I get it all the time: “You still have Wells Fargo? Why don’t you switch to a credit union?” After all of this nonsense, I think I just might do that. And to all of you little lambs out there who are thinking that your mega bank has treated you right so far, and why would they do you wrong when you are abroad, think again.
I will tell you from the beginning the story of why my bank sucks.
So I brought over a whole boatload of cash. I went to the bank and got $2000 USD exchanged into RMB and took it with me on the plane in my parents ancient money belt. It is a little zip pocket which you strap around your waist and lug with you all over the planet. I would REALLY recommend doing this. I would even recommend taking more cash, like 4000, or even 5 if your feeling ballsy.
I recommend this not just so you can feel like a baller with a huge stack of cash strapped to you like a gangster, although will most certainly be the case. I would mostly recommend this because around here, cash is king. They do not accept Visa at the tiny jiaozi market, or the corner baozi place. There is no visa card reader at the second hand bike market. There is not even a card reader in my realtors office; I have to pay all of my five months rent up front in cash! You need to get liquid real quick, and if there is a block in your cash flow, you’re going to be hurting.
So for the first week or so, everything was great. I had all kinds of money, was paying for expenses left and right, checking things off of my list. Until the day that all of the cash that I had brought with me was gone. I went to the ATM, and lo and behold, I could only take out 1000 kuai per day, as opposed to the promised 2500 that all of my classmates had referred to. This only comes out to about $150USD, a much smaller number that what I can normally take out in the US. And the only reason that I can think of as to why they would arbitrarily change this daily limit is simply to make you pay the $5USD surcharge more times in order for you to get the same amount out of the ATM!
Think of it: in order for me to get 2500kuai out of the bank I could either a. take 2500 out at one time, and pay a one time fee of $5USD, or b. go to the ATM three times, and pay 3x as much in fees. This is clearly the only reason why wells fargo has done this to me.
So now, in order to pay my 15,000kuai in rent up front, I have to remember to go to the bank every single day and withdraw my measly 1000 kuai, and pay $5USD each time. By the time I actually get the rent out of the bank, I will have paid 15 ATM fees.
Some things you should ask your bank before you leave:
-What is your cash withdraw limit abroad? Can you raise it? Make it the highest amount possible.
-Does your bank have any sister banks abroad? Wells fargo does not. Charles Schwab Is supposed to have some pretty good deals. Also Bank of America does have some relationships with Chinese Banks.
-What is the ATM fee to withdraw abroad?
-What is the fee to use you debit card to make purchases abroad?
-Most importantly to ask yourself: How much cash will I bring with me abroad? How will I get direct access to my money when I need it on the spot? Even ask you bank what they recommend, and try to decipher their answer as coming from a blood draining money hounding perspective *shakes fist*