Top Banking Mistakes I Learned Living Internationally

Here are the top banking mistakes I learned living internationally for 13 years.

If you are looking for expert ideas in international taxation or how to hide millions offshore, I am not your guy. However, If you just want to learn how a normal guy has traveled around the world for 13+ years to 65 countries while maintaining access to his money, this is for you.

I will cover these banking secrets I learned living internationally in reverse order with the most important tips last. If you are smart, you will set all of this up before you fly away. The Internet will trust you much more when you do all of this preliminary work from your home country because your IP address (computer location) will match the place you have lived for the last 20 years or whatever.

Backup Plans in Place

Design your money access so you have backup plans in place. If you are like me, you may only go back to your home country once every few years. That means you need backup plans because everything eventually fails at least temporarily.

Things that Go Wrong Eventually

The Internet goes down so you can’t always use your ATM card. Credit cards are declined for no good reason. Your ATM card will go missing temporarily or permanently. Your credit card will go missing. Your cash may go missing. Your computer or phone will go missing or lose connectivity so you can’t do online banking, for a time. It could take weeks for your bank to send you a new credit or ATM card in another country. You have to have a backup plan in place for any of the temporary or permanent things that will eventually go wrong when you live outside your home country.


You need an account open at two different banks in your home country and I don’t mean different branches of the same bank.  You need an ATM card for each account at your 2 different banks. Preferably, at least one of your accounts should reimburse you any ATM fees you are charged when you withdraw money from international ATMs.  Charles Schwab reimburses international ATM fees.  In your home country, Google “what bank reimburses ATM fees for yourcountryname.”

Make sure you have online access to both banks over the Internet.  Set that up on your smartphone and your computer before you leave this USA.   The bank probably has an Ap for your phone.

If either or both banks require you to notify them when you move between countries, make sure to keep that current. That is usually accessible on their web page so you can do it remotely every time you change countries.  Either or both banks should allow you to pay bills online. Online bill payment should include the ability to (snail) mail someone a check in your home country. Transfer money from Bank A to Bank B, and back again, all completed before you leave the USA.

Your banks will eventually require two-factor authentication via a smartphone App or text code confirmation.

Two-Factor Authentication–You Need A Home Country Telephone Number

Many web pages including banks requiring two-factor authentication to access your accounts online.  Set that up at both banks and test it before you leave the USA.   This will often require you to maintain a local phone number in your home country. In the USA, I accomplished this by porting my local smartphone number to Google Voice. That way, if anyone ever asks me for my home number in my home country, I have the old phone number I can use. Google Voice is free. So I can answer my phone, texts, and two-factor authentication texts from all over the world. Here is the link to port your smartphone number to Google Voice. So I answer voice and texts on my smartphone on the Google Voice app no matter where I am in the world. I also have a backup plan for Google Voice.

Warning:  At this moment in time, Google Voice works for two-factor authentication for both of my banks.  However, I am told that some banks and stock brokerage houses do not allow Google Voice for two-factor authentication.  So make sure you handle this and test it before leaving the USA.  

I have a Skype Number on my phone also. The Skype Number is a USA-telephone number that people can call or text. Those calls and texts are received by the Skype App on my Smart Phone. Here is the link for a Skype Number you can get.  I have not tested my Skype Number for two-factor authentication yet.

Since both Google Voice and Skype require an in-country telephone number for verification to set up your account (at the time I signed up) I recommend adding them in this order, as I did:

-Sign up for Skype App with your existing smartphone number as your in-country verification number to set up your account.

-Get a Skype Number (with USA area code) for your Skype account.

-Sign up for Google Voice with your Skype Number as your in-country verification number

-Port your smartphone number to Google Voice.

-Complete all of this before you start traveling.  Then test any of your web pages that require two-factor authentication before you leave the USA.

Here is my free eBook that teaches (in more detail) about Google Voice, Skype, and other things you need to do before you leave your home country.  You will save yourself tons of time and energy (and return flights to your home country) if you set things up right before leaving your home country.

Credit Cards

You need at least two credit cards issued by different entities. I use a Visa card issued by my bank in the USA. I also have an American Express card. Neither card charges me an annual fee and I pay them off 100% every month. For some reason unknown to me, Visa cards do not work as well outside the United States. Whenever Visa is declined I use my American Express. It works 100% of the time.

Never Hand Your Credit Card or ATM Card to Anyone

Never hand your credit card (or ATM card) to someone. Instead, let them bring you the machine (or you walk to the machine) and insert the card yourself. If anyone is able to have your card long enough to copy the numbers, mysterious charges could start showing up in your account. Then you will have to cancel the card and have a new one issued and sent to you. Not an easy thing when you are overseas.

Just take cash out at the ATM and use cash to pay for everything on the ground in each new city. Use your ATM fees rebate card (like Charles Schwab) so you are not paying $7 USD every time you take money out internationally.

