International banking

No matter where in the world you’re planning on moving to, the chances are that you’re going to want – and need – to open a bank account in that particular country when you get there. Although keeping your existing account with your current bank open may be possible, you are likely to find that once you emigrate the bank will be less willing to offer you some of the services you’ve come to expect – such as loans and overdrafts – when you’re living thousands of miles away. You may also find that banking in some countries operates slightly differently from what you are used to. For example, in France (particularly in rural areas) cheques are still far more commonly used than debit or credit cards are to pay for things. Therefore, you would need a French bank account in order to receive a cheque book as cards may not always be accepted.

What’s more, it is surely makes far more sense to be able to deal with a bank located close to where you live – one where you can pop into the branch and speak to someone face to face rather than being stuck for hours on the phone listening to an automated system only to find out that the service you require is no longer available to you.

While the thought of using a foreign bank can be intimidating – especially if you’re moving to a country where your mother tongue is not the native language – the reality should (hopefully) not prove to be that bad. Most countries have banks which boast an overseas presence – there may even be branches located in your home country – and these banks are often well geared towards dealing with overseas customers. For example, many of the larger banks located in EU countries will offer international desks offering English language services; smaller, regional banks are less likely to offer such services, especially if you settle in an area that is not traditionally popular with expats.

Depending on where you are moving to, it may even be possible to open up a ‘non-resident’ account before you emigrate; this could help you build up a credit history before you arrive to live in the country. Different countries will have different procedures for opening an account as a non-resident and you are likely to find that the services you receive will be more limited and that charges for transactions and monthly service fees will be more expensive than current accounts for residents. If you are hoping to open an account prior to emigrating then it may well be worth checking to see if there are any banks from your intended destination located in your home country. Not only will this give you the opportunity to speak to a member of the bank’s staff in your own language (something that you may be worried about depending on where you’re moving to), but you may also find that you can open an ‘international’ or ‘foreign currency’ account with the bank which can then be transferred to a resident account once you arrive permanently in your new country. Some international banks – such as Barclays and HSBC in the UK – also offer a wide range of services for potential expats.

Opening a current account at an overseas bank once you are a resident of that country is generally a straightforward process. The likelihood is that you will need to pre-arrange a meeting with an advisor at a local bank to open an account; while you may be able to apply to do this online you will almost certainly need to present yourself to the bank in person to verify who you are in order to activate the account – so it is probably just as easy to visit the bank and get an account there and then. By visiting the branch you can also ask any questions regarding anything you are unsure about. You will almost certainly need to bring a valid form of ID, such as a passport, with you when opening an account and probably proof of your address as well. Some countries will require you to have a tax or employment number (for example a Social Security Number in the US or Codice Fiscale in Italy) while some will need you to show your residence permit (if such a thing exists in the country you have moved to). A few banks may even require a reference from your existing bank before you can open an account (this is increasingly likely when opening a non-resident account). It may be that, as a newcomer to the country, you can initially only open a very basic current account, although it shouldn’t take long for the bank to allow you to open other accounts – such as savings accounts or more advanced current account packages – providing you are proving to be a reliable customer with regular income.

One thing to be aware of – especially if you are from the UK, where many banking services are, on the whole, provided for free (providing you don’t go overdrawn and maintain any set cash limits in your account) – is that most countries do charge monthly service fees for banking and charge on a wide range of everyday transactions. The amount you will be charged varies dramatically by country and the type of account you hold, but it is essential to be aware of just what these costs are – and what additional charges you may incur – before agreeing to open any account.

Key banks:



Bank of America:


Commonwealth Bank of Australia:


Royal Bank of Canada:

National Bank of Canada:


BNP Paribor: Crédit Agricole:


Deutsche Bank:



Intesa Sanpaolo: Che Banca:

New Zealand


New Zealand

Commonwealth Bank of Australia:


Banco Santander:

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria: