The Trick to Avoiding ATM Fees Overseas: Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account

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Have you ever returned from an overseas trip and been unpleasantly surprised when you opened your bank statement?

Most US banks add currency conversion fees of 1% to 3% for using ATMs abroad.  And sometimes, there’s an ATM fee of ~$3 to $5 in addition to the foreign exchange fee.  These can add up quickly and put a nasty dent in your plans for Big Travel with Small Money!

You can avoid these fees by signing-up for a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account.  It does NOT charge currency conversion fees, and you’ll get a rebate for all your US and overseas ATM charges.

Charles Schwab Debit Card

No Overseas ATM Fees? Sounds Good to Me!

Say No to Fees!

Link:   Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account

When Emily and I travel, we use credit cards that don’t charge a foreign transaction fee wherever possible.  Our favorite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which earns 2X points on travel and dining.  And you can soon get it with a chip-and-PIN, which can make it easier to use overseas.

But sometimes you need local currency for places that don’t accept credit cards.  I don’t like carrying lots of cash while traveling, and prefer to withdraw money as needed.

Charles Schwab Debit Card

I Limit Cash Withdrawals, Preferring to Use Credit Cards While Traveling Abroad

The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account has the best debit card for use outside the US.  When you withdraw cash from an ATM, or use it for transactions, you do NOT get charged ATM fees or foreign transaction fees.  And you get a rebate for any fees charged by overseas ATMs.

How Does It Work?

I recently used my Charles Schwab debit card to withdraw cash at ATMs in Mumbai and Hong Kong.

My bank statement shows the withdrawals and 1 reimbursement for all the foreign ATM fees.  I saved ~$23 in just a few days of traveling.

Charles Schwab Debit Card

Using My Charles Schwab Account Saved Me ~$23 in ATM Fees!

How Do You Get an Account?

It’s easy to apply online for a Charles Schwab account.  You don’t need to live near a physical branch.  You’ll get:

  • No monthly service fees
  • You don’t need to keep a minimum balance
  • Unlimited free ATM withdrawals everywhere
  • No currency conversion fees
  • Free checks, debit card, mobile deposit, and bill pay

I don’t like paying fees if I don’t have to, so I’m glad I got this account.

Charles Schwab Debit Card

No Minimum Balance Needed and No Fees!

You’ll get a linked Charles Schwab brokerage account with no fees or minimums when you apply for the checking account.  But you don’t have to use it!  However, you may get an inquiry on your credit report for opening the brokerage account.

Reminder:  Always Pay in Local Currency!

Visa and Mastercard allow foreign merchants to give US customers the option of paying in US dollars or local currency.  For example, if you’re in Europe you’ll often have the option of paying in Euros or US dollars.

You should always choose the local currency, because if you choose US dollars, they’ll add an extra (~3%) foreign exchange fee to the transaction.  This is even if you use a card that doesn’t charge foreign exchange fees!

Charles Schwab Debit Card

Don’t Pay for That Italian Gelato in US Dollars!

Even though it’s more convenient to see the bill in US dollars (less mental math!), it’s not worth paying an extra 3% or more.

Bottom Line

The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account has the best debit card to use when traveling outside the US for purchases and ATM withdrawals.  You won’t get charged currency conversion fees, and ATM withdrawals are always free.

When traveling, I prefer to use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but sometimes you have no choice but to use cash or debit.

And remember to always pay in local currency, not US dollars, to avoid additional fees when using your credit card!

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40 responses to “The Trick to Avoiding ATM Fees Overseas: Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account

  1. This account is the best checking account I have ever owned. Not only are the above details awesome, just wait until you have to call customer service for any reason. They are some of the most professional people and it actually is a joy to talk with them.

    Can not say enough good things about this bank.

    Their mobile deposit for the first few months of having the account was slow, took a few days to process checks. However now they literally post within like 4 hours for me, not sure if there was an extra processing hold when your a new customer to make sure your not scamming them or anything. Works awesome now!

    Any ATM in the world is liberating to have access at any point to your money. Even that 12$ charge at a casino atm was reimbursed 🙂

  2. Noticed that they pull your credit from Equifax:

    We will use this information to perform a credit inquiry with Equifax, an independent credit agency, to verify your identity. The questions on the next screen will be generated by Equifax and will ask you to identify which installment and revolving credit amounts (such as mortgage or other loans), and their associated payments, may be yours.

    Not sure it is worth it. Hard pull for checking account… that’s rare.

  3. I think that Fidelity offers the exact same benefits on their ATM/Debit card program attached to their checking and brokerage accounts where no fees are charged by them and all other party charges are reimbursed. This makes sense since the 2 firms are direct competitors.

  4. How does this Schwab account compare to Capital One 360? Both reimburse fees for ATM used internationally? Also, does the Schwab account utilize a hard pull on credit since it’s tied to an investment account as well? (This is just what I’ve read, but would love to have it confirmed) Thanks!

