Archive: ATMs vs. Traveler's Checks
Plastic is on a roll. ATM, credit, and debit cards are taking over. Have you had any problems in Europe relying solely on your ATM number? Are traveler's checks headed for extinction? How do you get your money smartly?
Just spent a month throughout Europe using ATM and Visa exclusively.
It was so so so easy. "Bancomats" are everywhere: i.e. Amsterdam, Munich,
all of Italy, including small towns along the Italian Rivera. Never used
the traveller's cheques but would recommend them as a backup. We did have
one occasion where the computer link up to the U.S. was down.
Chicago, IL USA 11/10/98
I found out during my trip to Germany and Holland in October 1995, that a 6 digit PIN is not the way to go. A 4 digit PIN is. I was really frustrated by this because I had plenty of money and I did not have ATM access to my money. I did not carry travelers checks on that trip, which was not prudent. Thankfully, I did have about US $500.
Before I left on my trip to Italy in Oct. 1997, I stopped by my bank
and changed my PIN to a 4 digit PIN. I had no problems. The officer at
the bank said that all European countries will accept a 4 digit PIN, but
not all will accept a 5+ PIN.
Pleasanton, CA USA 11/08/98
I recommend putting money onto a credit card before you go (lets you
avoid cash advance fees), to use for cash and taking a second card for
purchases. If the ATM won't work, you can go into a bank with passport
ID and get cash of visa or mastercards.
Mt Vernon, IL USA 11/07/98
We just returned from 4 weeks in Greece and Turkey. We had no problem
withdrawing local currency throughout Greece. In Turkey ATMs were available
in big cities but they did not respond to our requests. Finally, we figured
out that we could successfully make withdrawals only when requesting the
minimum amount available.
Camano Island, Wa USA 11/06/98
i keep my money in citibank when i go to europe, and that way i can
go to a bank branch to withdraw money without a fee (there are like 5
citibanks in Paris, for example) And when i lost my card in brusssels
last fall, i was able to go to a branch, get cash, get a new card sent
to me and they even got me a cup of coffee!!!
tucson, az USA 11/06/98
If you have a daily cash limit for security reasons you may want to
change it before you go. Also, if you feel comfortable carrying some American
cash, the street machines that do direct transfers give the best rates.
Also, in places where the dollar is strong, tips for special people will
be especially appreciated in dollars.
Lawrence, MA USA 11/05/98
Always carry tweezers with you.
I bumped into a woman in Siena. Her card was stuck in the machine, but,
with my tweezers, she was able to extract the card.
Caldwell, NJ USA 11/05/98
Just today (4 Nov) I saw a post in another travel BB that someone recently
had his ATM card eaten in Vienna because the expiration date was 2000
and the software of the bank involved was not Y2K compliant. Poster suggests
bringing along at least one card with a '99 exp date. A responder was
of the opinion that the larger banks should be Y2K-OK but it's always
wise to bring a second card. I had no trouble with my '00 debit card in
NW Europe this fall...but forewarned (and backup-carded) may be forearmed
(or upperarmed, or hindlegged, or somesuch).
Baltimore, MD USA 11/05/98
The biggest mistake most travelers I met were making was to keep thinking
of everything in dollars. The first thing I did on the plane trip over,
was covert my checking account to British pounds. I kept a separate register
for all of my transactions on my trip. When I went to reconcile my account
when I returned home, I simply put in the dollar amount. This works well
in a stable economy (the pound to dollar exchange hasn't changed much
in the past few years), but this would probably not work well in smaller,
less developed nations.
Denver, CO USA 11/04/98
If one machine doesn't work for you, go to the next nearest one. We found
this to be particularly true in Italy.
Birmingham, AL USA 11/04/98
Outside Western Europe , you might have trouble finding a machine -
in Slovenia and Croatia, I had to resort to my backup Traveler's Cheques.
Boise, ID USA 11/04/98
Before you travel make sure your debit or credit cards haven't been
de-magnetized. Unlike the U.S. some European locations can only swipe
your cards as opposed to manually entering the card number. If you don't
have cash on hand or traveler's checks this can leave you in a bind. In
addition to traveler's check multiple credit or debit cards are useful
as cash machines do not take all types of cards.
