Overseas Banking Basics


You’re moving overseas and you can’t wait. Before you know it, you’ll be sipping a mocha latte grande in a quaint Starbucks on a centuries old cobble-stoned European side street or perhaps in a crowded Asian bazaar, teeming with people.  You’ll pay for your java lava fix, not with dollars, but with euro, yen, pounds or some other strange and unusual coinage.

To be sure, you’ll pay for far more than your caffeine fix while living abroad. You may find yourself converting your dollars into host nation currency to pay your rent and utilities and fund your once in a lifetime travel and shopping excursions.  

The thought brings to mind one important question.

Just how exactly do you manage your banking in a foreign country?

First-timers headed abroad and other inquiring minds deserve to know some basic overseas military banking facts before boarding the plane that carries you to the land of steep learning curve.

Will there be banking options for me on the military installation overseas?
If you are PCSing to a military installation of any size, you will most likely have the option to bank in persona ala American style on the post, base or camp.  Depending upon the size of the installation, you may even have more than one option. If you have an ID-card, you are eligible to use their services. 

What types of services are available overseas?

Services available at individual institutions may differ, however you will generally find similar services to the banks you’ve used in the states. For example, many offer basic loan products, checking/savings accounts, certificates of deposit, ATM banking, interactive banking, and currency exchanges. There often are foreign transaction fees associated with debit and credit transactions made overseas, but companies including USAA does not charge its members for those fees.

How can I find out which ones are where I’m going to be stationed?

To find out specifically which financial institutions are available to you on a given installation, visit the DoD Installation Guide at http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/ and search for “financial institutions” under the location of your choice.

Which banks operate on the installations abroad?
There are a number of highly reputable banks that service our military members abroad. For example, you might well recognize some of these big names:

Navy Federal Credit Union
http://www.navyfcu.org/

Community Bank
http://www.dodcommunitybank.com/home

USAA
http://www.usaa.com

Service Credit Union
www.servicecu.org

Do I have to open an account overseas or can I just use my stateside account?
No, you are not required to open one overseas on a military installation or within the host nation community.  You may instead opt to keep your stateside bank as your primary institution assuming it offers a full range of online banking options for you.

That said, there are some advantages to having a brick and mortar bank near you while you’re stationed abroad.

First, there will be bills that require payment in host nation currency. It may be your rent, your utilities or your department store credit card. If you have a checking or savings account at the installation’s bank or credit union, then paying those off-installation debts is an easy over the counter or online transaction for you. Wiring funds from a stateside account can be costly. (The dollar is already in tank abroad; don’t add to your costs).

Think of your installation bank as being your “hometown” bank for a few years. You will want to have a friend there who can help you finance the things that still happen in your life that need Big Money regardless of where you are living. Maybe you’ll want to buy that “import” BMW or Volvo in the land where they are considered “domestic” and perhaps even cheaper in overall costs for you.

Finally, if you work overseas on the installation, you will probably be required to have your pay directly deposited into an account somewhere. While you can have that account anywhere in the world, having one nearby is not a bad idea for the reasons already stated.

Can I open a bank account in the host nation community?
Yes, you can. Opening a bank account in a foreign country is just like opening one in the States. They all want to use your money so your money is always welcome. It is after all, the ultimate international language.

Depending upon where are stationed, having a host nation bank account can be advantageous. For example, in Germany, you can use your US-based Mastercard/Visa debit card in many places to make everyday purchases. Some business, however, will not accept the cards. They will accept the European equivalent, however, called the EC Card. Having a host nation checking or saving account can give you an EC card easily.

Bear in mind that English is often spoken at banking institutions, but not always.

Jeffrey M. Cathey, Senior Vice President, Military Affairs from the Bank of America offers this valuable information about for those about to PCS to the overseas theater:

“Community Bank operated by Bank of America is proud to support men and women serving in our armed forces in 78 military communities located in Europe and Asia,” said Cathey. 

Facts you need to know about Community Bank:

  • The primary purpose is to provide and ensure stateside like banking services can be obtained while an individual or family is OCONUS.
  • Additionally, we offer specialized services that are required to conduct non-stateside financial transactions.  Examples include U.S. dollar and foreign local currency ATMs and the ability to pay bills local (not available in all countries).
  • We offer an online loan application system that significantly reduces the need for paperwork and provides customers with an instant loan decision
  • We offer interactive, educational and valuable on-line banking services via dodcommunitybank.com.
  • We offer over 300 ATMs located in local communities that dispense dollars and local currencies.

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