Work Abroad but earn in USD

Friday, May 13, 2005

Expat Banking

Today I wanted to provide a recommendation for Internet banking. Every expat ought to have an Internet bank in the USA (remember my article on not keeping money in Argentina banks) to use as their primary bank account. A reader today provided me with several recommendations which I will share here:

Internet banks are perfect for expats, since they let you maintain your account by mail, fax, and, of course, by Internet. They don't expect to you to come walking into the branch to fill out wire transfer paperwork, for example.

I'd like to add one more bank to this list -- USAA Federal Savings Bank. Now, as some of you may already be aware, USAA only provides insurance for military families. Their bank and investment products are therefore also geared towards military customers who are already buying USAA insurance. However, they do provide banking services to all US citizens and residents. FDIC insured banks cannot discriminate or exclude classes of people, so they are forced to provide banking services to anyone who asks.

I can say with certainty that USAA is the best bank I've ever used, and I've used a lot. Over the years, I've been a customer of Bank One, Wells Fargo, Compass Bank, CitiBank, NetBank, Bank of America, and various credit unions. I've moved around a lot, run/started several businesses, and needed plenty of bank accounts. USAA tops them all. I only wish they did business accounts, because I'd be using them for all my business banking needs as well.

What Makes USAA Bank So Great For Expats?

Sorry if this is sounding like a commercial, but when I find a service that truly deserves it, I'm happy to heap on the praise. Expats especially need to know about great services like these. Consider this -- USAA has an 80+ year history serving military families who move a lot and frequently live abroad. Its part of the company culture there.

Let's get down to specifics, though:

  • No ATM Fees - You won't ever get charged by USAA, no matter who's ATM you use.
  • ATM Rebates - They pay you back those pesky fees other ATMs charge.
  • Free ACH Bank Transfers - Easily transfer money in/out of any other US bank account (even if not with USAA). I use this feature to transfer money from my business account (which is with a different bank) to my USAA account, so I don't have to pay myself with a check. You can even set-up these transfers to recur so that you don't have to think about it.
  • Free Online Bill Pay - Issue checks to any business (even friends and family) back in the US for free. No need to mail checks from Argentina.
  • Easy Wire Transfers - Just make a call, give them the wire info, and they do your transfer. The cost is minimal $10 or so. If its for a large amount, they'll ask you to fax in the wire instructions. Most banks require you to be at the branch in-person to make wires, so this is a great feature for expats.
  • Cash-back Debit Card - Get 1% cash back each time you use your USAA Visa Debit Card
  • Prime Rate Credit Card - Interest Rate of just 5.75% for people with perfect credit. Even with less than perfect credit, USAA's credit card rates are much lower than almost everyone else.
  • Hold Times - I've never waited on hold more than a minute or two, even during peak hours.
  • Friendly and Helpful Customer Service - I've never had a complaint about USAA customer service. They were always polite, helpful, and willing to spend the time it takes to accomplish your request. And unlike some other banks I've used, **cough** CitiBank **cough**, they never send your call to an overseas Indian call center.* Sorry, but I just have a problem with some subcontractor who is not subject to US law having access to my financial information.
    * This is not a knock on Indians, just the practice of bank customer service outsourcing. On the contrary, I co-founded an software outsourcing consultancy based in Hyderabad, India. However, I can tell you from experience that companies only outsource functions they deem unimportant to their business, so that really tells you about a bank's commitment to their customers when they outsource customer service.

Well, that's about all I can think of right now. One very important note. Argentina is currently listed as a restricted country with USAA, meaning they cannot establish any new accounts if you list your address in Argentina. Try to open your account before you leave. After you open the account, you can change the address listed to Argentina, but you can't open a new account with an Argentina address. Best bet would be for you to use one of the many mail-forwarding services I covered in a previous post. For some reason US financial institutions get very nervous dealing with people who live outside the country, so it would be better to be on the safe side and just list your US forwarding address.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I currently have a USAA credit card and find the rates are amazingly low.

I think it's time to take your advice and setup a bank account with them.

5/15/2005 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger ABA said...

Hi there. I'm glad you found my advice about the internet banks helpful. I've been using them for years and never have experienced any problems with them. Something that I like about Bankdirect and Netbank is that they allow you to withdraw up to the equivalent of u$s 500 per day. That means you can withdraw up to 1,420 pesos PER DAY instead of the 500 pesos that most US ATM cards limit you to.

Good luck.

5/17/2005 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

As of May 30, 2006, USAA has changed its policy and no longer opens accounts for civilians. I got in just before the deadline, and it's wonderful (no ATM fees!). However, I now can't make any changes to my account due to the new policy. It was a good thing while it lasted...

