ATMs & Credit Cards: Minimizing Fees: 2009
Throughout Europe, cash machines and credit cards are the standard way for American travelers to change money or pay for services. You get a much better rate than with traveler's checks but you do pay a fee, usually to your hometown bank or to your card issuer. And ATMs may not be as good a deal, as some overseas ATM vendors and US banks add a 2 percent or so fee to each transaction. How do you minimize fees when using ATMs in Europe? Are they still the best way to change money? Also, any comments about minimizing extra credit card foreign currency conversion fees?
Please Note: ATM and Credit Card fees change frequently. Contact your bank or credit card company for exact, up-to-date information before your trip.
- Please don't post questions here. Use our Travelers Helpline.
Bank of America is part of the Global ATM Alliance, meaning that if, when abroad, you withdraw from a bank that's part of this alliance, the foreign ATM fee is waived and all you get is (as of fall 2009) a 1% transaction fee. Look at BofA's website for the list of which banks in which countries this applies to.
Comparison example: Withdraw 100 euros in France: BofA customer withdrawing at alliance partner BNP Paribas would see the conversion rate plus 1% fee: 100e = $149 (xchange) + 1.49 (1%)
Chase customer withdrawing anywhere would see conversion rate plus 3% rate plus $3-$5 dollar ATM fee: 100e equals $149 (xchange) + $4.47(3%) + $3-$5 fee
France Mon 11/23/2009
Conventional wisdom for years on this travel site and others is that you use credit cards for direct purchases and debit cards at ATMs for cash. Most people are aware that a cash withdraw on a credit card is a loan with lots of additional fees both in the US and Europe. Most credit union's debit cards and the Schwab debit card along with some others do not charge (or rebate) fees for cash withdraws from ATMs.
Centennial, CO USA Thu 11/12/2009
We recently returned from a 16 day trip to London, Normandy, Paris, and used the Rick Steves tips, plus from tips this board. We took our local NuUnion CU debit card, and a Fidelity Gold Debit card. We called both before leaving on the trip. I am happy to report that everything worked great! Our CU even refunded the atm fees! A big thank you for all the good advice.
Springport, MI USA Thu 11/05/2009
I had the same experience as Jennifer. I know there is money in the account but the machine would not give out any more than E250. I found only one machine in Florence that gave out E300 but quit trying.
Austin, TX USA Sun 11/01/2009
Capital One DOES charge fees now!
Warning about Capital One!
For several years I used my CapOne business Visa card on overseas trips for purchases and ATM withdrawals. Although there were limits (usually around $200 per transaction, though never posted, and the machine might not let the larger transaction go through, but wouldn't explain why; in Moscow we had to call CapOne's office from our docked ship to confirm we were not charged when no money came out, only a "Thank you" from the ATM!), and a cash advance fee, which accrues from the posting date, which ranged from 8-12%, there was no foreign transaction fee, whether Turkey, Peru, Thailand, Russia, Ireland, etc.
I just got back from India and got my PERSONAL CapOne MASTERCARD statement; I had decided to open a personal account for vacations, and so used this card for the first time for overseas purchases and ATM cash. Although the purchases had no fees and no finance charges, to my surprise, there was a $10 fee for the first ATM use, and a bit over $11 for the second! And the finance charge accruing for the averaged balance was at 22% APR, with an actual interest for the period of over 50%!
I called CapOne (yep, got someone from India), and he explained that there WERE fees for ATM use, but not purchases. I told him this never happened before, and read from my previous statements. When it was explained that this was my BUSINESS account, he said, oh, that one didn't charge fees, but the new MasterCard personal account did ($10 minimum per transaction, or 3%, whichever was higher), plus the additional finance charge accruing each day, even though I didn't get my statement for weeks afterwards, and wouldn't pay online for another two weeks (THAT is going to cost me ANOTHER $9, as the balance accrues!), so he had to calculate the higher amount, or else I'd get ANOTHER finance charge when I paid the posted balance off!
As someone who NEVER maintains a balance, and ALWAYS pays off every cent each month on ALL my cards, this infuriates me. So, next trip, I will have to use my PERSONAL CapOne card ONLY for item purchases, and my BUSINESS CapOne card for ATM use, even though the finance charge accrual is a HIGHER 24%.
I think I will pre-schedule an online payment for the amount I plan to exchange, so that it's paid off within a day or two, to minimize the fee, and then use the internet while traveling to access my account and pay off any further ATM use when it occurs.
But, of course, if any of this fee stuff was in my agreement, it was surely buried in the finest of fine print and NOBODY ever told me the personal card was different than the business card (unless ALL new cards now have the fee and the old one is just grandfathered to be fee-less).
If someone else offered a REAL fee-free card that didn't charge mafia-level usurious interest on cash transactions, I'd like to know!
Ellenville, New York USA Sat 10/31/2009
Everbank is not really your ever bank. I have an Everbank cash card and used it last year with great success and low fees. This year when I went to let them know I was travelling again they told me my card had been cancelled for lack of use. I could get another one for the expedited fee of $50 which I did but guues what? that only guarantees it to arrive 3 days AFTER they mail it. Now it is the day before I'm leaving and they just mailed it. So my new card will be waiting for me when I arrive home. A lovely homecoming present - NOT!
