Choose the right bank
Before leaving for a long-term trip, consider opening an account with a bank that does not charge for international money withdrawals or one that reimburses ATM fees abroad. ATM fees can add up quickly, and if you don’t have the option to get these fees waved, find out how much the charge for each withdrawal is (even though this is only one of two possible fees you will pay per withdrawal abroad). Many banks also have international partnership agreements with banks abroad which allow for lower ATM fees, or sometimes no fees at all. Locating these banks while abroad will help lower your overall withdrawal fees tremendously.
Luckily, most of the international banks have branches around the globe, so we find it best to choose a bank that operates internationally in order to be able to withdraw cash with the least fees possible.
Make sure you take a debit and a credit card with you. Cash withdrawals are much easier with debit cards, while credit card cash advances are exorbitantly expensive. However, payment by credit card is much more widely accepted than by debit card, which is why it is wise to have both at all times.
For both card types, make sure to call your bank and let them have your full itinerary for the next three to six months in order to keep them from flagging, and therefore blocking, your card on theft suspicion. This is for your safety and security, but can be difficult to deal with when abroad, calling the bank during off hours from a hotel lobby’s poor Wi-Fi connection in Thailand or Argentina. Make sure to update the banks every three months or so in order to keep them up to date with your travel plans.
On a long-term trip, you cannot just pop into your bank to pay bills or taxes, mail a check or a money order – everything needs to be done online.
With bank accounts across three countries (the UK, in the US and in Germany), we deal with moving money around regularly. We highly recommend selecting a bank that offers low fees for international money transfers and a bank that allows you to do this kind of transfer online. You might need a card reader to verify your transaction, so if your bank provides you with a card reader, do not forget to pack it for your trip (this is most common in the UK).
Consider setting up a second bank account before leaving on your trip. It is safe to have two different accounts in case one of your accounts gets hacked, which can happen when using a public computer in an Internet café abroad, for example. Keep most of your funds in an account that you leave alone, except to transfer money out of into the account you use to withdraw money from.
A second bank account is also a good way to get higher interest rates than you get on most of the current accounts that offer low ATM or transaction fees. While these accounts are great while you are traveling overseas, they are not the best way to earn some money on the money in your account. Since you most likely saved a lot of money before you left on your trip, it is not a bad idea to earn some interest. Just make sure though that you can transfer money from your second account into your main one quickly, easily and without fees.