  5. Yup, just to echo what Chuck said. I have the same Fidelity Cash management account and they refund ATM fees. I’ve never used it in an international location, so I’m not able to verify if those fees are refunded. I liked the fact that I get paid a day earlier with my Fidelity account.

  6. Mark Anderson

    I have had this account several years… I can’t say enough good things about it. They are easy to work with, the website is great and literally every ATM fee in the world is reimbursed.

    I can’t imagine ever switching.

  7. I second what others have said… Chuck rules.

  8. Screw the big banks people and join a credit union. Most offer better rates, better service, and no ATM fees.

  9. Need to pay attention to foreign fee rebates. Unless system has changed, the foreign fees oten get missed & u then need to contact Chas Schwab Bank. Awesome perk but getting rebates can b a nuisance.

  10. Spot on Daraius. I’m new to this account myself, but even in a short time have had a great experience with it. I’d add one thing, recommend also opening a savings account with them, to ease the transfer time and allow you to keep your money in savings and not checking, which is safer just in case the card is stolen or misplaced.

  11. Don’t you need an investor account to be able to get one of these? I asked one of their reps a week or two ago, and was told you need an investor account to sign up for this checking account. Is that correct, or no?

  12. I can confirm that Fidelity’s cash management account does reimburse foreign atm fees and charges no currency conversion fees. I’ve used it all over the world and never had a problem.

  13. What about the bankdirect debit card? It doesn’t charge any ATM fees either when used internationally right D?

  14. I just looked into the similar Fidelity Cash Management Account (since all my retirement accounts are at Fidelity) and unfortunately they charge a 1% foreign transaction fee and only allow use at certain types of ATMs. Here is the relevant language in the customer agreement:

    “Your Fidelity Cash Management Account will automatically be reimbursed for all ATM fees charged and itemized by other institutions while using a Fidelity® Visa® Gold Check Card at any ATM displaying the Visa®, Plus®, or Star® logos. Note: There is a foreign transaction fee of 1% that is not waived, which will be included in the amount charged to your account.”

    The Schwab account specifically states that there is no foreign transaction fee and can be used at any ATM worldwide.

  15. Another blogger just wrote about this about 3 days ago, why not give her credit ?

  16. Agree with Alexander: Hard pull for a checking account? No thank you. A quick chat with a Rep confirmed (after some initial dodging of the answer) that if one is not a previous Schwab customer, applying for the High Yield Investor Checking Account would definitely require a hard pull.

  17. Scott, I have a great credit union account, but I still get charged ATM fees when I use a non-network bank ATM. Which has included all of the ones I have used overseas. So this account is a great backup for foreign travel.

  18. I wish I had remembered to do this on my last app-o-rama as I had planned but forgot. I would still have risked a hard-pull since I am travelling to Europe next month if I did not have a Fidelity brokerage/CMA account. I was able to order a debit card from them with no hard pull since I am already a customer. I am OK with the 1% fee and aware that I might have to fight over the ATM fees (as mentioned elsewhere online).

    Agree with Thomas up there. Usually when this deal blogged the OPs forget to mention the hard pull which is important to note for anyone in the points and miles game 🙂 I went through the motions to open and read the credit pull language in the disclosure and left the app only to get a call from a well meaning Chuckee asking why? When I quizzed him about the hard pull, he said Yes. Then I looked at the Fidelity option, which is not as great but it will have to do for now.

  19. Just to add to the customer service angle, I once left the country without my Schwab card. They overnighted it to me via FedEx for free to Central America! The retail value of that shipment was over US$60, not to mention the trouble to have my card printed same-day. When I opened my account they even had an advisor contact me and we chatted about my reasons for opening the account, and we shared stories about traveling to Central America. Good grief, their customer service is AMAZING!

    As for hard pulls, they do a second hard pull and have to approve accounts for mobile deposit, so it’s less great for that feature.

    I actually use my Schwab checking as a secondary account because they don’t have direct deposit requirements. I suppose if that changes, I’ll split my direct deposit into two or more accounts.

  20. TD Bank also has an account that is great. Keep $2500 in the account and you can then withdraw money in foreign countries from ATMs without any fees at all. TDBank will not charge any conversion fee and will also reimburse any ATM fees so it is an awesome way to convert into foreign currency. I am going to confirm but the rep on the phone even said you can use the debit card for debit transactions without any conversion or other fees. This gives you an awesome way to convert money into foreign currencies with no charges. If you can keep $2500 in the account–this is a great account to have for foreign travel. My daughter is in school in Canada and I finally figured out that this is the best way to get Canadian dollars for tuition, expenses, etc.

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  22. I use to work for Schwab as a Bank Specialist, I wanted to let you guys know its not a hard pull for opening a Investor Checking account. With the soft pull you receive a letter of what we were given along with a free copy of you credit report score if requested. This is a soft pull inquiry and will not affect your credit. The mobile deposit is also not a hard/soft pull it is dependent on the initial pull or your recent deposits into the accounts, which ever is more recent.

