How To Open an International Bank Account (Even Online For Free)

Are you looking to open a foreign bank account online? Fortunately for you, the process has become increasingly accessible in recent years. These days, you'll be able to open a digital bank account from many countries worldwide to take advantage of low fees, flexible banking, and attractive exchange rates.

First, what we mean by "international" and "foreign" bank accounts in this article is quite specific. We're referring to accounts from banks (or similar financial services) that offer everyday banking services (i.e. checking and savings) in countries and currencies different from your own and cross-border payment services such as currency exchange, online payments abroad, and international bank cards.

This means that we'll not be exploring the related (but very different) subject of offshore investment banking and wealth management for the purposes of this guide.

When it comes to opening a foreign bank account online, you'll have two primary options, broadly speaking:

  • Opening an account with an international digital bank;
  • Opening an account with a high-street bank in another country.

Generally speaking, opening a bank account with a traditional high-street bank in another country will require you to be present in that country (for work or residency purposes, for example) and will usually also need you to present a fair amount of documentation, including passports, visas, and (sometimes) proof of residency.

On the other hand, opening an account with a digital-only bank is generally the more flexible option and one which won't require you to be present in a foreign country. However, it still comes with many of the perks and services offered by traditional banks, making it an attractive alternative for many people.

This article will explore both options and weigh their pros and cons to determine which might make sense for you.

recommendation icon

We recommend the Wise Account, which is particularly useful for moving and travelling abroad. This flexible online account option lets you take advantage of your own dedicated bank account details in nine different countries and the Eurozone to pay and get paid like a local. You'll also be able to avoid poor exchange rates for transfers abroad and complete the entire registration process online from your home country.

Opening a Foreign Bank Account With a Digital Bank

There's no escaping the fact that digital-only banks are fast on the rise. In the EU and the UK, for example, a host of digital-only banks (also known as "challenger banks" or "neobanks") have been disrupting the financial services industry in recent years by offering lower fees, broader appeal, and more convenient online access than most high-street banks.

In Europe, these banks include N26Revolut Bank (which is only a bank in certain EU countries, not in the UK), Monzobunq, Starling Bank, and many other smaller names.

Across the Atlantic, digital banking is also on the rise in the US and Canada, however, as of 2023, there isn't as much consumer choice in the North American market as in the European one. And while the story is similar in Asia and Australasia — where neobanks are also on the uptrend — and in the rest of the world, the trend has yet to get going fully.

Opening an online bank account with a challenger bank offers the following key advantages to you as a customer:

✔️ Cheaper: A lower cost structure than high-street banks means that users benefit from lower fees all-round;

✔️ Accessible: There's often less emphasis on being a resident of a particular country, and cross-border accounts are very common;

✔️ Savvy: Services are conveniently online, with online and mobile banking generally being well-designed and easy to navigate;

✔️ Transparent: Communication and consumer-facing language tends to be more simple, conversational, and clear;

✔️ Global: Many (although not all) digital banks tend to emphasise cross-border payments, international money transfers, and favourable exchange rates as part of their service package.

On the other hand, the following drawbacks mean that digital-only banks may not be cut out for everybody:

❌ Branchless: Digital banks rarely, if ever, have any physical branches of their own, meaning that face-to-face consultation isn't an option for those customers who value it;

❌ Limited: High-street banks tend to offer a wide range of financial services, while digital banks tend to be considerably more restricted in terms of their scope of service;

❌ Non-banks: Some (although not all) digital banks aren't, in fact, banks at all in the strict sense because they're organised as different legal entities entirely.

Opening a Foreign Bank Account With a High-Street Bank

The default option for most people when moving to a new country or searching for a foreign bank to open an account, opening a bank account with a traditional bank offers several key advantages.

While many high-street banks worldwide accept account applications from non-residents to their country, most will not. Even among those that will, you'll probably need to prove your eligibility to live and work in the country and sometimes even prove your residence there. (A notable exception is the EU, where EU bank accounts are eligible across the 27-member bloc and discrimination on this basis is illegal.)

