Some Banks Will Not Work With Digital Nomads. Does Yours?
I've been fighting with mine all month.
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I discovered Betterment in 2018 as an alternative to Acorns. Despite being four years younger than Betterment, Acorns had built a massive following of Millennials looking for ways to squirrel away our pennies for a rainy day. I loved the idea of rounding up my purchases and investing those pennies, but I did not like the monthly fees.
Betterment broke my heart.
I write for financial advisors and personal finance blogs. So over the years, I have recommended Betterment as an excellent online bank. I still recommend them for domestic use, though, as of last year, they also have new fees on their accounts.
But if you're an international digital nomad, I suggest you reconsider Betterment.
Shortly after returning to Mexico, I tried to withdraw money from an ATM and discovered the card had expired. I called Betterment and asked them to ship one to my PO box in Cali instead of my Georgia address.
They wanted to know why, so I explained I was currently traveling in Mexico but would return to California the following week. Betterment declined to send me a card and demanded proof of US residency. After two weeks, they sent the card to my address …. in Georgia.
Let's compare Betterment to another bank.
When I first immigrated to America, I got a Capital One card. I didn't know much about credit cards and picked one I would easily qualify for. The choice was a win-win; Capital One has issued an upgrade or two since then.
More importantly, the cards have no foreign transaction fees, and for a long time, it was the only card I used while traveling internationally. I have used that card everywhere, from the Republic of the Maldives to Jamaica and Mexico, with no problems.
Unfortunately, just before I left Mexico, I noticed a fraudulent charge on my account. If this has ever happened to you, you know the bank typically locks your card and issues you a brand-new one with different credentials.
"Do you need us to send it to Mexico?" the agent asked me. "It's no problem."
"No, thanks. I'm on my way back to Georgia; you can ship it there."
"Are you sure? We'd be happy to expedite it to Mexico so you can get it before leaving. We could even send it to Spain!"
"Thanks, but I'm sure. Just send it to my address in Georgia."
The card was waiting for me when I arrived.
After weeks of back-and-forth, I transferred my assets.
Over the past several years, I've held five accounts on Betterment:
Automated taxable investment
Automated traditional IRA
Automated cryptocurrency investment
High-yield savings account
Weeks of arguing with the agents made me wonder what would happen if I needed access to my money and didn’t have time to cross the border. What if I had an emergency in Mexico? Would they leave me stranded because I'm on the "wrong" side of the US/Mexico line? What happens if I move to Spain?
Find out if your banks are ready to serve you internationally.
After my experience with Betterment, I started researching other banks where I had accounts. I have a bit of an obsession with online banks (work is my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!), so I had quite a few to sort through.
The results were disappointing, and it really got me thinking. How many of us start our travels without ever considering whether our banks will support our journeys? Whether they will answer our calls from overseas? Or let us access our money to pay for emergencies?
I decided to move my investments.
I didn't choose a traditional bank or another online alternative, so what did I do? Surely, I didn't just stuff a few stocks and bonds under the mattress in the RV!
If you're a paid subscriber, I'll share the top banking options for digital nomads next week. I'll also tell you where I moved my money and why I chose that option. That way, you can decide whether it's the best option for your life on the road.
See you then!
Alexis Chateau | Free Ramen is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.