Banking / Insurance for Expats
I mentioned previously that for U.S. expats, I recommended banking with USAA Bank. There's a question that came up about how non-military people can become members, however, so I wanted to address that here as well as go over some of the benefits of USAA that are of particular value for expats.
I checked the USAA website but it seems that they only allow military even though you mentioned they accept everyone. Can you tell me how exactly you managed to get in with them? It would be much appreciated!
Getting an Account With USAA Bank
If you're not current or former military or a dependent, you can't get insurance from USAA, but you can still open a bank account with them. I know this because I helped my girlfriend open an account with them and she's not military.
The way you do it is by calling 1-800-531-BANK. Speak to an operator and tell them that you want to open an account with USAA Bank and they will direct you to the right department. They will give you a USAA number and temporary password which will allow to to access the bank, brokerage, and "member services" part of their website. If you like, they will also send you a packet of information in the mail.
With your member number, you'll be able to then open a bank and/or brokerage account with USAA. USAA Bank is an FDIC-insured Federal Savings Bank, not a credit union, and therefore they cannot legally restrict access to their bank to a specific group of people.
It is important that you have a U.S. mailing address when you sign-up. Argentina is on a "restricted country list" and they will not open an account for you if you tell them you are living in Argentina. After you open the accounts, however, you can update your mailing address on your accounts with them and they won't close your accounts, but they won't open any new ones for you while you live in Argentina.
Benefits of USAA Bank
USAA offers a number of benefits for expats. The bank is geared for people who live abroad for extended periods of time and that's what makes it such a great choice for expats. There's no one thing that makes it the must have bank for expats, but instead there are a lot of little things that all add-up to making it the best choice.
- Local phone number here in Argentina
- All forms/documents/statements can be obtained online
- Extremly full-featured online banking/bill pay service
- No need to ever show-up personally in the bank for anything
- Wire transfers to your account in Argentina can be requested over the phone and by fax
- No foreign transaction fees on non-US Dollar credit card transactions (this alone can save you thousands of dollars if you use your credit card to pay for things)
- No cash advance fee on credit card transactions, including foreign withdrawals from ATMs
- Fast customer service, without long hold times
- The ability to mail things out of the country (my old bank wouldn't mail my replacement credit card out of the country, "The computer won't let me," the rep said. I kid you not.)
- You can mail-in checks for deposit
Benefits of USAA Insurance
If you qualify for insurance with USAA, you should call up right away and get a "US Touring Policy", which is a special insurance policy for expatriates and it covers you on any car you drive while in the USA. You may think there's no point in having insurance while outside the U.S., but it helps. If you ever go back to visit family or rent a car, you can be comfortable driving knowing that you are insured if something happens. The policy costs $5.00 per year, which is a whole hell of a lot less than even the rental car insurance costs.
It also maintains continuous insurance coverage, while is important if you ever move back to the U.S. and need to obtain coverage. You pay a lot more when you have a gap in your coverage.