As a result, this makes traditional banks considerably more restrictive than digital banks, complicated further by the fact that rules around application change considerably from country to country.

On the other hand, traditional banks carry a strong perception of stability and security. The fact that they have physical branches can be a significant advantage for many people.

What's Needed To Open A Foreign Bank Account Online?

The documents you'll need, and the steps you'll need to follow to open a bank account online can vary significantly depending on many factors. These include your country of origin, your bank of choice, your intended use of the account, and other factors.

In general, however, you can expect to present the following documents when opening a bank account online:

  • Your passport or valid government-issued ID;
  • Proof of address in your home country.

If you're looking to open a bank account at a traditional bank in a foreign country, the following documents will very often also be required:

  • A visa for the country in question;
  • Proof of address in the local country.
info icon

Depending on the country, banks may also request other documents, such as a letter of reference from another bank or an existing client. Be sure to thoroughly check the requirements before you open a bank account abroad.

Types of Foreign Bank Accounts To Open Online

While names of accounts and broader account types may differ considerably from bank to bank, in general, you'll find the following three types of bank accounts available to you when banking at a foreign bank:

  • Checking accounts: These accounts tend to be transactional and geared toward everyday use. They're sometimes known as "transactional accounts," "current accounts," or "chequing accounts," depending on the country.
  • Savings accounts: These accounts accrue interest and tend to restrict withdrawals. They're geared toward safely storing away money that doesn't need to be used soon.
  • Multi-currency/Foreign currency accounts: These accounts are denominated in any currency other than your home currency and are used for various purposes, including cross-border transacting, saving, and investing.

Online banks will likely offer you either multi-currency account options or checking account options with some cross-border functionality. Traditional banks, on the other hand, will likely offer you all three.

As we saw earlier, this is because the average traditional bank is more likely to offer a greater scope of service than the average online bank.

How To Open A Bank Account Online Without A Residence Permit

The nuts and bolts of opening a foreign bank account online can differ tremendously depending on where you're aiming to open an account. If you're using a digital bank, for example, chances are you won't face many restrictions in the way of needing to submit a residence permit beyond your home country. However, if you'd like to use a traditional bank, you usually (although not always) will have to show proof of residence.

As such, if you have a specific country in mind — whether you're moving there for work or whether you wish to own a bank account in that country's jurisdiction and currency — then we recommend you take a look at our in-depth guides for opening a bank account in the major countries below:

Digital or Traditional Banks: Which Is Best To Open a Foreign Bank Account Online?

While there's no hard and fast answer to whether you should choose a traditional or a digital bank account when opening an account abroad, there are most certainly situations in which one will make sense over the other.

For example, if you happen to have no option or desire to become a resident of a country in which you'd like to open an account, then a global digital account such as Wise or Revolut will suit your needs best, depending on their availability in your country. Similarly, if you're a newcomer to a foreign country, then we highly recommend you explore these options too, as they'll allow you to send and receive money in the local currency before you go through the process of opening a bank account.

Digital bank accounts also provide a convenient second bank account and can augment a traditional bank account very well. For example, one could use a conventional bank account for everyday use and then a digital account while travelling abroad. These services offer much more favourable exchange rates and cross-border fees than high-street banks.

Non-Resident Bank Accounts Around the World

Many countries allow non-residents to open a bank account within their legal jurisdictions, but exactly what kind of requirements non-residents face can differ drastically from country to country and even bank to bank. See the list below to get a better idea of this:


Which non-residents can open an account?

