Those of you who travel overseas have no doubt noticed an increasingly common but incredibly annoying trend: ATM’s charging outrageous fees just to access your own money.
In some countries it can be as little as a buck or two, but in others – like Thailand – it’s $5 a pop. This is in addition to any fees your own bank may impose (usually a few more bucks) and usually a percentage as well (2-3%). So for a $20 withdrawal, you could be looking at as much as ~$28 ($20 + $5 ATM fee + $2 bank fee + 3% bank fee). So what’s the solution: carry a ton of cash? Unsafe. Traveler’s checks? Major hassle. Pay by credit? Not often accepted, and even those tack on 3% or more.
The answer, which I stumbled on by chance a couple years back, has already saved me hundreds – if not thousands. Charles Schwab Bank.
Many brokerage houses in the US offer debit cards that don’t impose fees, but this still won’t save you from local ATMs tacking on fees of their own. Except with Charles Schwab. Schwab actually reimburses you out of their own pocket for any fees charged. That means that if you want to withdraw $20, it costs exactly $20, always, no exceptions. If you use an ATM with a $5 convenience fee, at the end of the month you’ll see a deposit for that same $5.
All you have to do is open a Schwab Individual Brokerage Account (no minimum balance, no fee) and then an add-on Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account (no minimum balance, no fee). Order your card (free), deposit some funds, and you’re good to go.
Anyway, why mention this now? Because as soon as I landed in Sweden, I realized that I’d lost my coveted Schwab Card. I’m not sure if I left it in the last ATM I used in Kiev or if it simply fell out of my wallet, but one thing’s for sure: this is going to cost me… 🙁