What's the best bank for South African digital nomads?

I’m a South African about to become a Nomad next year. I will still be employed by a South African company and receive a salary into my FNB bank account monthly.

I will be mostly based in Serbia but plan on travelling a lot. Does anyone have any advice on the best bank account to have? Is there a way to not get charged a small fortune in ATM charges and avoid getting my account frozen for using it in lots of countries?

I’m unsure of the best way to handle things. Should I try get another bank account outside of SA (Can I even do that)? I also have a British Passport if that makes a difference.

If any of you have any experienced advice I would be very grateful, Thanks in advance!

Heya. I’ve been travelling through the balkans for the past 3 months. Back home I did quite a bit of research on this, and overall I think capitec has the lowest fees - R45 for an international cash withdrawal and free swipes, which I haven’t had any trouble with. For both of these, at times the exchange rate was the rate you get when you google it, at the worst it was around 0.5% above that - Not sure if this is simply due to the rand’s recent volatility though.

I wanted to look into https://number26.de/ further, but didn’t get around to it. Not sure if it’s possible to get an account with them if you’re not a german resident (I’ve read some conflicting information around the web). The legal issues surrounding keeping money in a foreign bank account is not very clear to me though - SA is quite strict about forex. Capitec did warn me my account might get frozen if I use it overseas for longer than 3 months - couldn’t explain why though.

Whereabouts will you be travelling to?

I can basically just confirm what @theunis says…

When I left SA about 3 years ago I did research and at that time Capitec was the cheapest. Their actual transaction fee was around R40 for ATM withdrawals (though I see theunis says it is now R45), but the key was that they did not charge any currency conversion fees.

Some of the other banks had a little lower transaction fee, but all of them charged a 5% currency conversion fee on top which made the transaction very expensive.

For the past year I have been using a local bank in Thailand as I have sort-of settled down here for a while, but before that I used the Capitec bank card all the time and never had a any problems. I had to use it again about 3 months ago and all still worked fine.

Just make sure you tell them that you will be using it overseas for an extended period, so they don’t block the transactions as suspicious.

I would suggest though that you have a backup card from another bank just in case…

Edit: BTW, if you are going to be in Europe exclusively you can perhaps look into FNB’s Global Account which is a foreign currency based account (https://www.fnb.co.za/travel-products/global-acc.html). That should protect you a but against the Rand fluctuating, and also since it is already in the foreign currency there should be no currency conversion fees. Not 100% sure about the details though, so just enquire at your bank.

Thanks @theunis
I’ve also looked into https://number26.de/ but as far as I could tell you have to have a German address for them to ship the card to. Also as you mentioned there may be a lot of legal implications in having an offshore account.

It does worry me that Capitec said the card could be frozen, I don’t intend to be back in SA for about a year and a half at least. And only then for a visit.

I’m going to be travelling to Serbia initially. My boyfriend is originally from there and has family there. We plan on using it as a base as we can stay and live there very cheaply to save money to fund our travels. Our first plan after that is to visit Family in Canada for a short time, but after that mainly travelling around Europe & Eastern Europe - France, UK, Greece, Croatia, Turkey etc etc.

Thanks @jerriep

I was thinking multiple banks would be a good idea. I will check out the FNB Global Account and let you guys know what I find out. But I will also be doing a small bit of travel to the US & Canada, but maybe multiple accounts could solve that.

Do you know anything about the legal implications (in South Africa) of having an offshore bank account since you have one in Thailand?

I am not aware of any legal implications, but also my situation was a little different from what I suspect yours will be. I worked for a local Thai company so it was Thai income that went into my Thai bank account. As far as SARS was concerned I just had to declare it as foreign income. I never moved money from SA into my Thai bank account.

If I understand your situation correctly you want to take money out of the country and deposit in a foreign bank account? If so you will be limited by the exchange control laws. Last I checked the amount you are allowed to take out of the country per annum was quite generous - somewhere in the R1 million region.

You need to check on the Reserve Bank’s website though, or consult with a professional in this area.

Share what you learn here though please :smile:

Just came across this article this morning which may also help you:

Hi, here for an update.
I’m leaving in a month so I neglected this till now.

I’m with FNB currently, they charge 2.75% of the amount on swipes (thats the currency conversion fee)
For ATM withdrawals its 2.75% plus R50.
If you go into an actual bank to withdraw money its 2.75% plus R50 AND R 1.65 per R 100.

I’m upgrading from a gold to a platinum/premier account because its not that much more expensive and I get access to the 24/7 Platinum Call Centre where I can get issues sorted out should I have any.

I ruled out FNB’s global account because these are the currencies supported:
US Dollar , Euro, GBP, Australian Dollar, Indian Rupee, Chinese Renminbi

If you are in a country that does not use those currencies (i.e. Serbia where I will mostly be based) then the fees become much higher and it makes it not worth it.

I’m going to Capitec tomorrow to check out their global one account to see if its still the same. It seems so from the website so its probably the way to go.

Should be - at least mine still works the same.
FYI you only need wifi to access the banking app and even if your phone is not connected, you can still generate token passwords offline using the app to log in using a browser (I give this unsolicited as I got incorrect/bad information from multiple capitec staff members regarding this).

Enjoy the balkans!

Hi, so you are right, Capitec does work the same as you have said @theunis .
So I’ve opened an account.

However I have just come across this which looks amazing!

It’s free, its an app and Bank Card (which they will deliver worldwide)
You can send and spend money globally with zero fees. And they don’t charge any conversion fees.
Works with a lot of currencies and worldwide, no ATM fees and uses the interbank exchange rate. I’m gonna sign up and see how it gos.

Here is a thread on this forum discussing the service.

Ah I had thought you could only get one if you were in the UK. I was actually planning on signing up when I go to London next month.
It does seem great, although there are still charges related to getting money into the account & the loss of interest you can earn from your Capitec account (4.7% or something). With the ZAR tanking, it seems like a good idea though. Let me know how it goes if you don’t mind.

@Kirst85 have you been using revolut? If so, how has it been working for you? How has your experience been with depositing money into the account & the fees involved?

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I’m with FNB and my card (normal cheque card) worked fine throughout my 4 years + in Asia.

Also slightly off topic, this morning I noticed that FNB got a built in form that issues bank letters and stuff, specifically for visa applications - in the past I physically had to go to the bank to get that issued.