Bank Accounts for Expats

Bank Accounts for Expats

10/26/2021 - 2:37 PM
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One of the most difficult aspects of life as an expat is banking. This is especially true for Americans who are persona non grata at most banks around the world. Plus, we have trouble opening and maintaining our US accounts if we are not in the country often. Here’s what expats need to know about opening offshore bank accounts in 2022.

The same is also true for non-US persons and all manner of expats. Unless and until you have full residency in your new country, it will be difficult to open a bank account there. And, even when you do have permanent residency, your choice of banks will be limited. 

Then are the expat nomads. Those who move from country to country without putting down roots or obtaining a permanent residency visa. For this group, opening a bank account will be nearly impossible.

I fall into this third group. I travel for a living and reside in Mexico without a residency visa. As I’m in the city of Tijuana, which is a border town, a visa is not required. However, I’m unable to open a bank account in Mexico. 

I’ve had to return to the United States to deal with banking issues three times in the last year and a half. And, until I got to the states, I was unable to send or receive wires.

First, Wells Fargo closed my account because they figured out that I was not living in the US. I flew home and transferred my account to BBVA USA, which worked great. They had an excellent online system and branches in Mexico.

Then, BBVA USA sold to PNC. Their basic online system did not allow wire transfers and it took a huge amount of effort to move to their Pinnacle platform. I spent hours on the phone and had to travel to my branch twice to deal with these issues. Then, the wait to set up the new system was 2 weeks.

So, where can we expats open bank accounts? What online bank will accept us? What banks are fully digital and will never require an office visit?

The answer is the international banks in the US territory of Puerto Rico. These digital-only banks are focused on global clients. They can accept clients from anywhere in the world and will not ever require an in-person visit. 

And it does not matter what passport you have (in most cases, anyway). These international banks are built to serve a global clientele. I also suggest that these banks are the most secure and best capitalized in the offshore space because they must follow US rules on capitalization

  • Banks in Puerto Rico follow US rules on restricted countries and sanction lists. They generally don’t accept clients from Russia and Cuba, for example. 

These international banks focus on a specific market, industry, or region. For example, Standard International Bank is focused on transactions with and clients from China. There are 13 IBE licenses and 52 IFEs in Puerto Rico, for a total of 65 international banks. For more on the number of banks, see How Many International Banks are there in Puerto Rico.

Note that this post refers to international banks in Puerto Rico and not the local banks. Local banks can open accounts for residents of Puerto Rico. International banks can open accounts for anyone in the world except for persons and companies in Puerto Rico. That is, international banks are prohibited from competing in the local market.

You’ll find that these international banks each have a specific focus. Here are my recommendations for banks for expats (in no particular order).

Facebank: The largest international bank on the island in terms of the number of clients. Excellent service and focused on Latin America. No English website is available.

Bancredito: An International bank and wealth management group for larger accounts. Unique offerings for AMEX black.

Stern Bank: A global bank for business and trade finance. This is the top business bank on the island.

Euro Pacific: An international bank focused on investing, trading, and custody of assets including gold. This is the only bank that integrates with Metatrader. The last time I checked, they do not accept US clients.

Bancolombia: The international division of the large Bancolombia group. Specialized in transactions with Colombia.

Zenus Bank: The newest of the international banks and the one with the best technology. This bank focused on personal and business accounts, along with the most efficient FX and cross-border payments. 

Italbank: Specialized in global accounts for persons from Latin American and Europe, especially in Italy and persons from Venezuela that are resident abroad. Their tagline is “An American Bank for Latin America.”

I suggest that Puerto Rico has become the best, and possibly the only, choice for expats. If you want to move funds to a digital bank, give Puerto Rico a look. You’ll need to do your due diligence to find a bank that fits your needs, as they are all very different, but once you’re set-up, transacting will be more efficient.

I hope this post has been helpful. My specialty is setting up international banks. For information on opening a bank in Puerto Rico, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com

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