|Account||Network||Type||Overseas foreign ATM fees||International ATM surcharge rebates||Foreign currency transaction fees||monthly/ annual fees||notes|
|Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking||Visa||Debit||0||unlimited||0||0||have to open a free brokerage account as well. No cash deposit, no international wires.|
|Advancial FCU Ultimate Checking||Visa||Debit||0||unlimited||0||0||$5 to join by joining connex|
|Fidelity Cash Management Account||Visa||Debit||0||unlimited||0-1% (see note)||0||1% fee only assessed for signature POS transactions, see here|
|Salem Five Direct eOne Checking||Visa||Debit||0||up to $15 per month||0||0||Surcharge-free ATM access at Allpoint abroad|
|NBKC Personal Account||Mastercard||Debit||0||up to $12 per month||0||0|
|Level Bank||Visa||Debit||0||3x per month up to 4$ each||0||0||low daily limits of 300/500 atm and purchases respectively|
|Digital FCU Free Checking||Visa||Debit||0||up to $10 per month with a direct deposit||0||0||$10 to join|
|Capital One 360 Checking||Mastercard||Debit||0||-||0||0||"As of March 31, 2017, you don’t have to tell us when and where you're traveling, inside or outside the United States." Surcharge-free ATM access at Allpoint abroad|
|Facile (Pacific National Bank)||Visa||Debit||0||-||0||0|
|Discover Cashback Checking||Discover/ Diners Club Int.||Debit||0||-||0||0||Surcharge-free ATM access at Allpoint abroad|
|Booyah Bank||Discover/ Diners Club Int.||Debit||0||-||0||0|
|Dow Chemical Employees CU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.56% - 0.79% interest per month||-||0||0||$35 to join or Dow stockholder|
|America's Credit Union FCU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.61% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||$40 to join. Card app let's you activate/deactivate card, set limits etc.|
|Andrews FCU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.64% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||$5 to join|
|Garden Savings FCU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.64 - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||free to join|
|Advancial FCU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.71 - 1.16% interest per month||-||0||0||$5 to join by joining connex|
|Pentagon FCU (several cards)||Visa||Credit||0.74% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||$17 to join|
|PSECU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.79 - 1.09% interest per month||-||0||0||$20 to join|
|Interior FCU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.81% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||free to join|
|Digital FCU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.85% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||$10 to join|
|First Tech FCU (several cards)||Mastercard||Credit||0.97% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||$8 to join|
|Kinecta FCU MyPower||Mastercard||Credit||0.97% - 1.39% interest per month||-||0||0||$10 to join|
|Boeing Employees CU (all cards)||Visa||Credit||0.96% - 1.75% interest per month||-||0||0||$20 to join|
|Apple Card (Goldman Sachs Bank)||Mastercard||Credit||1.02 - 1.81% interest per month||-||0||0|
|Zero||Mastercard||Credit||1.88% interest per month||-||0||0|
|Deserve (Celtic Bank)||Mastercard||Credit||not available||-||0||0|
|Petal (WebBank)||Visa||Credit||not available||-||0||0|
|American Express Bluebird||American Express||Prepaid||disabled (US ATMs only)||-||0||0||No load fee. Cash deposit at Walmart. No chip.|
Rules for inclusion: The US banking market is so enormous that I have limited the list to nationwide operating Banks and Federal Credit Unions (that anyone can join) offering free accounts and cards that can be opened online only. You may find similar offers at local banks or restricted credit unions. If you’re willing to keep a big balance or pay an annual/monthly fee there are also additional offers out there.
To further whittle this list down I’ve limited the credit cards to ones without a cash advance fee.
The clear winner here is Charles Schwab. Best alternative is Fidelity (read this) or Advancial Credit Union. All other popular free accounts that offer unlimited international ATM refunds like SoFi and Radius charge a foreign transaction fee of at least 1%.
For a simple credit card with absolutely no fees the Petal Card or Kinecta MyPower are the best deal. A credit card without a cash advance fee has the additional benefit of being useful as a backup for ATM access. Interest alone can be pretty negligible as you can see. You will of course need a PIN to do that.
If you’re hunting for cashback or rewards I’d go with a cashback card like the BECU Cash Back and avoid complicated reward rules to keep track of. Sure, for serious travel hackers there are other considerations, but that’s not my field.
- Visa charges 1%, Mastercard 1.1% to their member banks for foreign currency transactions. It is however on the banks/card issuer to decide if they want to pass those fees on or not and how much of it, and to inform you if they do, see here: “Two federal laws — the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation E and Regulation Z) and the Truth in Savings Act — require banks and financial institutions to disclose when such fees are passed on to debit card and credit card holders.” Almost all do (those listed in the table above being the exception), many even tack a percent or two on top for their own profit. For checking accounts/debit cards, this fee often cannot be found in the regular fee schedule but is buried deep in the fine print in one of the Disclosure documents (usually Electronic Fund Transfer) under Debit Card Transactions and foreign currency exchange.
- You will have to jump through some hoops to open an account at most credit unions that don’t serve your community. You have to become eligible to join (donate to or join some org) and buy a share for which you have to open a basic share savings account with them. Is it worth it? Depends, in general their credit cards have lower rates (capped by law at 18% for Federal Credit Unions) and fees, but they offer no better checking accounts or rewards. Which means that if you want a low to no fee credit card or branch service (they have shared branching) it is worth joining, otherwise probably not – unless you have a general preference for their banking model. Most allow you to apply for a credit card before becoming a member, so you don’t have to join only to find out that they’ll reject your card application.
- Discover has cooperation agreements with local networks in China (UnionPay), Japan (JCB), Korea (BC Card) and India (RuPay). If you travel to these countries a lot, a Discover credit card could be a useful addition to your card portfolio and get you near universal acceptance. Discover cards do not have a foreign transaction fee either.
- Bank of America offers free ATM access in about 70 countries and territories through the Global ATM Alliance. What sounds promising is not a good deal though, because you’re still on the hook for a 3% currency conversion fee. Which cancels out whatever you may gain from not getting hit with a surcharge (dirty secret: in many of those countries ATMs don’t even take surcharges). Plus, Bank of America checking accounts aren’t free either.
- Reimbursement schedules for ATM surcharges vary. Some banks refund them right away, other’s do it bundled at the end of the month.
- Of the listed credit cards only the Firsttech cards use the PIN when paying in a store, all others are signature based. The Penfed cards are able to function in a PIN based environment at automated gas stations in Europe for example, but will still prefer signature in all other instances. State Department FCU let’s you choose. For more on that topic see here and here.
- Some US banks have rather long (and irrational) lists of blocked countries where their cards won’t work. Not all of them state this openly. You should definitely ask to be safe. (Personal opinion: that list is crazy, there are EU and even Eurozone countries on that list…North Korea? Sure. Slovenia? Come on.)
- Most US banks require you to inform them of your travel plans, so that they won’t block transactions abroad. Check with your bank.
- Andrews FCU offers cheap Euro Bill Pay and SEPA transfers. If you’re spending extended time in Europe and don’t want or can’t get a local account it’s a convenient solution.