    Please feel free to call Schwab Bank with questions, the people who work there enjoy speaking with you 🙂 did it two years i should know. For the meantime I am traveling across Europe with my schwab card in hand while attending college.

  23. @Czr M If what you are saying is right, about no hard pull on your credit required, I don’t think some of your reps got the memo. I chatted with two different ones today asking if a hard pull is required to open the Investor Checking account and both said yes it is required. They said it without any hesitation. But anyway, I’m about to call to see what answer I get there.

  24. Just got my new debit card in the mail. It now has the EMV chip but it is a chip and signature card not pin. I called and they said they aren’t doing chip and pin. Better then nothing I guess.

  25. I’m curious. Has anyone signed up for the account online and been APPROVED for an account without having to mail in a paper application? It seems like the online application is a huge waste of time and I should’ve just completed the fill-in PDF.


  26. I just spent three months waiting for my Schwab high yield investor checking account to be opened. I received the paperwork that the account was opened but no ATM card. I called Schwab and was told they needed to verify my identity before a ATM card would be issued. No one at Schwab made any effort to contact me. Okay strike one but mistakes happen… I get to the verification department and am told I will be given 4 questions to prove my identity or else I will need to visit a local branch. I told them that I would not be able to visit a local branch as I live on a US military base outside of the country. They immediately say I do not qualify for the High yield investor checking and my account will be closed if I primarily use it internationally.

    After arguing with the account verification department and getting nowhere I am now dealing with a manager that has admitted she really doesn’t know what type of account I need. Not impressed with Schwab bank so far….

  27. @Anon I signed up for my account 100% online and was approved within the week. Once you are approved, you just have to deposit money into the account and they will automatically send you a debit card and check book. Overall the process was very fast and easy! If you have any problems their representatives are more than willing to help you out.

  28. At the link for the Chase card it states a 3% fee for foreign transaction charges. I have yet to find a card that doesn’t charge.

  29. Sharon W…. I have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa and they do not charge a foreign transaction fee.

    I also just went through the Charles Schwab online application process. In 48 hours I am approved, have transferred money in to the account and an ATM card is on its way. EASY!! I did have to open a Brokerage account to have the checking account but the money deposited will go automatically into the checking account. I travel out of the country quite a bit and the international ATM foreign transaction fee by SunTrust bank was charging me made me so angry. Done and done with that — thank you Charles Schwab.

  30. a lot of hoops to jump.
    -cannot open checking alone.. brokerage acct opens automatically with checking.. fine
    -but checking doesnt open until funded from outside bank
    -must fund brokerage.. 3 biz day funds hold. 5 biz day hold for checking
    -wait 3 days.. transfer funds to checking from brokerage. brokerage has no bill pay, only checking does. must wait 24 hrs for bill pay to “activate”. then must “enroll” in bill pay
    -then wait 10-17 days for debit card

    hope the atm fee reimbursements require fewer hoops to jump

  31. All good things said by others are true, but note that they are quick to reject a charge from Europe– I had to call schwab from Rome three seven days. Tedious unnecessary and slightly awkward.

  32. I found a list of Offer/Referral Codes that may apply for those who decide to deposit the minimum amount.

  33. I noticed on your statement with HK withdrawals, seems they took a huge chunk on the conversion. At a money exchange, one would get 75 USD to the $64 you rec’d.

  34. @DL How would you know the conversion is bad? It only showed the USD equivalent of his HKD withdrawal

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  36. Reply to Frank above and clarification on opening account from overseas . . . federal regulations prevent bank account openings from outside the country using online sources. When I tried to open the Schwab brokerage and High Yield Investor Checking account they flagged my IP address as originating outside the US as I was filling out the online forms–and now are putting a hold on the account until I can appear in person with two forms of ID. I suppose the way around this if you try to open the account from overseas is to fill out the PDF paper application forms, sign and scan, then email to a US friend living in the area of your driver’s license address and have the forms post mailed.

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  38. After reading all the travel blogs praising the High Yield Investor account at Charles Schwab, I tried to open an account last week. I was told that if I was out of the USA for more than 6 months at a time, that the “fraud team” would freeze my account. The representative stated that the accounts at Charles Schwab require being physically present in the USA for at least 6 months per year and that that fact was clearly stated in the fine print that I didn’t read. So, long-term travelers be aware and have a back up if you are planning to use Charles Schwab.

  39. A few steps to follow but relatively easy. I opened the brokerage account without funding it and the checking account was opened with it. I requested to fund it with an external account and that took less than 24 hours. I had to wait for the tiny verification amounts to be deposited into my bank account and then go online to verify those deposits. Literally took 2 minutes to do. Then I funded the checking account. Yes there is a 3-5 day hold depending on how fast your bank makes the transfer. Now I’m waiting on the debit card to arrive. I figure it will be a week to 2 at the most. Then I’m ready for my Europe trip in 4 weeks 🙂