How to Set Up a Charles Schwab Bank Account and Avoid ATM Fees Anywhere

If I were to add up the amount of money I have spent over the last decade of travel on ATM fees alone, it might be enough to buy an around the world plane ticket. My bank charges me $5 every time I use a foreign ATM. Every. Single. Time. And that doesn’t account for the fee the ATM itself charges, which is also usually about $5. This means that with my regular bank debit card, I would spend $10 every single time I withdraw money from an ATM. That’s bad news.

The other bad news is that you’re most likely a victim of these fees as well.

The good news is that there is a bank with a magic debit card that reimburses all ATM fees worldwide, and that is Charles Schwab. I decided to open an account with Charles Schwab, and since then I have been reimbursed for all of my ATM fees, which in the last year alone amounts to over $100.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the somewhat complicated process of setting up a Charles Schwab checking account for yourself, so you, too, can stop wasting money on ATM fees.

Related: Currency Exchange Rates? There’s an App for That!

Why Charles Schwab?

Charles Schwab is an online bank, which means they don’t have ATMs, which means rather than penalize us for using other bank’s ATMs, they reimburse us for all ATM fees at the end of every month. All of them, whether in the US or overseas, no fee for reimbursement.

Problem solved.

Because Charles Schwab is an investment banking firm, there is a bit of a strict application process, including a credit check, and it honestly was the most tedious set up of a bank account that I’ve ever been through. I can testify that it is worth it, though, and I want to share those steps with you so you can join me in not paying for any more ATM fees.

How to Set up a Charles Schwab Checking Account

Set up a Charles Schwab Bank Account

1. Go to and select “High Yield Investor Checking Account

2. Apply, providing all necessary credit info. You can’t just get a checking account, you have to apply for a brokerage account too, which is an investing account, even if you don’t use it. This is why it’s a process and includes a credit check.

3. Once approved, they will do a test deposit into your pre-existing, linked bank account that you set up in the application process (with whatever bank you already have), and you’ll need to verify the amounts in your new Charles Schwab account online before proceeding. This is done by logging into your existing online bank account, checking the amounts of the deposits from Charles Schwab, and then going back to your account on Charles Schwab to enter the amounts in the spaces prompted.

To verify your trial deposits online, login to your account, go to Accounts > Transfers & Payments > External Accounts > select the correct CS account (probably the checking account) > and click Add External Account, which will then give you the option to either add a new account OR verify deposits. Select Verify Deposits and complete the process.

External account to Charles Schwab

4. Once those are verified, you’ll need to deposit money from your linked external account into your new checking account. This is done via the Online Transfer tab.

5. Only after you’ve deposited money into your checking account can you then request a debit card, which you do online. When you get your debit card, you also set your pin, don’t forget what it is because you can’t call to get a new one. If you can’t remember it, you get locked out of the ATM after three tries. If this happens, you can call customer service and ask them to reset it so you can try it three more times. If all else fails, you’ll have to request a new pin, which they have to mail to you, you can expedite it for $15. If you are leaving for a trip or already out of the country, this is not a good option for obvious reasons.

6. Receive your debit card in the mail, transfer money into your account so you can start using it, and you’re good to go.

7. Download the Charles Schwab mobile app to manage your accounts from your phone.

This may seem like a lot of steps for a bank account. The good news is, the customer service is all US-based and they are extremely kind and helpful, so if you have any questions whatsoever, do not hesitate to jump on the phone and let them walk you through any of the steps.

Related: BMT 047: How to Access Money Overseas: Debit Cards, Credit Cards, Cash, Exchange Rates, and More

If you want a savings account attached to your checking account (because the brokerage account is not a savings account, it’s an investment account), you’ll have to apply for that one as well. This is a good idea if you have a large sum of money that you want to collect decent interest on.

The checking account is protected by the FDIC, so it’s safe to leave a decent amount of money in there. If you lose your debit card, simply contact the bank and they will issue you a new one, monitoring for any fraudulent charges in the meantime.

Once you have your magic debit card, you can pull money out of your account at any ATM in the world and Charles Schwab will reimburse you the fees. You could even designate this account as your travel account if you’d like a separate place to save for your trips. BOOM.

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52 replies on “How to Set Up a Charles Schwab Bank Account and Avoid ATM Fees Anywhere”

Hey Jackie!
Love the explanations you have here. I do have one question though. Other banks waive ATM withdrawal fees as well, but most still charge some kind of a currency exchange fee. Did you get charged for this?

Hi Mark! I’m not sure about age and credit check with Charles Schwab, but you should try to get an account with them for sure. If you have New Zealand specific questions, it would be best if you asked them directly in the posts by Brittany about New Zealand so she can help you out with those answers, as I have never been! Safe and happy travels to you!!

Hi Jackie,
I will be travelling to Dubai, SE Asia and India in next few months. Do I have to pay a fee to open the checking account with Schwab? Also, how long does it take and what is the minimum credit score required generally? I leave in 2 weeks. Thanks!!!

If you leave in two weeks and haven’t started the process yet, you probably don’t have enough time to get it all done. As I mentioned, it takes time for each step, especially getting your debit card mailed to you. There is no fee to open the account, and I’m not sure of the credit score, you can call and ask customer service.