Use your credit cards to buy things online, like flights, and accommodations where cash can not be used.  I don’t use my credit cards to do on-the-ground purchases in a foreign country.  I use cash.  The fewer times my data is flying over the Internet, the fewer times my cards can get hacked.

If possible, one of your credit cards (the Visa) should be with a bank that allows you to use virtual credit card numbers for such online purchases. A virtual credit card number is a number that if stolen, can be shut down without requiring a new credit card to be sent to you. Another way to pay for things without using cash and without handing anyone your credit card or ATM card is to use a digital wallet.

Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, etc.

When you are in countries that accept digital wallets such as Google Pay, you can add a digital wallet application to your smartphone that will allow you to make in-person and online purchases without giving anyone your credit card information. The digital wallet acts like a credit card but the vendor never has access to your actual account numbers.


Paypal is an online payment system that allows you to make purchases without giving online vendors your credit card numbers. It is also a way you can pay people money or let them pay you money.


Transferwise (now called Wise) is a great way to send money from your bank to another person’s bank anywhere in the world for a much lower fee than a wire transfer. It even has very reasonable conversion rates if you are sending one kind of currency (dollars) and you want it to arrive in another currency (baht).


Separate ATM cards and credit cards into different sets. Keep different sets in different places. If one is stolen or goes missing, you have another complete set to cover you until you get the first set replaced. Maybe hide one in your room (or safe) and carry the other one with you. Never carry anything valuable in a wallet or back pocket. If you have a wallet it should be a decoy for pick-pockets. You should have just enough money in the decoy wallet so they don’t start searching you for your hidden cash.

At night, just bring a little cash with you but no credit or ATM cards. Evaluate the risk of where you are and try to make sure that one set (of cards and ATM) survives potential circumstances. If you are moving between destinations during travel, think of clever ways to keep assets in different places so if one gets swiped you have a backup hidden somewhere else. Like one in a backpack you keep in your lap and one deep in a pocket somewhere too hard for a pickpocket to easily get. Don’t keep valuables (monetary or technology) in luggage stowed away out of sight.


If all else fails, your third backup should be some cash. I’ll let you be the judge of how much. But you should try to have enough cash to live meagerly while you wait a month to have credit and ATM cards replaced by your home country bank. Any more cash than that is probably too risky.

Never Keep Large Sums in Suspect Foreign Banking Systems

The rules are different all over the world. Keep your money in the same bank in your home country that you have trusted for the last 20 years. Never trust the laws or banking rules that you don’t know. You are not in Kansas Dorthy and you may run into the Wicked Witch when it comes time to get your money out.

Here is the eBook I mentioned in the above video, “How I Fired My Boss and Traveled the World for 13+ Years.”

Here are the two additional posts I promised in the above video:

Top 10 Mistakes International Retirees Make

Why Retired Expats Should Not Buy Real Estate Overseas

My goal is to make this channel better every day. But I need your help. Please leave your new topic ideas, criticism, and other thoughts in the comments below.

This is Dan from Vagabond Awake, the YouTube Channel for The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?

18 thoughts on “Top Banking Mistakes I Learned Living Internationally”

  1. If you keep your US citizenship you have to report foreign accounts every year to the IRS. I try to stay away from tax advice since I don’t have any specialized knowledge in that area. But many ex-pats claim to save lots of money by having offshore corporations and trusts. So that is worth pursuing if you can find a good international accountant. Make sure to get a real one though. What people say online won’t help you if you end up in tax court.

  2. Hi-Any advice or benefits of having a dual US/Thai citizenship as far as banking issues? I am also trying to keep my US banks while retiring in Bangkok. Regards!

  3. Hi Bob, If you decide to open accounts outside your home country and your home country is the USA, make sure to report the account to the IRS as required by law to avoid all the penalties. If you are not familiar with that requirement, Google, “Do I have to report my foreign accounts to the US Government?”

  4. Hi, at least five years.

    No USA address required (maybe you meant Thai address?), but you need an address in Thailand. A rental contract will provide that.

    I have also recently exchanged the UnionPay based ATM debit card for a Mastercard ATM card from the Bangkok Bank. Union Pay is useless online, but the Mastercard works fine.

    Wise (previously Transferwise) issue an interesting ATM card, but they will only send it to a limited number of countries. Thailand isn’t one of them.

    As you point out, it is good to have some alternatives. I recommend trying to open an account with ATM card in any country you are spending some time, and then keep the account open by transferring minimal amounts into it.

    You never know when you might need it, and it is getting harder to open accounts.

  5. Great tip Bob. How long have you been using it. Any glitches? Do you need a USA address to get the card? Dan

  6. Thailand is one of the easiest (and safest) countries.

    Open a bank account (Bangkok Bank is possibly the best option), get an ATM card and use Wise to move money in. Enable internet banking, which works great.

