Expats and digital nomads are ditching banks and turning to fintech
Life as an expat is not always easy, especially when it comes to managing money. Balancing multiple currencies and accounts in different countries can be challenging – especially in a country where the government may not mind the money coming in, but is less keen on it going out. Thankfully, while things are not yet as financially fluid as in other more developed countries, the rise of global fintech is bringing an ever-expanding range of handy money tools. We round up some of the best below.
The first widely available digital bank account in Vietnam, Timo (timo.vn) has made life for expats infinitely easier. Before its launch in 2018, only those with cast iron employment contracts were able to get a bank account, which meant excruciatingly high fees to withdraw money on international credit and debt cards. Now, however, Timo plus Transferwise (see below) equals smooth, easy and affordable transfers in (not out, though). The app is also excellent, making it a breeze to send money to other bank accounts in Vietnam, while instant mobile notifications let you know the moment any money goes in or out. The ‘Timo Hangout’ on Pasteur is also the model of modern fintech efficiency and convenience, allowing customers to open accounts and collect cash cards in no time at all—all while enjoying a complementary coffee. Sadly, though, Timo is no longer available to expats with visas of less than 12 months validity and so things are back as they were, only worse. Unless you are American, only foreigners with employment contracts and accompanying work permits can have a bank account, with all business visas for everyone but the Americans reduced to three months maximum. If you are American, though, you can have whatever you like: either on a one-year tourist or business visa.
Transferwise (transferwise.com) is a godsend for the location independent, allowing account holders to transfer funds between bank accounts in over 50 countries—including Vietnam. Fees are very competitive, with charges up to 80 percent cheaper than those levied by the big banks. The firm charges USD17 to transfer USD1,000 to a Vietnamese account, for example—which it says is nearly USD30 less than typical bank fees. It also offers a MasterCard linked to an online ‘borderless’ account in GBP, EUR, USD, Australian and New Zealand dollars that can be used all over the world with low fees. Again, though, you can’t use it to transfer money out of Vietnam.
xCurrency, in this writer’s humble opinion, is just about the most useful app ever for those living life in multiple currencies—and it is completely free (on the Apple app store)!! Not only does xCurrency allow you to convert any currency into any other currency in real time, but you can have up to four set up on your dashboard that updates hourly—and it will track where you are and add the local currency automatically. You can then use it like a calculator, switching between adding and subtracting different currencies, which all automatically convert as you go. Want to know what VND10,00,000 VND – USD100 + €70 is in GBP? Easy with xCurrency!
Admittedly a little niche, Holvi (www.holvi.com) is a completely integrated solution for business nomads that have set up an e-residency in Estonia—providing multiple accounts, invoicing and bookkeeping services all in one place. This sounds odd until you learn that Estonia grants e-residency to international business owners online, who then pay a flat 20 percent income tax on all their earnings—highly attractive to those from expensive tax jurisdictions. It is also ideal for small and medium sized online retailers that want access to Europe. Do note, though, that only death or defection will completely free US residents of the taxman. They don’t get it easy everywhere!
Perfect for those traveling a lot for work, Expensify (www.expensify.com) helps freelancers and corporate globetrotters easily input their receipts by taking a picture from their phones. This is then automatically put into the Expensify system using ‘SmartScan’ technology. You can then track, run and send reports to your accountant or accounts department, or automate it. Those here in Vietnam can also connect their Grab business accounts to their Expensify accounts and trips will be automatically expensed! Anyone that has ever submitted expense report will know that this is nothing short of a dream come true.