7/11/2006 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Jason Foster said...

Hey Dave,

Are you sure that they have changed their policy? I opened up checking account with USAA in Febuary, based upon this blog's recommendation! - and then I opened up a savings account in June! So, after the date you claim.... I moved to Buenos Aires on June 26th, 2006, and I'm thrilled with USAA.


8/04/2006 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

One other bank that I'd like to recommend wholeheartedly can be found at - I have been with these folks for 4 years and I can't say enough about them. Customer service is impeccable, interest rate is pretty good. They're a small entity in Allenstown PA and will bend over backwards for their clients.

1/11/2007 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Carmel St. James said...

I am sorry to burst anyone's bubble about USAA, but they aren't as great as you guys may think. Ever heard of that saying that says, "If something appears too good to be true, it usually is?" In this case, USAA tops them all. As a matter of fact, they forced my hand a filing a complaint against them with the FTC.

I serve in the military and for the 2 years I have spent with USAA, their treatment towards me was awesome. I loved the low fees, the no atm fees, etc... however as of this year, I now wish I never sighed up with them. Wanna know why it's simple. Don't you guys know, that USAA now charges you their standard 29.00 overdraft fee regardless if they paid any overdrawn monies or not? They are simply charging just for the attempt alone. Which are gonna pay that 29.00 regardless if the transaction goes through or not. Apparently they must have added this into their depository agreement just this year because nothing like this has ever happened to me.

I found out about their nasty little surprise the hard way. They hit one of my 2 accounts at least 8 times and thus put my account into the negative by $300. Now, I was in the process of bringing this account current myself but I was never able to finish. Why, because USAA decided to snatched over 300 out of my other account and placed it within my negative account in order to bring it current. Now under any normal circumstances, I would have understood why they did this, however what I had a problem with,(besides the bogus fee changes that is,)is they did this without ever informing me. Which in turn placed me in a financial bind that I couldn't have saw coming. The money they took was meant for other things like my rent, utilities and other bills I need to pay in order to maintain my home for my myself and kids. Yet USAA didn't seem to care about that. The CSR I was talking too about this, rudely told me that she didn't see why I would be so upset. She pretty said I should be grateful that they did this as a favor for me. I had to literally force myself from calling that woman some pretty nasty names after that statement along with her unprofessional behavior.

God forbit should something like this happens to any soldier currently serving over seas in Iraq. As you know, it' s hard enough for us to maintain our responsibilities when we're away serving our country. Something like this can put a lot of my fellow soldiers into a financial bind that they won't be able to fix much.

11/11/2007 02:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarah - I think I see a problem here with your story that maybe frustrated the USAA rep too. You never mention the fact that the whole problem is really your own fault based on your own irresponsibility. DO YOU THINK OVERDRAFT FEES APPLY TO PEOPLE WHO DID NOT OVER DRAW THEIR ACCOUNT? Obviously not, the name says it all.

Have some shame, lose the attitude, and dont bother wasting money you dont have on a lawsuit against a bank like USAA.

For what its worth, USAA is great, and I wouldnt listen to someone who whines about their overdraft policy as a basis to say they suck - if you are like me, and never had an overdraft, then you will be happy with USAA. If you are a check bouncing idiot, then maybe Sarah's points will help you find another bank that has less expensive overdraft fees!

11/11/2007 07:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I stumbled upon your blog yesterday. Its great! I found the Argentina banking article informative. I am a USAA member (ex-army) and I have ING Direct. Add to that I have family who live in Buenos Aires who want me to visit. I have thought about living in Argentina in the past, but reading your blog makes it seem more possible. Have a great Argentina day!

11/29/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think this information is great and I am seriously considering openning a USAA bank account however I am still wondering how I would get access to US dollars to pay rent. I'm not talking 40k like the other posts but just $500-800 per month. I know I can't take US dollars out of an ATM in Argentina without an account at that bank.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated

2/14/2011 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

USAA is hands down a fantastic bank in their services and features. They have the greatest customer service on the planet. I moved to Argentina for a while and was able to withdraw plenty of cash from the Argentine banks with my USAA ATM card and the fees were refunded to me. It is a great bank anywhere in the world to have. DO NOT open an account in an Argentine bank. The country and business and government is one of the most corrupt in the world and they seem to take some pride in it. That was my experience and why I left. I loved it and then came to truly dislike it because of the dishonesty and corruption. Just be careful and watch your back.

8/02/2012 11:14:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home