned, then yes. If you are an individual that has a 7 or 8 figure net worth (liquid and assets like real estate) and want to pursue a citizenship by investment which will provide a visa (or citizenship within 5 or 10 years), you can open a bank account. But for "every day" expats, it's important to have the right documentation, ie, visa and/or work permit that will enable you to open a local bank account. If you are on a marriage visa, you will have additional paperwork to provide the bank and authorities to open a bank account.

Step 2: What Is Your Nationality (ie what type of passport do you have?)

Another uncomfortable truth is that some banks don't want to serve certain nationalities and/or have different statues of a potential client depending on their nationality. For example, the American passport is a very strong, most Americans abroad have some USD, which is another strong currency. However, due to many scandals of Americans evading taxes or not declaring foreign assets, many banks may see Americans as a risk and/or tiresome client. Why?

Americans opening a regular checking and savings account has to provide their social security number and/or tax ID. I'll never forget when I first moved to Bangkok as an English teacher in 2015, at a Halloween party at Maggie Choo's, I met a few bankers who shared they were working with Thai banks who have American clients and helping them set up systems so "the Americans" will let the US government (IRS) know they have bank accounts. I was a bit taken aback, but the year before Credit Suisse admitted to helping Americans evade takes (Read here). Some banks just flat out don't want foreigners, and sadly in some cases, unless you take legal action, there's nothing you can do :/

If you have a "weak" or "undesirable" passport banks may decline serving you (and this is acceptable in some places), or will require you to make a larger than usual deposit. Again, each country and bank has their own business culture and "way of doing things." But I would like you ladies to be aware, passport discrimination is real, so be prepared.

The plus side of being a foreigner is that banks will be eager to do business with you, because as a foreigner they may assume you will deposit stronger currencies: USD, Euros, Pounds, SGD, Yen, into your account, and if you have a lucrative expat job, your checking account will be plush with cash.

Step 3: Paperwork

Aside from your passport, visa, there are other legal documents you need to provide. Such as proof of residence (at home and in your new country). Again, each bank and country is different, but if you are going to open a bank account, be prepared to have all the proper documentation in place (with copies), you don't want to set aside half a day and missing a copy of your new address. So be prepared!

In some cases, a job will send someone to go with you, or if you are following your spouse and cannot independently open your own account make sure you have a copy (or original) marriage certificate. Some places, bureaucracy is something to be proud of, and banks have to do extra due diligence when working with foreigners.

Step 4: How to Choose The Right Bank

If you plan to maintain all your banking in your home country, you want to choose a bank that has many services, such as international bank transfers. Also, digital capabilities, like an app, to manage and oversee your accounts. Now, this may seem basic, but not all banks provide these services. In my experience, most banks do have someone that speaks English, they have digital products like apps, online banking, and bank transfers locally and internationally.

Choosing a local bank or international bank does have its pros and cons, hence I recommend you read and do your research on a bank that will meet your unique needs. If you live in a "volatile" country, you want to also consider having a plan in case of a revolution/war/coup (yes I'm serious), and adding a beneficiary to your account.

Step 5: Why You Need A Bank Account

I'll admit managing money "under the table" may give the impression of having more control over your money if you cannot open a bank account (whatever the reasons may be), but the longer you live and integrate into a new city, having a bank account becomes more essential.

Many places still operate as "cash is king" but most of the world has evolved into digital banking, via apps, bank transfers, and digital money, so if you don't have a local bank account you'll be largely shut out. No online shopping, no Uber, Lyft, or Yandex, no easy bank transfers, having to accept a salary in cash and using Money Gram or Western Union (and accumulate fees).

So it will costs you operating in cash and with your local Visa/Master/Union card.

So ladies, if you want to live abroad or are currently living abroad, make sure you take the steps to manage your money with a local or international bank. If I missed anything feel free to share in the comment section!

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