Expat: Please note that I am getting nothing for making this recommendation of my bank. I AM recommending this bank because it is the best US bank I have ever worked with, and I have worked with almost all of them at one time or another.
Please see important updated info important for anyone living permanently outside the U.S. with no US address or phone number at the end of this report. Update.
Report by the American Expat in Chiang Mai
Banks are not my friend. And I am probably no friend for any bank. Except for the one I have now, the Bank of Charles Schwab. I opened accounts with them over 5 years ago, and am so pleased with the service that they give me, I want to encourage others to do the same.
I think I have had every kind of problem possible with retail American banks. I don’t need to repeat them in detail, because any reader here has no doubt had most of these problems at one time or another themselves. Let me just summarize them: exorbitant fees, rude employees, customer service cannot understand the problem or even speak clear English, checks bounced unfairly, holding deposits, lost deposits, website doesn’t work right, etc., etc., etc. And I am not even mentioning how most of the big banks have also helped to destroy the American economy, bribe our elected politicians, get our Tax Money at no interest, be a part of the criminal organization known as the Federal Reserve, and pay themselves outrageous bonuses at the end of every year..
And the Bank of Charles Schwab is FDIC insured like all the other banks.
The Bank of Charles Schwab has no retail offices. They do have retail offices for their stock brokerage services, but that is actually a different company from the Bank. Doing business with Charles Schwab Bank has to be conducted by mail, phone and the internet. So if a person is very short of money where they often have to run down to their bank to make a deposit before a check is about clear, this Bank is probably not a good fit for them.
So here is what I like about the Bank of Charles Schwab:
Automatic Deposits are easily arranged. I have a few places in the US that send me a check, and now I have them automatically send to my Charles Schwab Bank Account.
It costs nothing. No fees whatsoever for normal banking work. No monthly service fee, no fee for online bill pay, no fee to make a payment, no fee if you deal with a person, no fees at all. If you do bounce a check, however, they charge about the same as retail banks, around $35. If you deposit a bad check which is returned to you, there is a charge of $5. But those are weird situations. I had one deposit of mine bounce because a regular retail bank (Wachovia Bank) I used decided to do the infamous one week deposit hold without telling me.
You can use your ATM in any ATM machine anywhere at no cost. Use the card in any State or any country. I use my Charles Schwab ATM card in Chiang Mai. The ATM machine always tells you that there will be a fee, starting at $3 and going up. It’s OK, because the Bank of Charles Schwab credits you at the end of the month for any ATM fees you have had. And Charles Schwab ATM cards are Visa Cards, the same as most any bank.
You get interest on your money in the Checking Account. OK, interest paid is not much anymore, but it might go up (when the US enters into it’s inflationary period). Every month, you get interest on your checking, and there is no minimum you need to keep in the account to get this.
No International Conversion Fee. This is one of the most important services for an Expat. Almost all banks (actually Charles Schwab is the only I found that does not) charge 3% on every International Transaction. On a thousand dollar airline ticket, that’s $30. For the Bank of Charles Schwab it is zero. Same for shopping at the Big C or Tesco in Thailand.
Toll Free Numbers (OK, these work only in the US, but they have long distance numbers for international use) are answered by people, not machines. AND, these people are in the US and speak perfect American English. AND I have found them to be more helpful than customer service for any other bank. They get it done immediately. And they are very courteous. (I know this is hard to believe, but you just need to try it and you will see).
Internet Services like online Bill Pay are very easy to use, and at no cost. There are some retail banks that charge me for paying my bills online. Not here. And the online site is super easy to maneuver. There is no limit in usage as with some other banks.
Deposits are made by mail, but Charles Schwab Bank pays for the Postage (within the US). They give postage paid envelopes to mail checks in for deposit. From California, I send a check today, and it usually goes into my account within 2 days.
Free Checks. Yea, they don’t even charge me for printing checks!
Bank of Charles Schwab takes automatic deposits. Like from a job or Social Security or whatever.
OK, here are some of the things the Bank of Charles Schwab cannot do:
Take Cash Deposits. That’s OK for me, because I will spend them in a store.
Drop by and chat with the tellers. Thank God.
Get Travelers Checks easily. Who needs these any more anyway?
Safety Deposit Boxes. My mattress is probably better.
Make you wait in line.
Get attitude from the bank employees.
Bottom Line: I encourage anyone paying regular bank fees to scoundrels in the big US banks check out the Bank of Charles Schwab.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Have discovered that there is a requirement for opening a Schwab bank account that you have a US address. Best to open this account BEFORE leaving the US, and assuming you maintain some kind of an address, use that address for the account.
UPDATE: For American Expats: I opened my Bank of Charles Schwab account when I was living in the US quite a few years ago. I still own a home in California, and still use that as my US mailing address and I have a phone number in the US. This bank has worked well for me because of all the reasons outline above. After being brought to my attention by a few readers of this post, I have learned that the Bank of Charles Schwab is not all that friendly to AMERICANS that living abroad, either permanently or just temporarily. So if you do not maintain a US address and phone number, you probably should not consider this bank.
In the direct words of representatives from the Bank of Charles Schwab:
At this time, there are eligibility requirements for the Schwab Bank investor Checking Account:
- All account owners must be either a US citizen or resident Alien.
- All account owners must reside in the US or one of its territories with a US mailing address and phone number.
- Account owners must have a social security number or tax ID
To even open a Schwab brokerage account, if you are an American but living overseas, you are subject to special rules applied to non-Americans. For an American to open a brokerage account, they are required to deposit $1000 to begin funding trades. Non-Americans are required to put up $25,000.
From an American guy on temporary overseas assignment that wanted to open a 401K account, he reports “I tried to explain that I was considered as being a US resident of a given State working abroad for an unspecified amount of time, but they insisted that such US residents are not US residents and that thus Americans abroad must be treated the same as non-US citizens.”
So if you consider yourself a full blooded, tax paying, concerned American living outside of the US permanently or temporarily, I am afraid the Bank of Charles Schwab is NOT a good choice after all.
Here’s a link to their site: http://www.schwabbank.com.
The New American Expat is absolutely invaluable for somebody about to live abroad for the first time, but also provides necessary reminders of details that are easy to forget for people who have lived abroad before.