This article is about the Charles Schwab Checking account, which I believe is available to US residents only.
First off, I believe that using a debit card is the best way to get/exchange money in a foreign country, and that for an American the Schwab checking account is of the best cards you can get as an international traveler. I’ve gone through a lot with my Schwab bank card after a year of international travel to 3 continents, and I feel that while it’s not perfect, I do recommend it with a few words of advice. Let me go through the Pros and Cautions (Cons) here:
– Reimbursement of ATM fees: Banks US and beyond commonly charge$3-$10 on each transaction, and this depends on the ATM that you’re using. Schwab reimburses all these fees on the last day of the month, but see my word of caution below in the Cons section.
– No exchange rate conversion fees: this is commonly 3% at other banks
– Usable at any ATM that accepts Visa
– No account maintenance fees
– Great exchange rate: bets all the exchange rates you can get at airports or banks. To be fair, other banks also will give you a great rate if you use your checking cards, but they will charge you an exchange rate conversion fee and ATM fee.
– Unreimbursed ATM fees: Now, Schwab is supposed to reimburse you your ATM fees at the end of the month. However, there have been times when I was charged a fee, but never reimbursed. Due to the way that each bank codes their information when they send the withdrawal request to Schwab, sometimes Schwab can’t tell if a fee has been charged. I’m sure that Schwab isn’t trying to trick us, but it probably happens because each bank in each country does things a bit differently. So, it is very important for you that when you withdraw cash from an ATM machine that notifies you that you will be charged a X amount fee, take a picture of the screen, or keep the receipt. For example, this seems to be a problem with Caixa Bank in Spain; they charge a 3 EUR fee that shows up on the receipt, but I was not reimbursed for it. I sent Schwab photos of my receipts and I was reimbursed immediately. Save all your receipts and review your Schwab statement at the end of the month to see if you’ve gotten everything back!!
– Time it takes to replace a debit card: While there is no fee to replace a lost/stolen debit card by regular mail (who knows how long that will take if you’re in a foreign country!), there is a $15 dollar fee to rush-deliver it (for arrival in 5-7 business days). Other banks, like Bank of America and Chase have often offered to rush deliver it for me for free (Bank of America even overnighted it!), especially when they hear that you are in a foreign country. Schwab doesn’t give you sympathy points even if you are in a foreign country and need an ATM card badly. My advice would be to have a back-up debit card with another bank, that you keep in a different location so that you can use it while you wait for your Schwab card
– Trouble in “high fraud incidence” countries/ATMs: When I was in Brazil, my Schwab card was rejected by a couple ATMs, and I had to spend some time calling Schwab to remove several blockages and restrictions, due to Brazil being a “high fraud country”. I guess it’s good they’re being cautious, but it’s still annoying, especially when you need money and can’t call international so easily. What you need to do is that before you travel, notify the bank of the countries you’re going to, and when one ATM rejects you, try another one. 🙂
All in all, I do like my Schwab debit card as it has saved me a lot of fees and it’s so easy to find any ATM that accepts it. Keep my CAUTIONS in mind, though!