Hi Jackie. I would like to know two things;
1. Upon Linking an existing bank account, can I send funds from my schwab account to it?
2. Can the schwab debit card be used in any part of the country or just within the United States?

Hi Cody! Schwab debit card can be used all over the world, as long as the ATM accepts the chip debit card. Not sure about transferring funds bac to your other account, good question for customer service!

It’s not that much of a hassle. Once you link an existing bank account, which you have to do when you set up the account initially, you can transfer online. It just takes a few days to go through.

Okay, thank you. That sounds simple enough. I can’t believe I’ll have a brokerage account…so weird.

Also just an FYI since I’ve done it. You don’t even have to the trial deposit if you bank with Chase, and I assume other institutions that have online verifying capability. All I had to do was login using my Chase online account info and then Chase sent me a verification number I entered. Now I am just waiting for the checking account information to generate. I think the website said 24 hours.

I leave for a trip in 3 weeks and want to open an account today. I spoke to 2 Charles Schwab representatives and they said that will definitely be enough time but I’m just wondering how long it took for you? They estimated around 10 days – 2 weeks which seems like enough but I don’t know if I trust them. It would be a shame to set it all up just to not have the card ready to go when I leave.

It should be enough time, as long as you stay on top of it. You have to initiate requests for your pin and debit card, etc, so just make sure you are moving the steps along and not waiting.

So if I get an account and let’s say I am withdrawing money in Bangkok at an atm that charges. I am going to be charged for the atm fee as well as the international fee. Correct?
And does this bank reimburse both of those fees?
Or just one of them?

I recently opened a brokerage account and they were able to add a debit card to it. What is the difference between this method opposed to opening a checking account?

Thx, I’m very happy with my new bank account. Is it now possible to close my old checking account at my old bank? Was it only necessary through the verificstion process? Or do I have to have a 2nd checking account elsewhere ?

Glad you are enjoying it! I don’t think you need to have any other bank account, since the only reason for having one linked is so you can transfer money from it, if you want to. But you can make mobile deposits, or in person at a branch, and you should be able to set up direct deposits as well, so I don’t know why you would need to have another bank account for any specific reason. You can always check with customer service, they are very helpful.

I noticed that some ATMs ask you on one of the screens if you’d like to use the local currency or your home currency. I saw one where the home currency was the default option and almost made the mistake myself. When given a choice you should always pick the local currency. Maybe you used an ATM with one of those options and chose the home currency? To my knowledge ATMs are supposed to let you make the withdrawal in the local currency but I might not know everything.

I just called them. They say minimum investment to be able to open a bank account with them is dollars and there is no other options… ?

Hi Jackie! How long did this process take? I leave for Spain in a little over a week for the semester and am not sure if I can make it happen by then. Also, does Charles Schwab ship cards internationally?

I just read the requirement. The $1000 opening balance on the brokerage account is waived if you also open the checking account.

Hey Jackie! Question on this. There are many ATM’s in the states that charge just for using the ATM itself. For example, I often see a message like, “This ATM charges a fee of $2.50 in addition to any other fees your bank may charge.” My credit union never charges their own fee for using ATM’s, so my bank statement only ever shows the charge that the ATM warned me about. Is that how ATMs work in Europe? Does CS reimburse for those types of “ATM usage” fees? I already went ahead and made the CS account, because I like you idea of also using it as a traveling account! Just asking so that I am prepared 🙂 Thanks!

Great clarification question. Yes – this is how ATMs work in Europe and all over the world, so your bank will (or will not) charge a fee, and the ATM will also charge a fee. And YES, Charles Schwab reimburses for these fees, so for example, that $2.50 fee from the ATM will show up on your account, and then it will be reimbursed and you won’t have to do anything. Simple as that!

I read online you can have just a Savings account and get a debit card on that, rather than 2 (checking and Investment) can you verify?

Why don’t you call Charles Schwab. I just set up my account and called them and asked tons of questions. They are very helpful

Awesome. Lots of blogs have recommended this account but no one has taken the time to actually break down the intimidating process. Thanks, Jackie! You’re a queen! On a slightly related note, how many bank accounts do you keep open when you travel? I was thinking about linking my Charles Scwabb to my regular checking bank account and just having the two. Do you recommend? Thanks for the everything!

Glad to help! At the moment, I just have a regular checking and savings at another bank and then the Charles Schwab account just with the cash I need for ATMs while traveling, like what you’re talking about.

Thank you so much! This was very useful! Does anyone know how long the debit card will take to arrive after the transfer has been completed?

Glad to be of help! I think, if I recall correctly, the debit card can take up to two weeks to arrive. Why everything takes SO long, I have no idea. Did you request it? Because you need to do that. Don’t hesitate to jump on the phone with them if you have any questions whatsoever, their customer service really is great.

Thanks Jackie – when I moved overseas, this is one of the questions i get the most from other people NOT spending most of their time in the US. So many fees 🙂 This is a great option and I will direct newcomers to it. I also know that some banks waive ATM fees for overseas withdrawals if you keep a certain balance or have a certain type of checking account. ATM fees are the worst and should be avoided at all costs!

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