I've had a Citibank credit card for almost 20 years but Citibank canceled it on Thursday. I have a monthly storage shed payment that hits the card, but otherwise, I rarely use it. But, I pay it off every month and am generally a low maintenance kind of a person. (I realize, paying it off every month and not using it a ton means I'm not a hugely profitable customer, but I was loyal.)
I'm also an American citizen who lives in Switzerland. I've been honest and upfront about my physical location. Many expats use their parents' or siblings' or friends' addresses for US accounts to keep the bank in the dark. US banks don't like to to have customers abroad any more than foreign banks want to have US citizens as customers.
Through a stroke of bad luck, my Swiss credit card number was stolen right before I went on vacation. The company caught it and canceled my card. They sent me a new one, but even though I'll often talk about the benefits of Swiss efficiency, it doesn't apply when banking is concerned. My new Swiss Mastercard hadn't arrived five days later when I needed to board my plane to Newcastle, England.
No problem. I had my trusty Citibank card. I landed, picked up my rental car, and paid for it with my American card. No problem.
The next day, I tried to buy tickets to Alnwick Gardens and Castle--which include the poison gardens (worth a trip) and the castle where parts of Harry Potter were filmed. My card was declined. Hmmm. I paid cash and called up Citibank.
The customer service gentleman who answered informed me that my card had been canceled because I had a foreign address. There was nothing he could do about it, and I'd have to call back later when another department opened.
I called back later, and the other department said: "I have no idea why he told you to call us." Thirty minutes later, two transfers, and a supervisor, I found that not only was my account closed, but all accounts with foreign addresses had also been closed. They had sent a letter 90 days before, but for whatever reason, I didn't get it.
Even if I gave a US address, they wouldn't reopen the account without running a credit check on me and making me go through the entire application process again. But, if I had called the day before and given my parents' address, it would have been fine.
While Citibank has the right to determine who they will and will not do business with, it's another level of frustration for Americans abroad. FATCA makes local banks hesitant to do business with Americans because of the intrusive nature of the US government. (In fact, I just opened a new Swiss bank account, and it took a full month going back and forth with paperwork for them to open my account--the extra time and paperwork because of my passport.) And American banks don't want people who live abroad to bank with them.
While some banks will work with us, they are becoming fewer and further between.
Because of my work, almost all my clients are in the United States, and I get paid in US dollars. This means I desperately need access to US banks. Lots of my fellow expats own property and have financial obligations in the US, regardless of where their globe-trotting takes them. Fortunately, my checking account (with a small bank in Pennsylvania) seems to be secure. For now.
Fortunately, as well, even though I have no functioning credit cards, I do have a functioning debit card. Whew! But, if the card had been canceled before I picked up my rental car, I would have been in a pickle. The rental agency doesn't accept debit cards.
When you get that exciting expat job, I still recommend taking it. Living in a different culture and learning a new language are fabulous experiences, but life can become a lot more complicated. And expensive. In addition to banking problems, US citizens have to pay income taxes in their host country and in the US. Check with an accountant well versed in global tax law before you sign your relocation contract.