Which are the best banks for ex-pats in Romania? And why did I specify ex-pats, aren’t the best banks, the best banks for everyone?
Well, first a little trip down memory lane of a few financial hiccups you may not have heard of, and one you probably have. Also, following the adventures of ex-pats over the past two years
Worst for Americans – BRD and Raiffeisen
When I first came to Romania, I was told that I needed a bank account. As a former US Person (why former? do you really want to know?), I understand that it is more expensive for banks to deal with American customers.
The US is the only country that taxes its ex-pats on money earned abroad, and the only one that has an annoying network of privacy-killing bots aimed at stopping any of its citizens abroad from being happy (unless, of course, they have a financial IQ below ten, then the bot will let you merrily pin yourself into a poverty-stricken retirement).
Brexit might not affect Brits in Romania as much as it did in Estonia, Belgium, Holland, or Italy. You might have heard the news that Barclays, Nationwide, and others told ex-pats with residency abroad that Brexit forced them to close their bank accounts.
What you might not have heard of are other treaties that affect Americans, artists, students, home buyers, and of course bankers. Fatca/FBAR is a big one.
Raiffeisen’s Austrian branches forcibly closed the accounts of “US Persons” years ago. BRD also caused a few problems. It is probably easier for a war criminal to start an account with these guys than an American.
Raiffeisen’s new parent bank is also said to have closed ex-pat banks in Belgium. They didn’t give a reason, but banks usually don’t close their customer’s accounts. I would avoid both banks, even after the boycott ends.
However, Raiffeisen has a good exchange rate (second to CEC) and other benefits. It was used by a lot of Romanian businesses until recently. (It lost a few customers due to a Schengen spat).
Those of us without US citizenship may not have to worry, but Raiffeisen’s history of closing accounts makes it hard to recommend
Banca Transilvania: Great for Romanian businesses, but for ex-pats?
I want to see your birth certificate. – Donald Trump or Banca Transilvania employee?
If you are a Romanian citizen, then I would recommend the technology, the friendly service, the interest rates, and so much else about Banca Transilvania.
However, I have heard a lot of complaints from ex-pats about not being able to use the app, about hearing threats that their bank account would close, and about being repeatedly asked for additional documentation years after opening an account.
Read Cluj xyz for more information on Banca Transilvania.
Happily these problems seem to have disappeared for the time being. Perhaps they changed their policy or trained whoever was giving the expats a problem.
Best for privacy, ING
Because FATCA lost in Holland, and because the Dutch have the strongest privacy laws, a Dutch bank might be a great choice for expats.
ING was also the bank account of many famous revolutionaries about a decade ago.
Best exchange rates: CEC bank
If you bring in a lot of money from abroad or send money abroad, or even if you just happen to pay for a lot of things in Euros, then exchange rates can really add up. For many expats who trade in multiple currencies, this will be even more important. Following the news for two years, and checking a few other banks that are not reported there, it seems that CEC consistently has the best exchange rates for its customers. (Especially from Euros to Ron and vice versa).
Note however, if you are trading 10,000 euros or more, you might be able to negotiate an exchange rate with your bank.
Easiest to open ING or OTP:
If you speak some Romanian, it seems that ING is easy to open for most people, and OTP is easy to open for everyone. Basically, banks that have names that are initials seem like good ideas for ex-pats.
The best interest rate is at TBI, but for Americans (or for a real bank) OTP
There are all kinds of complicated things involved in interest rates. Banca Transilvania, OTP and others pay good interest, but the best appears to be TBI bank, which at one point offered ten percent.
However TBI does not have proper branches in Cluj and does not appear to allow US persons or people born in the US to open accounts online.
Anyway, the highest interest rates are below inflation. So, perhaps there are other investment options you would like to look at.
Which country are you from?
Others expats have recommended the above banks as well as Librabank and Unicredit. I would normally recommend getting a bank that is active in whichever country you may happen to move to next. Santander and HSBC, for instance, were the best “British” banks to have during Brexit, as they had a large enough international network to retain their customers abroad.
That said, when you move abroad, all kinds of laws intended to stop money laundering and tax evasion might affect you more than they affect actual criminals. Sorry, you are collateral damage.
Best bank for expats?
I hate to say this, but the best bank really depends on you. If you do a lot of trading currencies (you are paid in one and pay rent in another, for instance), then maybe CEC is for you. But I know expats with all the banks mentioned and others.