One of the most common piece of advice we give to fellow American slow travelers and expats is to sign up for a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account before coming to Thailand. The Charles Schwab foreign ATM fee refund we got back this past year even surprised us!
One of the downsides of traveling or living overseas is the constant bombardment of foreign related fees. Banks, credit card companies, foreign ATMs, and money exchanges all want their cut for granting us the privilege of accessing our own money in a different currency.
It’s a ridiculous business practice and hard to avoid. Unless, of course, you have an account with a company like Charles Schwab.
The other day we were doing a little financial account maintenance. We pulled up our Charles Schwab account and totaled the monthly refunds we had credited back to our account over the last year. These refunds cover international ATM fees and the 3% foreign transaction fee, and boy do they really add up!
Fees Slapped On During Foreign Travel
The only way we have access to our cash is by withdrawing it from Thailand’s ATMs. Unfortunately, these ATMs charge a 200 baht fee per withdrawal (5.50 USD), which really add up over time. When we first got to Thailand, there were AEON ATMs that didn’t charge this fee. Unfortunately, as of early 2014, this company no longer offers this service for free.
Assuming that most people go to the ATM once or twice a week, this racks up anywhere from $20 to $48 in ATM fees over the course of a month. Although this can be minimized by maxing out your withdrawal, even we admit to regularly doing small withdrawals of 5,000 or 10,000 baht (165 or 330 USD).
But there’s more bad news. Most financial institutions, whether banks or credit card companies, charge a 3% foreign transaction fee for purchases made overseas.
So for a typical 5,000 baht withdrawal, 200 baht is charged as the ATM withdrawal fee plus another 150 baht charged as the foreign transaction fee. That’s 350 baht or 10 USD just to get access to $165. The frustration!
Charles Schwab’s Foreign ATM Fee Refund
By signing up for a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account, not only do we receive a foreign ATM fee refund every month, but foreign transaction fees are completely done away with, too.
So what did we save in the last twelve months?
The fact that we would have otherwise spent over $900 in fees in a year using another account, which is almost 5% of our money, is complete nonsense. In fact, the best word to describe what is going on is theft. Who agrees?
We cannot stress the importance of signing up for the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account before doing any long-term travel abroad. So before you do, here are a few things to remember:
- This account is a checking account that issues one debit card for security reasons. Hold onto that card with your life.
- Signing up online may be easier than going into a bank or setting up an account over the phone. We did with no problem.
- Do not mention that you are living or will be moving overseas. Just say you are traveling. Otherwise, they may not issue you the card.
- Charles Schwab’s physical branches do not handle cash. Therefore, you will need another bank account from which you can transfer your funds in and out.
Americans will benefit from knowing this little travel secret. Getting foreign ATM fee refunds is just one of many.
Do you have other money saving tips to share?