More than any other nationality in the world, American’s can get some amazing perks from their bank accounts and credit cards. At the same time though, we get pretty terrible options for things like insurance compared to citizens of other wealthy countries.
This post will show you how to take full advantage of those perks to save money and get free flights and hotels, and also how to find the least bad of those insurance options.
This post will cover:
- The absolute best bank account for international travelers
- The best and simplest credit card for travel hacking
- The travel insurance we recommend
- Expat insurance for those living here
- The best way to transfer money from the US to Thailand, and back
- Plus an accountant who specializes in tax preparation for Americans in Thailand and living elsewhere abroad
The best US bank account for Americans traveling abroad
You will see me, and pretty much every other expert on this subject recommend the same bank for anyone traveling abroad, and that’s because there is one clear winner. The Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account.
There are three reasons why this is the best bank account in America (even if you don’t travel):
- The account is completely free with no minimum deposits or minimum balances.
- Charles Schwab never charges you fees for using any ATM, and they pay you back for any fees the ATM or other bank charges. This includes the 220 Baht ($7) fee that every ATM in Thailand hits you with.
- Schwab does currency conversions at the mid-market rate. They never markup or take a cut of the exchange rate. They also don’t charge foreign transaction fees when you use the card abroad, but you should really be using a credit card anyway.
There is not really any catch to this. You do have to open a brokerage account along with the checking account, but you don’t ever have to use it.
Note though that not everyone can get this account. In general, you need a credit score of 680 or higher to open a Schwab Checking Account. Applying will also put a hard pull on your credit report. That’s normally only a big deal if you’re applying for a lot of credit cards, or you will be getting a mortgage in the next six months.
The best US credit card for Americans traveling abroad
The credit card travel hacking game can get pretty complicated if you’re willing to put in a lot of time and research. I personally don’t have the patience for that, so I use a very simple setup that makes it incredibly easy to earn and redeem points.
Basically, I just use the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, and I redeem my points by booking flights and hotels through Chase’s travel portal, which is just a white-labeled version of Expedia.
You can read a full explanation of this setup in my guide to the best credit card for Americans living abroad, but here’s the quick summary:
The annual fee is $550, but they pay for the first $300 you spend on travel, so the effective annual fee is $250. The 50,000 point signup bonus you get is worth $750 dollars toward flights or hotels in the travel portal which already covers three years of the fee.
The main perks of the card are:
- 3 points per dollar on travel and dining
- 50% bonus when you use your points in the travel portal. (This means that $1,000 spent on travel or dining = 3,000 points = $45 toward your next flight or hotel
- Free access to airport lounges around the world (including in domestic and international in Bangkok Don Mueang, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, and Phuket, as well as at most Asian hubs)
- Travel insurance for trips booked with the card (enough for cancellation and lost bags, but not for medical emergencies)
- Free TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry in the US
- Primary Collision Damage Waiver for car rentals (which works in Thailand)
- No foreign transaction fees and you still earn points on your spending abroad
- There are lots of other small perks as well, including $60 in free food delivery in the US, and some good ones when using Lyft, which is sadly unavailable in Thailand.
I don’t have a huge annual spend, but with this card I’m able to fly round-trip between the US and Thailand twice per year for free. The swanky lounges where I get free coffee, cocktails, food, massage, and a shower during my layover in Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, or Hong Kong make the journey so much more tolerable. There are plenty more benefits than just these, but on their own they already make the card so worth having.
The best travel insurance for Americans visiting Thailand
We recommend World Nomads for two reasons:
- They offer the easiest and most straightforwards signup process. Buying insurance pretty much sucks no matter what, but it’s less sucky with World Nomads.
- It is very easy to see what activities are covered and which are not under their Standard Plan, and Explorer Plan. There are a lot of activities that you’ll likely do that are often excluded from coverage on a lot of insurance plans. With World Nomads, it’s easy to see if they’re covered or not. This can include riding a scooter, jet skiing, trekking, training Muay Thai, and scuba diving.
If you do prefer to shop around and compare quotes from different providers, we like SquareMouth for ease of use.
Health insurance for Americans living in Thailand
Travel insurance is for people who are going on holiday, but if you’re living in Thailand what you really need is proper health insurance.
There are a lot of companies that offer fairly solid plans for this, and they have a local presence in Thailand meaning hospitals can bill them directly so you don’t have to pay first and seek reimbursement later. These include Aetna (formerly BUPA Thailand), AXA, LMG, and AIA.
As with any insurance, you need to be careful and make sure you plan is comprehensive enough. Many of these plans don’t cover motorbike accidents, which is by far the highest risk activity most foreigners in Thailand take.
You also need to think about coverage for more catastrophic events. Most of these plans will not cover things like ongoing treatment for cancer. If you can return home to a socialized healthcare system in a case like that, then these plans are enough, but for an American in Thailand who doesn’t maintain health coverage in the US, you should get a more comprehensive plan.
It’s also important as you get older that you choose a plan that you can renew. Many plans can choose to drop you if you get sick too often or develop a chronic illness. You should choose an insurer that you can stick with over the long term.
Our top pick is Luma Health. It’s what we use, and it’s what we recommend to others. In our opinion they are simply the best and most comprehensive, with enough flexibility to find the right plan for anyone.
How to send money to a Thai bank account from the US
Thankfully, the days are gone of having to pay extortionate fees to a bank or Western Union to send money internationally. A few different startups have come in and disrupted this industry, and it’s now easy to send money to Thailand for a fee of just 1% or less.
We recommend the company the best way to send money to Thailand.
Sending money from Thailand back to the US
If only sending money back the other way were as easy as sending it into Thailand 🙁
Unfortunately, Transferwise and its competitors cannot send money back out of Thailand, due to the country’s currency restrictions.
The best way to send money back to the US is through a traditional bank transfer. The Thai bank will charge a fee for this, and your home bank probably will as well. They will also likely take a a cut of the exchange rate.
What I personally do when I need to move money home is exchange Baht to USD at the main Super Rich branch in Bangkok which has amazing rates. I then take this in cash when I visit home.
This works for me since I visit twice per year, and I never take anywhere near the $10,000 limit so there are no declarations needed. I understand though that it won’t work for everyone.
Maintaining bank accounts for multiple currencies
For digital nomads or anyone with a business that accepts payments in multiple currencies, it’s time to stop paying international fees, currency conversion fees, and paypal fees.
You need to get a Transferwise Borderless Account, a single account which lets you manage multiple international bank accounts and hold 50+ international currencies. The account is free to open, and you get:
- UK account number and sort code
- European IBAN
- U.S. routing and wiring number
- Australian account and BSB number
- New Zealand account number
So your English clients can pay you in Pounds, your French customers can give you Euros, Your Aussie affiliate network can can transfer you AUD, and you can either hold those currencies, or transfer them to your primary account at Transferwise’s low rates, normally under 1%.
You can also spend from your account with the Mastercard Debit card included with the account.
Recommended accountant for Americans living in Thailand
US taxes are complicated no matter what your work or where you live, and they only get more complex when you work or live abroad. Pretty uniquely, Americans are required to pay taxes no matter where the income comes from, even if it’s earned in another country.
There are a lot of strategies for legally reducing your tax burden, especially on income that has already been taxed locally. Whether you’re an expat, a freelancer or digital nomad living in Thailand, an English teacher, or a retiree, you can probably save more in taxes than the cost of hiring a tax preparation professional.
I personally get my taxes done by the American Certified Public Accountant, Peter M. Bauer. Peter spends much of his time in Thailand and as far as I know, he is THE authority on taxes for Americans in Thailand.
Peter provides free consultations, and you can contact him through his website.