🇬🇧 United Kingdom

Parties with close ties, expats, immigrants, investors, students

🇮🇪 Ireland

Any interested party

🇩🇪 Germany

Parties with close ties

🇫🇷 France

Parties with close ties, investors, students

🇮🇹 Italy

Parties with close ties, Investors

🇨🇭 Switzerland

Investors only

🇪🇸 Spain

Parties with close ties, investors, students

🇵🇹 Portugal

Parties with close ties, investors, expats, students

🇳🇱 Netherlands

Parties with close ties, investors

🇩🇰 Denmark

Parties with close ties, investors

🇳🇴 Norway

Parties with close ties, investors

🇸🇪 Sweden

Parties with close ties, investors

🇦🇹 Austria

Parties with close ties, investors

🇬🇷 Greece

Parties with close ties, investors

🇭🇺 Hungary

Any interested party

🇱🇺 Luxembourg

Parties with close ties, investors

🇱🇮 Liechtenstein

Investors only

🇬🇮 Gibraltar

Investors only

🇮🇲 Isle of Man

Parties with close ties, investors, expats

🇯🇪 Jersey

Parties with close ties, investors, expats

🇨🇾 Cyprus

Any interested party

Last updated: 23/2/2022

Other Banking Guides for Non-Residents

6 Best Online Small Business Bank Accounts in Australia in 2024
June 7, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Online Bank Accounts Without ID
June 3, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
How To Open a Bank Account in the Philippines While Abroad
May 30, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Best Online Banks in Europe
May 27, 2024 - by Byron Mühlberg
15 Best Apps Like Dave For Cash Advance and Payday Loans
May 24, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Apps to Get Paid Early
May 24, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
13 Best Cash Advance Apps (Compare the Best Payday Loans)
May 17, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
How to Open a Bank Account in Vietnam as Foreigner
May 10, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Open a Bank Account in Canada
April 23, 2024 - by François Briod
KOHO Financial Review
April 23, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Revolut Alternatives
April 23, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
4 Best Cash Advance Apps With No Direct Deposit Required
April 23, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Here's How To Open a Bank Account in Brazil in 2024
April 19, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
7 Best Cash Advance Apps That Work With Chime in 2024
April 17, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
How To Open a Bank Account in the Cayman Islands (Overseas)
April 10, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Cyprus Offshore Bank Account For Non-Residents
March 29, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
UK Bank Account (Even For Non-Residents)
March 15, 2024 - by François Briod
The Best Instant Payday Loans With No Credit Check in 2024
March 13, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Open a Bank Account Zambia
February 29, 2024 - by Lydia Kibet
Best Accounts With Virtual Cards
February 20, 2024 - by Byron Mühlberg
8 Best Credit Cards With No Credit Check [2024 Guide]
February 16, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda
Opening a Bank Account in Estonia For Foreigners
February 16, 2024 - by Byron Mühlberg
The 5 Best Cash Advance Apps That Work With Cash App
February 13, 2024 - by Jarrod Suda

Why Trust Monito?

You’re probably all too familiar with the often outrageous cost of sending money abroad. After facing this frustration themselves back in 2013, co-founders François, Laurent, and Pascal launched a real-time comparison engine to compare the best money transfer services across the globe. Today, Monito’s award-winning comparisons, reviews, and guides are trusted by around 8 million people each year and our recommendations are backed by millions of pricing data points and dozens of expert tests — all allowing you to make the savviest decisions with confidence.

Learn More About Monito
  • Monito is trusted by 15+ million users across the globe.

  • Monito's experts spend hours researching and testing services so that you don't have to.

  • Our recommendations are always unbiased and independent.

Global Impact Finance Ltd
Rue du Pont 22
1003 Lausanne

Affiliate Disclosure
Instead of banner ads and paywalls, Monito makes money through affiliate links to the various payment service providers featured on our website. While we work hard to scout the market for the best deals, we're unable to consider every possible product available to you. Our extensive range of trusted affiliate partners enables us to make detailed, unbiased, and solution-driven recommendations for all types of consumer questions and problems. This allows us to match our users with the right providers to suit their needs and, in doing so, match our providers with new customers, creating a win-win for everybody involved. However, while some links on Monito may indeed earn us a commission, this fact never impacts the independence and integrity of our opinions, recommendations, and evaluations.