Banking, Debt 

Paying US Bills When Living Abroad

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I have a friend of mine who is going to be moving to and working in England for the next two years and sent me a question I had never before researched or read about before. A brief look online didn’t yield much in the way of answers because most of them focused on the mechanics (my friend can just send a check to her mother) and less on trying to reduce the financial burden of handling all those transactions so I’m at a loss as to what to suggestion.

She essentially will be paring down to two financial obligations: credit card(s) and student loans. In both cases, she really can’t eliminate them to reduce the burden of exchange rates and exchange fess. Currently her plan, until she finds an alternative, is to send checks in pounds sterling back to her mother and she’ll take care of paying the bills.

So, once again, I turn to the very resourceful readers for guidance: Does anyone have experience with this sort of issue and have any suggestions as to what she should and could do? Thanks! (from her and from me!)

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Paying US Bills When Living Abroad”

  1. Tim says:

    why would she have to worry about british pounds? just a couple of questions to better answer your question. is your friend working for an american company or a british one? did your friend already check with the company to see if they can pay US dollars? Many times this will be the case. is this a matter of her company having an office in the UK and her transferring? Is this a matter of her working for USG in UK? Is this a matter of her working in the UK for a UK firm?

  2. Chris says:

    Tim is right if he/she is working for US company, pay check gets depoisted into the checking account & he/she can pay all the bill online.
    If he/she is working for a UK firm then she has to pay the exchnage fee & transfer fee.

    I think…

  3. jim says:

    It’s a British company and she’s going to check if they can pay in US dollars, the thing is, she will be living in England for something like two years so getting paid in US dollars may not be feasible even if it could happen.

    She’ll be working for a UK firm in UK (she currently works in a US office now).

  4. gideon says:

    having lived overseas most of my life as the son of american expatriates and as one who frequently spends considerable periods of time abroad, i’ve had no problems paying all bills (school loans, insurance, credit cards, monthly rent, various subscriptions, etc) – literally ALL bills – online. in fact, most US companies prefer their customers pay via their websites.

    if your friend has reservations as to the security of online transactions, well, thats another post entirely! as long as she is relatively well-versed in potential threats such as phishing and other scams, and assuming that she keeps diligent records of all online monetary transactions (especially confirmations numbers and dates), i don’t know why she’d have a problem.

    the above comment posed by Tim is a great point: if she can convince her UK employer to pay her in greenbacks, she’ll save minimal currency exchange costs to keep feeding her US-based bank account.

  5. plonkee says:

    She could open a UK bank account denominated in dollars and write a dollar cheque from there. Citibank do one with a ÂŁ2000 minimum balance.

    I don’t know if thats a better solution but, its another idea.

  6. Tim says:

    Better suggestion since it is UK company in UK. Have her open up a Bank of America or Citibank account and have the company deposit into her account. BofA doesn’t charge any fees for ATM withdrawals at Barclay’s Bank in the UK. Second option, and probably the beest one in her case, is to open a citibank account in the US and a citibank US dollar current account in the UK (link)

    note that there is a 2000pound minimum to avoid $20 monthly service fee.

    if she doesn’t have the 2k british pound minimum, then i’d still open citibank account in the US and citibank account in the UK. deposit salary in citibank UK and transfer free to US citi account (note that they still will charge currency conversion, though, but it will be the standard rate rather than an additional fee).

  7. Tim says:

    regardless of what she decides, she should open a local bank account in the UK anyways. It will make life easier. If she has BofA, she should open a Barclay’s account. if she has citi she should open a citi Uk account. those are no brainers. if she wants to keep whichever bank she has, then check to see if there are partner banks in the UK.

  8. Tim says:

    I should have also stated that the company could just deposit USD into her citibank US account. Citibank would charge no ATM fee in UK, but still would charge currency conversion.