Seattle, WA USA 11/04/98
If you are going to Europe, be sure to advise your credit card company
in advance! VISA saw our charges and apparently decided someone had stolen
our card, and flagged it the first time it was used in Lisbon. It would
work on the small purchases, a hundred dollars or so, but not on the big
ones. After a few worrisome days we finally called FIRST CARD in Chicago
and after convincing them we were who we said we were they unflagged the
account. Fortunately, we did have some T-Checks because at that same time
there was a mechanical problem with the ATM's in Spain.
Reno, NV USA 11/04/98
Our ATM card was set up to draw from our Savings account, but the machines
in Italy don't ask you Checking or Savings, they assume Checking. I had
to call our bank and get the account changed. The 800 numbers (on the
back of the cards) only work in the U.S. Outside the U.S. you have to
use 880 instead of 800, and it is not a toll free call. Let your Visa
Card bank know that you will be travelling.
Paul J. Colonna
Poway, Ca USA 11/04/98
Since a pickpocket got my wife's credit cards and the number of my separate card card used for emergencies was copied, we had to stop all cards while in Paris. And the atm's wouldn't give enough for the hotel bill. In the future we'll also carry traveler's checks and use them for emergency or backup.
Next year we will use local currency to pay for restaurants in place
of the plastic as some of the rates charged when we got our bill in the
states were far less than we enjoyed in Europe. In addition it is almost
impossible to add a tip to the charge slip when using the card in Europe.
Tucson, AZ USA 11/04/98
A word of warning...we convinced our friends, who were on their first
trip to France, to take just their ATM. Their bank had set it up so that
they could only withdraw a very small amount of money PER WEEK! Something
like 1,000 FF per week. We never did straighten it out and we ended up
financing their trip. Be sure your bank has the withdrawal set up properly.
It could have been a nightmare.
East Sandwich, ma USA 11/04/98
I wouldn't dream of going back to europe without TWO ATM cards as my
primary source of dollars, pounds, guilders, pesatas, lira, francs or
kroner. In Luxemburg I could have gotten 5 different currencies at the
same location from two different machines. I also was able to have someone
at home deposit $ in my account which then became available almost immediately.
Try that with cash or t-checks!
IAN K. LESIKAR
COLUMBIA, MD USA 11/04/98
my husband and i bring along different credit cards so if one of us
loses or has a credit card stollen, we are not without credit.
grand island, ne USA 11/03/98
In September I traveled with six family members for three weeks. My
husband and I used our ATM credit and debit cards without a problem. The
rest of the group brought cash, traveler's checks and bankcards without
pin numbers. They all had problems cashing their traveler's checks and
getting cash advances on their bankcards. We ended up paying for most
of the group expenses and they reimbursed us with personal checks. The
only way to travel is with AtM cards.
Lincoln, CA USA 11/03/98
I used a debit card and never had any problem. There were extensive
ATM's even in the Czech Republic and Budapest. We got the best exchange
rate and paid no fees. We found that more and more places were reluctant
to accept traveler's checks and credit cards and would offer a cash discount.
Most places would direct us to an ATM nearby. Be sure the money is in
your checking account to use a debit card at an ATM.
Seattle, WA USA 11/03/98
If you're going to use a VISA or MasterCard from which you've never
before taken a cash advance, you might want to double check your PIN number
before you leave home. Also, when you get local currency for the country
you're visiting, try to get some coins. We found ourselves on a toll road
in France that only took coins.
Danville, CA USA 11/03/98
Master Card has a website (http://www.mastercard.com) where you can
download locations of ATMs accepting it in any country or city in Europe
as well as airports. Click on "ATM Locator". This can get pretty voluminous
for large cities like Paris. I found the most effective strategy in those
cases was to single out locations in or beside the transport hubs I'd
be using (e.g. train stations), then look down the lists for recurring
names — they'd usually be branches of a large bank all over the city &
all you'd need is the name to look or ask for. Happy trails all.
