What is a Foreign Currency Bank Account?

What is a Foreign Currency Bank Account?

Written by Mark Gregorski
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated November 30, 2021

With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, it’s more common for people to rely on foreign currencies. Both individuals and businesses require unprecedented access to the foreign currency market to conduct international transactions.

However, exchanging currencies can be expensive due to high conversion fees and erratic fluctuations in exchange rates. Executing international transactions can also be a hassle because of unreliable transfer networks and slow processing. 

Foreign currency accounts streamline multi-currency transactions, enabling individuals and businesses to manage their financial affairs in a simple, convenient, and cost-effective manner.

Learn how to send money to another bank account

What Are Foreign Currency Accounts?

A foreign currency account is a type of bank account that lets you send and receive money in multiple currencies. You can convert Canadian dollars to and from other currencies and store funds in your desired currency until you wish to use them to conduct a transaction. The latter feature is not available in a traditional bank account, where you must convert your funds to another currency every time you perform a transaction. You can use foreign currency accounts for both personal and business needs.

Foreign currency bank accounts facilitate the easy and efficient execution of multi-currency transactions. They also help you avoid costly conversion fees and protect you from currency fluctuations.

Check out these bank withdrawal fees.

Types of Currencies You Can Send and Receive 

You can initiate transactions using various currencies in your foreign currency account. Some of the most common include:

  • US dollars (USD)
  • Canadian dollars (CAD)
  • Japanese Yen (JPY)
  • Euro (EUR)
  • Great Britain pound sterling (GBP)
  • Hong Kong dollars (HKD)
  • Renminbi (RMB), with possible currency restrictions

Cost of a Foreign Currency Account

As with regular bank accounts, foreign currency accounts come with their own fee structures, which include:

  • Monthly account fees: This is a flat fee you pay every month for your account’s general use. Some banks waive this fee if you maintain an account with a high balance or exclude it entirely.
  • Overdraft fees: Your bank will charge you an overdraft fee if you make a transfer or withdrawal that exceeds your existing account balance.
  • Deposit and withdrawal fees: Many banks permit unlimited monthly deposits and withdrawals. Some impose restrictions and will impose an extra fee for each transaction that surpasses the monthly limit.
  • Transaction fees: Your bank will charge various fees for the transactions you conduct, which will vary based on your funds’ destination and the financial institution you’re dealing with overseas.
  • Cash handling fees: Some banks limit the amount of cash you can deposit into your account each month. If you wish to deposit more than the allowable amount, they’ll charge you a cash-handling fee.

Want to work with a different bank? Learn how to switch banks.

Advantages of Foreign Currency Accounts

A foreign currency account provides numerous benefits for those who conduct international transactions frequently.

Take Advantage of The Exchange Rate

The costs associated with currency conversion can quickly add up, which is where foreign currency accounts confer their greatest advantage. You can hold funds in reserve in your desired currency without worrying about future exchange rates or losing money to conversion fees. This ability to store currencies for future use is hugely beneficial, particularly if you’re operating an international business that performs many foreign transactions. A foreign currency account can help minimize your conversion costs and shield you from volatile currency fluctuations. 

Learn how to open a business bank account

Earn Interest on Your Balance

Many banks will pay you interest on the cash you hold in your foreign currency account. Though the interest paid on foreign currencies is relatively modest compared to a standard savings account, it’s still nice to earn some passive income on your idle foreign cash.

Hold Multiple Currencies Under One Account

A foreign currency account enables you to hold multiple currencies under just one account, making it easier to track and manage your transfers, deposits, and withdrawals. Reporting to various tax and financial regulatory bodies on your currency holdings is convenient as well since you only need to submit a single statement.

Waived Fees

If you meet certain criteria, such as maintaining a large account balance, your bank may waive various fees on your foreign currency account.

Looking for more ways to transfer money? Consider a money order or a wire transfer.

Disadvantages of Foreign Currency Accounts

As with any type of bank account, there are certain disadvantages you should consider before opening a foreign currency account. 

Numerous Fees

Banks charge a wide range of fees on foreign currency accounts, which can eat away a considerable chunk of the money you keep therein.

High Daily Minimum Balances

Maintaining a high daily minimum balance in a foreign currency account is a common requirement by banks. This rule could be problematic if you anticipate performing only small, periodic transactions. If you don’t meet the account balance threshold, expect to pay hefty fees.

Your Money Fluctuates

Like any other good, Foreign currencies are subject to market forces – you can expect daily fluctuations in their values. Certain currencies are more volatile than others, which can be distressing if you consider yourself a risk-averse individual.

Features to Consider When Getting a Foreign Currency Account

Here are some of the most critical features to consider before opening a foreign currency account.

Account Fees

Comparing the fee structures of foreign currency accounts is vital. Your account should provide you with every service you need at a reasonable cost, especially if you expect to use it frequently. Ensure you examine the list of fees to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Pay close attention to conversion fees, monthly maintenance fees, and processing/handling fees. Ensure you understand the eligibility criteria you must meet to have specific fees waived, as this can save you a lot of money in the long run. Also, look for any special fees associated with certain currencies or specific transaction types.

Find out how to close a bank account.

Transaction Limits and Account Minimums

How often will you be utilizing your foreign currency account? What amount of funds do you expect to hold at any given moment? What is the size of your typical transaction? These are questions you should know the answer to, as they will help you narrow your search for the optimal foreign currency account. 

Banks set limits on the number of transactions you can perform each month – if you exceed the limit, they will charge you additional fees. In addition, they require a minimum monthly account balance be and restrict the size of your transactions. As a result, you should do your due diligence to ensure you select a financial institution suitable for your personal or business needs.

Turnaround Speed

If speed is important to you, you should find out how long it takes to process a transaction between your bank and an overseas account. Turnaround speed is especially crucial if you’re running a business and rely on the swift transfer of cash to maintain day-to-day operations.

Types of Currencies Available

Check what types of currencies a bank’s foreign currency account supports to make sure the ones you frequently use are accepted. Most banks allow you to perform transactions in the major currencies, such as the American dollar and Great Britain pound sterling, but less common currencies may not be supported.

What do I Need to Open a Foreign Currency Account?

Signing up for a foreign currency account is relatively easy. You only need to present some basic personal and financial details to the bank, such as a government-issued ID (usually, two pieces of ID are required). Depending on the bank’s policies, you may also need to open a general chequing or savings account if you’re a new customer. 

Check out these hybrid banking accounts.

Final Thoughts

A foreign currency account could be the ideal option for you if you routinely conduct sizable international transactions. This type of account affords you the ability to hold funds in multiple currencies in one account. You can easily switch between currencies without incurring costly conversion fees and optimize your cash flow management.

If you’re a business owner with an international presence, the proper foreign currency account can help you immensely by streamlining your foreign exchange operations and saving your money in fees.

The biggest downside to foreign currency accounts is the fees, which can become prohibitively expensive should you seldomly use your account. To get the most out of foreign currency accounts, ensure that your activity level justifies the costs.

Rating of 5/5 based on 1 vote.

Mark is a writer who specializes in writing content for companies in the financial services industry. He has written articles about personal finance, mortgages, and real estate and is passionate about educating people on how to make smart financial decisions. Mark graduated from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology with a degree in finance and has more than ten years' experience as an accountant. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing poker, going to the gym, composing music, and learning about digital marketing.

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