It doesn’t matter that you have an anti-theft RFID, chain-mail, knife proof cash belt with +20 resistance to fire; or that you’re “really, really careful.” Having too much cash on you is just unsafe. In most cases, you’re better off depending on a good credit card or pulling cash out of an ATM. With a little know-how, you can skip the fees, too.
You probably know Charles Schwab as an investment banking firm, but they also have an online checking account called High Yield Investor Checking Account. If you constantly find yourself getting cash from foreign ATM fees, only to have your bank also charge you a separate fee, this checking account is going to flip your world upside down. Charles Schwab will reimburse you for any ATM fees incurred at the end of the month–with no limit to the amount, apparently.
I first heard about this from a friend, and after looking it up, I quickly signed up. The process is painless, assuming your credit is healthy. A couple of steps to know:
- Before they send you the debit card in the mail, you need to verify your existing checking account from another institution. They make two tiny deposits in your account and you just have to confirm the amounts, similar to how PayPal does it.
- Once verified, sync your other checking account to your newly opened Charles Schwab account so that you can transfer funds back and forth. Initiating a transfer to and from your Charles Schwab account should not incur any fees. I double and triple checked with the representatives and even checked my account.
- Allocate a certain amount of money to your Charles Schwab account, which henceforth should be your nest egg for getting and using cash any time you travel. You don’t have to worry about the ATM fees, which can add up if you tend to withdraw a lot.
- You’ll be sent your debit card once you’ve transferred some funds to the Charles Schwab account.
- One caveat: When activating your debit card, you’ll need to do it while you’re in the U.S. Trying to do it overseas gave me problems with finalizing my pin (something about being unable to read touch tones from international phones). In any case, if you open an account, make sure to have everything set up before you leave the U.S.
I use this account solely for traveling. It’s nice that I can just throw in a certain amount of money and not freak out if it gets lost or stolen. Before this, I just withdrew and exchanged a certain amount of “starter” cash for the country I was visiting. This involved some arbitrary, nonsensical calculations in my head about how much I think I would need, but I almost always overshot this and would return with leftover cash that was too little to make the selling worth it. Not to mention, I didn’t feel comfortable carrying a lot of cash on me. Nowadays I let my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and Charles Schwab ATM card take care of everything.
It’s worth noting that Charles Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking account isn’t the only account that waives foreign ATM fees. Capital One and Fidelity also have something similar, but my experience is directly related to Schwab’s and I have so far found it super convenient and hassle-free.