3 banks travelers should use to save money on fees

Feb 8, 2021

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If you’re an avid TPG reader, you already know that credit cards are an integral part of travel. But did you know that picking the right bank account can be just as important?

Having the right bank can help you save money and give you more flexibility in managing your money when you’re on the road. But with so many choices out there, how do you find the right checking account for your travel style and lifestyle as a whole?

You’ll want to start by looking at your banking needs. Do you want access to fee-free ATMs around the world? What about a premium mobile-banking experience? And if you mostly travel abroad, you’ll want to keep fees in mind too. Foreign transaction fees can add up, and some banks will add hefty withdrawal fees at foreign ATMs.

To help you find the best bank for your travel needs, we teamed up with our sister website, Bankrate, to help you find the best bank for your travel needs. Bankrate publishes an annual study on the best banks in the U.S. and breaks its findings down into different categories, such as Best Big Bank, Best Regional Bank and others.

Bankrate gave us all its data, and we’ve looked through it to find the best banks for travelers in 2021. We then set our own criteria for what a good travel bank should offer and sifted through the data to find what we consider to be the best banks for travelers.

In the end, there was one clear winner and two solid runner-ups. In the article below, I’ll discuss the criteria we used to find the best travel banks. Then, I’ll introduce you to the three banks that stood out the most.

Let’s get started!

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In This Post

The criteria for picking a good travel bank

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

As a frequent traveler, there are a couple of important things to consider when picking a bank.

When you’re on the road, you want a bank that offers low fees, a great online experience and access to a large network of ATMs. These can make all the difference when you’re traveling for work or pleasure and may even save you money at the same time.

Here’s a look at the criteria we kept in mind as we looked for the best banks for travelers:

  • Number of ATMs: When traveling domestically, you’ll want access to a large network of ATMs where you can withdraw money for free.
  • ATM fee reimbursements: Private ATMs and foreign banks often charge fees when you withdraw money. You’ll want an account that reimburses these, so you don’t have to think twice before using an ATM from a different bank.
  • Monthly fees: Just because you’re a traveler doesn’t mean you should be subject to a monthly maintenance fee. We focused on finding banks with either no monthly fees or monthly fees that were easy to waive.
  • Debit card foreign transaction fees: These fees are charged when you make a debit card transaction in a foreign currency. These can range from 0% to 5% depending on the bank, and we only recommend going with an account on the low-end of the spectrum.
  • Mobile and online banking experience: Traveling means being away from home — and likely your bank branch. You’ll want a bank with a solid online experience that you can use to manage your account, pay bills and move money. We’ll use the Apple App Store rating to assist with this metric.
  • Lockdown-ability: Unfortunately, traveling can make you the victim of fraud. You’ll want an account that’s easy to restrict if need be — namely, you want to be able to disable your debit card from the mobile app.
  • Mobile wallet support: You’ll want a bank account whose debit card you can use with Apple Pay, Google Pay or another popular mobile wallet.
  • Contactless debit card: Contactless payments are on the rise in the U.S., but they’re especially important abroad. Banks with contactless debit cards received a leg-up in this article.
  • Interest rate: Sure, you won’t make much interest by keeping money in a checking accounts. That said, it’s worth keeping this in mind as you shop around — especially if you keep a large sum of money in your checking account.

So without any further ado, these are the best banks for travel.

Related: Introducing Bask Bank, a new way to earn miles

Winner: Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking®

(Photo by Gado Images / Getty Images)

Charles Schwab Bank didn’t win any awards on Bankrate’s best banks list, but it takes the cake for the best checking account for international travelers. This is in large part due to its low-fees, unlimited ATM reimbursements and perks with American Express.

Here’s how Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account stacks up to our listed criteria:

Criteria Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking®
Number of U.S. ATMs 0
ATM fee reimbursements Unlimited
Foreign transaction fee 0%
Monthly maintenance fee $0
App Store rating 4.8/5
Freeze debit card from mobile app Yes
Mobile wallet support? Yes
Contactless debit card included? Yes
Interest rate 0.03%

The good

The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and includes unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide. This means you can use your included debit card anywhere in the world for cash withdrawals or charges without paying a penny more than you have to.