  9. jim says:

    I knew you guys were brilliant! 🙂

  10. battda says:

    As an Aussie living in the US for the last 7 years, I’ve had no problem keeping up with bills back home by conducting all of these transactions online. I kept a bank account open back home with a little cash in it, and can use its online bill pay functionality to take care of anything that comes up. Every year or two I might need to wire some money from the US to Aus to top up the account, but that’s not a big deal. Everything else is here in US accounts for now, as that is obviously more convenient for most things.

  11. f1student says:

    Another idea that i have used for a long time to avoid wire fees: pay bills with an overseas credit card. I have one which lets you maintain a positive balance (and even pays interest on that positive balance!), so i would just transfer money from my home-country checking acct to the credit card acct online and then pay for purchases, bills, etc here (in the US) without paying any transfer fees and with a very competitive exchange rate. It would certainly work for paying US bills from home, too.

    You may have to jump through some hoops to get the billing address verified, but this is getting easier and easier as companies internationalize their operations.

  12. Dustin says:

    I think Tim might be the most helpful person for my entire day. Thank you Tim for being so helpful. I guess you really do learn something everyday. Wow.

  13. matt says:

    I live in Mexico, although I am paid in dollars from the US. I would recommend (as others have suggested) that she find a bank that has branches in both places – my fave would be HSBC, as they have their high-yield online savings account available with an ATM card – that you can use fee-free at any HSBC bank worldwide. While there aren’t as many HSBC banks here in the US, they are all over the place in Mexico and I would guess England as well (since the company is based there).

    For paying bills from the UK, she can use any number of free checking accounts and just set up the payments (repeating or one time). She should definitely have her mail forwarded to a parent or friend who can periodically update her on any notices/problems.

    • AJ says:

      Hi Matt, I am also working in Mexico, have some questions for you. Please let me know if you are still following this post. Thanks!

  14. RobinInSeoul says:

    I’ve lived overseas most of my adult life. I wire money to my US bank every few months. I do it as infrequently as possible in order to cut down on fees. handles all my bills for a fee of about 5$/month. The bills go to them and they pay everything for me, deducting from my US bank account automatically. For online purchases, I use a PayPal account linked to my US debit card, or just my debit card if the site doesn’t use Paypal.

  15. plonkee says:

    I forgot, a drawback to using Citibank as your main account in the UK is that there aren’t many branches over here – I’m pretty sure they’re only in some parts of London. Barclays and HSBC have one in probably every town in the country.

    If you’re friend is moving somewhere outside of the capital and likes to use tellers and so one in a branch, then they might want to consider one of the other banks. It shouldn’t make a difference for using ATMs and so on as nearly all bank ATMs don’t charge regardless of the bank that your card is from (hopefully that makes sense).

  16. Bryan says:

    I’m a Yank who has been living in the UK for the past three years, both as an expat (paid in USD) and as a ‘normal’ UK employee, as your friend will be.

    There are many excellent points raised in the above comments. Please allow me to summarise and elaborate on the most critical.

    1. Wire transfer fees and poor exchange rates are painful, if for nothing more than throwing money away. Hopefully she can avoid doing any transfers (either direction) no more than twice per year.

    2. Setup a proper UK bank account. For starters, she’ll need to use it pay rent (everything is done via bank transfer). She’ll also need it to prove her identity in various matters. Hopefully her employer can help with some of the documentation.

    3. Keep a US bank account to pay all of her bills. Hopefully she’ll have enough capital in USD in that account to pay whatever bills arise in the US. Effectively, she’ll be ‘transferring’ some of her savings from USD into GBP by getting paid in GBP (positive cash flow, hopefully) and spending in USD. But if it’s only for two years, she might be able to afford it. I have kept my US account – the tenant in my apartment pays rent directly in, the mortgage is paid directly out. My expenses have drained my US savings, but I’ve built up a corresponding nest egg in Sterling.

    A few other notes: As mentioned in other posts, there are HSBC and Citibank accounts that offer both USD and GBP (and EUR, for that matter) accounts. Typically these are offshore accounts. They’re often promoted as tax-advantaged accounts, but the downside is that they usually pay little to no interest. Most UK-based high street banks have great savings deals – open an HSBC account in the UK and you could get 8% interest for the first year.

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