    You can even get a credit card, although you have to make a fixed deposit to the card limit. The minimum is (I believe) 20,000 Baht. However, the trick is to pay more onto the card through internet banking. So if you plan on spending 50,000 Baht, first transfer 30,000 to the card and then use it.

    Clearly it is not acting as a “credit” card, but you can buy stuff or book flights and rooms.

  7. Thank you for the vote of confidence Howard. We will do our best to keep adding value to your life. Dan

  8. Thanks for all the information and videos Dan. I have not seen anything close to the depth and quality of what you are providing. I know you have brought up many topics and concerns I had not even thought of, then provided numerous possible solutions. Can’t thank you and Q enough ! My journey will begin later this year if the pandemic is not prohibitive. Thanks for warning me of the miss steps and oversites I could make before I even leaving the country. I’m sure ,even with your guidance, there will be a steep learning curve and mistakes made. Thanks for giving me a fighting chance to make my retirement dreams come true !

    have not seen anything close to

  9. I am a slow traveler so I don’t stay anywhere more than about 6 months per year. Other than when I had a work permit in India for 3.5 years, no country other than my home country (USA) has ever asked me to pay income taxes. If any would If you have wanted to tax me, I am not aware of that. I don’t study taxes. I just assume since I am on a tourist permit they don’t expect me to pay taxes. I would check with my accountant if you are worried. Best, Dan

  10. Thanks for your reply. I’m going to set up a Chase account (as you and many others have suggested) and will set up an appointment with them for my financial questions. Since I have almost 2 years before I retire, I’m going to be living out of a backpack for a couple weeks at a time to see how practical that is and I’m making several lists using my Alex app (everything I need to do before I leave, what to take, places I want to go, etc). I really appreciate all the information that you and Qiang present and I wish you both the best.
    Dan from Chattanooga

  11. Hi Dan, Chattanooga is a beautiful town. I spent a few days there in 2015. Your tax question is a very country specific question. It depends how long you stay, what country you are in, and whether or not you put money in their country banks, their real estate, or make money locally, and whether you intend to become a resident. So you need to talk to your accountant. But in the practical sense … The only country my accountant has ever paid tax to outside the USA was in India. But I was working and living there with a work permit for 3.5 years. Normally I keep a low profile, only stay for the tourist visa period and tourist extensions, and leave my money in my home country banks, and only pull money out as needed from ATMs. But again, ask your accountant. Tax is not my wheelhouse. Best, Dan

  12. Hi Dan, I’m planning on retiring in the beginning of 2023 and then renting out my house for 2 years and then sell it. During that period I want to slow travel. My question is if you stay in a country too long, can they tax your social security?
    Thanks for all the information you provide.
    Dan from Chattanooga

  13. My pleasure Kevin, and thank you for commenting. Your comment raises this pages score on search engines so more people find it when they search on this topic. So thank you, Dan

  14. After receiving your message MM, I did some additional reading and I confirmed what you are saying. The only 2FA I am using with Google Voice is over SMS text. I am not using the Google authenticaticator application. I read online what you are saying. That some financial institutions are not accepting Google SMS 2FA, but I do not have relationships with those institutions. So far, the BofA webpage allows me to log on remotely using only user name and password, no 2FA required. My other bank, Charles Schwab, allows me to use SMS 2FA which so far is working on Google Voice, thankfully. I do not have a real cell phone with a live USA phone number on it. I ported my USA cell number to Google Voice about years ago. That is what I was discussing in this video and in my free eBook here:
    Thank you for sharing this MM. People need to set up everything before they leave home and test it. The world is a dynamic place and we have to have backup systems at multiple banks to cover ourselves if we choose this lifestyle. Best, Dan

  15. Dan,
    Your solution to solve the 2fa security code text message from financial institutions is not fool proof. Any number that google voice (GV) or skype uses for incoming calls or text is considered voip or landline. Some financial institutions that use short number (premium sms) technology will not send security codes to voip or landline type numbers. I checked with google voice and they confirmed this fact. If I ported my “real” usa cell phone number to GV for $20, they told me the number would be considered a voip/landline number and still be rejected by the financial institution. They told me this is by design by the financial institution and not by google. Since sms is a known unsecure technology, the (outdated) financial institution says well at least we know its a real cell number justifying the rejection to voip/landline type numbers and allowing unsecured sms to continue. The bottom line is you have to find a financial institution that does not have this problem. Fortunately, I found several that can authenticate in several ways so its not been a problem. But places like HSBC, InstaRem, Western Union and many others are stuck using antiquated technology and is therefore useless to anyone that does not have a real usa cell phone number connected to a usa carrier you have to pay for.

  16. Absolutely fantastic advice and information. Definitely will be using most of these on my next long term in Thailand. Thanks again

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