Another upside to Schwab is that it has physical bank branches around the U.S. This is something you won’t find with many startup banks that offer ATM fee reimbursements. At these branches, you can talk with bankers about your accounts and investments.

Likewise, the bank had no monthly maintenance fees. There are no minimum balances either, and you don’t even need a direct deposit to keep the account fee-free. This is a huge benefit if you open a separate checking account for travel.

Finally, there’s one awesome perk for miles and points collectors: you’re eligible to open an American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab once you open this checking account. This includes all the same features as a standard Platinum Card® from American Express, plus the ability to cash out Membership Rewards points at 1.25 cents per point to a Schwab account.

The bad

One of the downsides to this account, however, is its mobile app. It has good reviews in the Apple App Store and Google Play but looks dated compared to other banks like SoFi Money. You’ll want to use the web interface to do more advanced tasks.

While a good online mobile experience is criteria for a good traveler’s bank, we’re willing to look past it for Schwab. No other bank offers quite as much flexibility when it comes to ATMs and foreign transaction fees as Schwab, and that’s a far more important perk for your wallet.

Another downside to the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account is its interest rate. Rates are low right now due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but this account still only yields 0.03% APY. This is lower than many high yield checking accounts but better than what you’ll find with many others.

Lastly, you need to open a Schwab One brokerage account to be eligible to open a Schwab Bank High Yield Checking Account. Thankfully, this is easy and fee-free, but it’s an extra step and another account to manage.

Related: 7 ways to save on overseas ATM withdrawals

Runner up: Capital One 360 Checking

Capital One Logo on iPhone
(Photo by Sulastri Sulastri/Shutterstock)

Capital One 360 is Capital One’s premier online checking account, the winner of Bankrate’s Best Big Bank of 2021 award. It turns out the bank is a solid option for travelers too — it has a solid mobile app and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, it has physical branches in some U.S. states.

Criteria Capital One 360
Number of U.S. ATMs 2,000 Capital One ATMs

55,000 Allpoint ATMs

ATM fee reimbursements None
Foreign transaction fee 0%
Monthly maintenance fee $0
App Store rating 4.8/5
Lockdown debit card from mobile app Yes
Mobile wallet support? Yes
Contactless debit card included? Yes
Interest rate 0.10%

The good

One of the best parts of Capital One 360 is its mobile app. It’s polished and well designed, making pretty much every banking task quick and easy. Plus, there’s an intuitive ATM finder you can use to find fee-free ATMs around the U.S. — this is important since the account doesn’t reimburse ATM fees.

That said, the bank has 2,000 ATMs of its own and access to 55,000+ ATMs in the AllPoint network. This should be more than sufficient for most domestic travelers as Allpoint ATMs are located in convenient places like Walgreens, CVS and Speedways. You should be able to find one wherever you travel.

The bank doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees either. This is good for using fee-free international ATMs and using your debit card for purchases. Of course, we recommend using a rewards credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees if you can.

Capital One’s debit cards have support for popular mobile wallets such as Apple Pay. Likewise, they have contactless payment support on all new debit cards. This makes it easy to pay with a tap wherever you are in the world.

One major upside to Capital One is its physical branches around the U.S. This makes the bank a good option for travelers who want access to physical banking locations. Some of these locations are Capital One Cafes, which have coffee shops, free Wi-Fi and minimal banking service. Capital One cardholders get 50% off coffee and other purchases, which is a nice perk if you work or live near a cafe.

The bad

The biggest downside to using Capital One 360 checking is the lack of ATM fee reimbursements. Around the U.S., you’ll want to stick with Capital One and AllPoint ATMs for your day-to-day ATM usage. There is no additional fee for using third-party ATMs, but you will be subject to paying the operator’s fee. This can be a major issue in countries like Brazil, which can have large fees for international debit cards.

