If you’re going to be traveling abroad of the most important things you will need to plan for is how to pay for things. Depending on where you’re headed this can be extremely easy (Europe) or extremely complicated (Eastern Europe). Either way, you’ll want to avoid ATM fees.
Most of the credit cards that market to travelers and airline frequent flyers are easy to use now in most of the world. But not every interesting spot in Lublijana, Kigali and Yangon will accept your Sapphire-Platinum-ThankYou-Venture card. Thus, we all need a strategy to acquire some cold hard cash.
For those lucky enough to enjoy private client banking at a major bank, how to avoid ATM fees is never an issue worth fretting over. For the rest of us, regular banks often charge punishing fees on foreign withdrawals, piled atop insulting exchange rates.
I discovered that my bank worked with a network of international banks whose ATM’s I could use reasonably. The problem, I soon found, was that not every country I planned to visit had a participating bank where I could withdrawal money, and even when they did it resulted in me having to go out of my way to find a specific bank.
When I had to drive 45 minutes out of my way in Germany (and get yelled at by a furious German for apparently illegally parking) just to find a Deutsche Bank, I knew I needed a better option.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of alternative virtual banking products out there that put fee-free foreign withdrawals within grasp of most Americans.
One I’ve been using for awhile now is called a Summit checking account and its offered by an investment bank, Aspiration. While Aspiration doesn’t have retail banking locations, like a Bank of America, Chase or Wells Fargo might, Aspiration allows its virtual checking customers to perform all the same electronic funds transfers that a retail bank might, and allows fee-free withdrawals at any ATM in the world. Yep, avoid ATM fees.
What Is Aspiration Bank?
Just as a disclaimer from the get go, we have no affiliate link or relationship with Aspiration — simply a personal experience.
This is an online investment bank; there are no brick and mortar branches. However, they do work with a physical bank in Boston for some purposes. Other than that, their checking account works like any other bank. You can deposit checks at an ATM or by using the Aspiration app (available for both iPhone and Android) to take a picture of them and deposit digitally.
I can deposit cash at an ATM. Accounts are FDIC insured to $250,000. The minimum deposit to open an account is $10, there are no monthly fees, and there are no minimum monthly balance requirements. Also, accounts carrying a monthly balance of $2500 receive 1% APY interest, and accounts under this balance accrue interest at a rate of .25% APY. These are better rates than any no-limit retail checking account currently available.
Avoid ATM Fees: Does It Work As Promised?
I’m not the type of person that likes banks, and I was extremely skeptical about giving my money to an entity that only has an online presence. However, after two years as an account holder myself, I am happy to report that I have been able to avoid ATM fees after withdrawing money in over a dozen different countries. It is important to note that when withdrawing cash at an ATM I have to accept the out-of-network fee when prompted, but all the fees are reimbursed in a lump sum every month.
Customer Service Experience With Aspiration
While I can’t go speak to someone face to face, if I need something or have any issues I can reach out to the bank by phone, email, or even social media channels.
I have had to reach out for help a couple times and when I did the agents were helpful and oversaw my service cases from the start until resolution, confirming I was happy before closing their file. Also, a second representative usually follows up to make sure I’m satisfied.
Even after setting a travel notice through the app, I will get a confirmation email from a real person ensuring that they have noted my plans, even though I already get an automated electronic confirmation as soon as I create the notice.
The Summit checking account from Aspiration may not be for everyone, but for me it is a must-have travel tool. The $10 initial deposit and no monthly fees make this account accessible for almost anyone, whether it be for a primary checking account or a secondary account that one may only want to keep for travel purposes. Knowing you will be able to access your money fee-free anywhere in the world can give you one less thing to stress over as you plan your next trip.
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