Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Money Tips for Fulbrighters (or Any Americans Living) in India

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on January 10, 2014

For many Fulbrighters, one of the biggest question marks about making the move to India was around money — the best way to bring dollars into the country without paying exorbitant fees, whether or not to open an Indian bank account (and whether this is possible), the use of credit cards and debit cards, etc.

I was fortunate enough to get a few tips before I left the US for India, and after living abroad here for over 1.5 years, I’ve picked up a few more tips. Here goes:

  1. The Debit Card : Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. With a $0 minimum, a $0 monthly service fee, and unlimited worldwide ATM fee rebates, this checking account / debit card serves as the quickest way for me to bring cash into India from a US account directly through ATMs, which are easily found in urban India. I also learned that wires received into Schwab’s brokerage account, which is linked to the checking account,  aren’t charged and can be moved over freely into the checking account. This was great for receiving a Fulbright stipend. Beat that, BofA.
  2. The Credit Card: CapitalOne Venture. Most fine dining establishments and retailers will take American credit cards. This particular card is for the traveler because it does not charge foreign transaction fees. The first annual fee of $59 is waived. You earn 2 points for every dollar on all purchases, and these points can be used to erase past travel purchases (and it’s super easy to get these rebates, too). However, some folks might appreciate a card that’s linked directly to an airline for the perks (as in the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card), such as a large number of points gained from signing up for the card and access to travel lounges.
  3. A Local Bank Account: Do it — it’s worth the hassle and the paperwork. If you come as a Fulbrighter, you’ll have to register as a foreigner because of your Research visa. With that proof of residency (or even just a lease agreement), you’ll be able to open a bank account. You’ll want an Indian bank account to make online purchases and to transfer money between individuals. American credit cards won’t work on sites like redbus.in (for the buses) or IRCTC (for the trains) or any of the mobile phone recharging sites. When picking a bank, go for a private bank that has a lot of branches, such as Axis or HDFC. I opened my account at an Axis Bank branch that was located near a university with a large foreign student population. The staff was accustomed to handling foreigners, so it was fairly easy for me to get the account opened.
  4. Transferring Money Between US and Indian Accounts: ICICI Money2India. I actually just signed up for this service, but I’ve heard great things about it. When I initiate a transfer from a US bank to an Indian bank, I’m generally charged $30/transaction (again, thanks BofA). However, this service will charge me a lot less — around $2/transaction (or so I’ve been told — I’ve yet to try it!). Regarding the exchange rate: what you see when you initiate the transfer is what you get, which is important because the rupee fluctuates a lot.
  5. Traveler’s Checks: Don’t do it. Do people still actually use these things?
  6. Bringing USD for Exchange on Arrival: Don’t do it. Most companies, especially those at the airports where people typically make exchanges, will rip you off. The bank fees aren’t terrible, so use an ATM. It’s cheaper and more convenient, too.

Hopefully you’ll find these money tips useful! And for those who are wondering where my research is — that should be coming at some point soon.

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