The bank also earns a very low interest rate of 0.1% APY. It’s larger than Schwab’s 0.03% but still lower than we’d like to see. Again, this isn’t a huge issue unless you keep a large balance in your checking account.

Related: Dirty money: Could ditching cash keep you healthier this season?

Runner up: Axos Bank Rewards Checking

Axos Bank Office in San Diego
(Photo by bonandbon/Shutterstock)

Axios has the potential to be a great bank for domestic travelers. Its Rewards Checking account gives unlimited ATM domestic reimbursements and allows you to earn up to 1.25% APY in interest if you meet certain requirements. Unfortunately, however, it charges a foreign transaction fee.

Criteria Axos Bank Rewards Checking
Number of U.S. ATMs 0
ATM fee reimbursements Unlimited domestic fee reimbursements
Foreign transaction fee 1%
Monthly maintenance fee $0
App Store rating 4.7/5
Freeze debit card from mobile app Yes
Mobile wallet support? Yes
Contactless debit card included? Unknown
Interest rate Up to 1.25% with qualifying actions

The good

Axos Bank is an online bank based in San Diego. Its mobile-first methodology is apparent with high App Store reviews. The mobile app is polished and has all the features you’d expect in 2021, like the ability to lock down your debit card, move funds and keep track of where you move your money.

You also have access to unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements. This is helpful as Axos doesn’t have physical branches or its own ATMs. Instead, use whichever ATM is most convenient for you, whether at another bank or your local deli.

Unrelated to travel, the bank offers up to 1.25% APY on purchases so long as you meet a set of requirements each month. Each of these things gives you an additional 0.4166% APY for the month — meeting all three will give you the full 1.25%.

  • Monthly direct deposits totaling $1,000 or more
  • Use debit card for 10 transactions, $3 minimum per transaction
  • Make 5 more debit card transactions, $3 minimum per transaction

This is a solid interest rate if you can meet the requirements every month. You’ll earn this interest rate on balances up to $150,000. 1.25% APY is more than what most high-yield savings accounts earn, so this can be a good deal if you keep cash and can meet the requirements.

Like Schwab and Capital One, this account has no monthly fees.

The bad

The biggest downside to using Axos bank is that it charges a 1% foreign transaction fee when you pay in an international currency. This includes debit card purchases abroad, online purchases in another currency and ATM withdrawals. You’ll pay an extra penny for every dollar you spend, meaning a $100 transaction would cost $101.

This doesn’t seem like a lot on paper — especially if you usually charge international expenses to a credit card — but it can add up. This is especially true if you travel to a country with a cash-based economy that will require you to withdraw money from an ATM regularly.

Likewise, the account only reimburses ATM fees in the U.S. and not at international ATMs. This makes you subject to potentially high ATM service fees abroad. This won’t be a dealbreaker for domestic travel, but it can be a major headache for international jet setters.

We’re also not sure if Axos includes contactless debit cards since the bank’s website doesn’t mention it. Thankfully, it does support mobile wallets like Apple Pay, so you’re still covered if you need to make a purchase at an international kiosk.

Related: This sneaky debit fee could cost you on your next foreign transaction

Bottom line

Having a good checking account can make your travels a lot easier. With the right bank, you can leave foreign transaction and ATM fees behind and have a good mobile banking experience.

This year, we think Schwab is the best bank for travelers. It charges next to zero fees and will let you withdraw from as many ATMs as you like. Depending on how often you travel (or need cash), this can mean real savings. Plus, no monthly maintenance fee makes it a good option for a secondary travel checking account.

For those mostly traveling within the U.S., Axos’ Rewards Checking account could be another good option. It has unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements, no monthly fee and earns up to 1.25% APY on your balance if you can meet the direct deposit and debit card transaction minimum. Unfortunately, it does charge a foreign transaction fee.

Capital One 360 can be a good option for those who want access to some physical banking locations around the U.S., but it doesn’t reimburse any ATM fees. That said, it has access to nearly 60,000 fee-free ATMs around the country and doesn’t add foreign transaction fees.

Feature photo by WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.