Baltimore, MD USA 11/03/98
My husband carries one ATM card and I carry one from a different bank, just in case one gets "eaten" or rejected for some reason. We found ATM's everywhere, even in a remote little village in Wales. We had taken out some extra cash in the last big city to pay our B&B bill just in case, but there were 3 ATM machines on one block in the little town.
The only problem I have run across is that some machines did not have
letters on them, only numbers and if you use a password and remember it
by the letters, not the numbers, that could be problem. I had to find
a phone booth with numbers and letters on the key pad to figure out what
my code was in numbers!
Modesto, CA USA 11/03/98
ATM is on a roll if...and that's a big IF...you have one from a nationally
known bank. Alas, mine was from a smalltown GA bank, and although I had
beaucoup money, I could not access it. Take traveler's checks...just in
Monroe, GA USA 10/31/98
Travelling together, my husband and I each carry a different ATM card and have also activated our credit cards to get instant cash. We prefer ATM cards ($1 service charge and no interest.) It has worked beautifully. We still take a couple of hundred dollars in traveler's cheques as emergency back-up, but have never had to use them. We also carry each other's phone number to call in case the card is lost, stolen, or eaten by the machine. It's not much help when the number to call is on the back of the card you are calling to report as no longer in your possession.
On our ETBD tour of Turkey, it was recommended that we change traveler's
cheques in the airport as there would be little opportunity to use an
ATM. Good advice as we never saw an ATM machine anywhere in Turkey, although
they were readily available in Greece.
Stockton, CA USA 10/28/98
I find that in the Netherlands I almost have to use my credit card to
get money. In England my ATM card doesn't seem to work in the evenings.
Most times however my ATM works just fine.
Keflavik, Iceland 10/27/98
I took traveller's checks in case of an emergency, but I relied on my bank debit card. I had no problems at all. In fact, I hated to use my traveller's checks because, although American Express claims they don't charge a commission to change their checks, they give a lower rate than exchanging notes.
You'll also want to bring a small amount of American cash — especially
for eastern Europe. In Prague, I had more difficulty finding an ATM machine,
and most transactions are done with cash. I also found Rick's suggestion
of bringing the equivalent of $50 in local currency of each country you
plan to visit is a lifesaver. You don't want to hunt for an ATM or use
a currency exchange at a train station when you arrive. You just want
to get your metro fare and get to your hotel/hostel to get rid of your
Salt Lake City, UT USA 10/26/98
I have had little trouble with ATM machines in Europe. I would suggest
one understands that for bank ATM cards you don't get to choose which
account the money comes from. It will automatically be deducted from your
Paul R. Lindemuth
Benton Harbor , MI USA 10/23/98
The Cirrus ATMs in Andalusia, Spain were down for about a week when
we there. Fortunately I had travellers' checks as a backup, Also, ATMs
withdraw from your checking account. You don't have a choice of checking
or savings as in the US, so make sure your checking account is well-filled.
Sacramento, CA USA 10/23/98
If you have an American Express card, you can write a personal check
at AmEx office. No fees, same rates as ATMs. Plus it takes a couple of
weeks for the check to clear
Dusseldorf Germany, 10/23/98
I lived in London for three months. I found that using my ATM was a
much better bargin than running down to the local American Express ever
month. I always got a better pound to dollar exchange rate.
San Diego, CA USA 10/22/98
ATM cards are easy and convenient. The only place I have ever had trouble
was in Pammukale, Turkey. There is no machine there, so be sure to take
cash to the spa!
wi USA 10/22/98
ATMs are the only way to go. If you travel to small towns, the people
don't like traveler's checks. There are ATMs in the smallest of places
now. If your card is Cirrus, Plus or NYCE there isn't any problem.
Flushing, NY USA 10/21/98
My wife and I recently returned to France and Switzerland and visited
towns large and small. Our ATM card was usefull everywhere. Most machines
had English menus. The exchange rates were great, no fees or commissions
(check your own bank before you leave) so we could withdraw only as much
money as needed. It shows how small the world is when you can access your
reserves when in a tiny fishing village in Brittany. It can also be very
dangerous, no preset spending limit. We did take some travellers checks
before we left, we came back with everyone of them!
Cleveland, OH USA 10/20/98