Kirkland, WA USA Mon 10/26/2009
Capital One= no fees
Capital One offers credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. Various options such as cash rewards, travel rewards points, etc.
NY USA Sat 10/17/2009
VISA charges for foreign transaction fees
VISA charges for foreign transaction fees when booking in the US. I recently booked a couple of airline tickets from British Airways. I did so from a computer in the US, was quoted airfares in dollars, designated the US as my country of departure on the website and used a US-based VISA credit card. When the charges were posted to my account, besides the airfare, I was also charged $13.40. British Airways says they did not charge me. VISA admitted they did, as a "foreign transaction fee." By that way of looking at things, buying Bayer (German) aspirin at Walmart, using a credit card, ought to trigger a "foreign transaction fee." Obviously, not a great deal of money but where does it stop?
MD USA Fri 10/16/2009
ATMs in Italy
Just got back from 2 1/2 weeks in Italy, and wanted to share a hint about the ATMs there. We had heard that a lot of them won't give out much money at a time, but what we finally figured out was that the ATMs themselves don't tell you that. Instead, we often got messages telling us to contact our bank, or the card was not authorized to do international advances or withdrawals. We finally figured out that the largest amount that was given as an option (often 250 euros) was the largest amount it will give out. Typing in more under "other options" got us the various misleading messages. That may be what was happening with some of the other comments whose bank said their card should have worked.
Edmonds, WA USA Sun 10/04/2009
Certain Fidelity bank card (e.g. My Smart Cash Account) waives bank fees abroad and do not tack on commissions on top of the conversions.
Stamford, CT USA Tue 09/29/2009
NO ATM Fees?
Update to my recent note. ING now charges 3% for ATM use in Europe. So much for free. At least Capital One is still free of fees for credit.
Highlands Ranch, CO USA Mon 09/07/2009
ATMs and Identity theft
Warning: Use only bank-affiliated ATMs. Do not use non-bank ATMs. My parents were recently in Rome. They used a non-bank ATM, and their debit card was hacked. (Fortunately, their bank reimbursed them.) Bank-affiliated ATMs are more secure.
I've used bank ATMs in several overseas trips, including Egypt, with no problems. Always expect fees.
Alexandria, VA USA Wed 09/02/2009
ATM withdrawal limits
While traveling through Italy this summer we found that many ATMs limit withdrawals to 250 Euros. Even though they have an option for "other amounts" than the defaults listed, when we tried to withdraw in excess of 250 Euro the ATM rejected the transaction. One exception we found was at the ATM on the North side of Piazza della Signoria. (The Banca Toscana, I think.)
New York, NY USA Mon 08/31/2009
NO ATM Fees
I have been using an ATM card from ING Direct. No fees of any kind (so far) and has worked in every country in Europe. I use a Capital One Visa card for credit card purchases, also without anything other than the base 1% conversion "convenience" fee.
It is also nice to see that some European countries do not allow ATM use charges. England (in train stations) and Switzerland are ones I have found to be always fee free at the ATM.
Denver, CO USA Mon 08/31/2009
Bank of America
I have also come here to bash Bank of America, and to praise her. My first trip to Italy with a B of A ATM card, I was able to use at Deutschbank ATMs. No fees, no problems, good exchange rate, and I didn't even tell them I was going to Europe. The last time, I called ahead and told them I would be in Italy. When I got there I was unable to extract even 1 Euro from any of several Deutschbank ATMs I tried. In every case it said I was not authorized. I had to borrow money from fellow travellers. When I returned home and complained, I was given no apologies or explanations. All they could say was "it should have worked". So on paper, B of A offers a good service, but don't rely on it.
FL USA Fri 07/24/2009
Surely there must be some known places in Europe that gladly exchange Euros for dollars for a very fair price. I know airports are not that place. But if somebody set up a little network of offices that charged only 1%, you'd think they'd be very profitable. I'd gladly pay 1% for cash exchange. Instead, it's more common to see a horrible currency rate combined with up to a 10% surcharge plus a 5 Euro flat charge. And people are crazy enough to pay these crooks. If anyone has a secret way of getting a good deal on Euros, please let us all know.
FL USA Fri 07/24/2009
Bank of America
Just another warning about using Bank of America, make sure to check your account for fees even if you are using their partner banks. I was charged the $5 ATM fee for using Barclays in the UK and BNP Paribas in France eventhough they are partnered and supposed to be free. Only the Deutchbank in Germany worked without charges. I was able to complain to customer service and get a credit so make sure to pay attention.
Lansing, MI USA Wed 07/15/2009
Bank of America Warning
We are just back from a month in Europe. Before we left, my wife called Bank of America to advise them of our trip . She told them the dates and countries we would be traveling in and that she might make some unusual withdrawls with her ATM card. The first time she went to use her ATM card, to withdraw 300 Euros in Munich the screen said, "Your card is rejected, contact your bank." When we got back she called Bank of America who proudly said it was her fault because although she had told them there would be unusal withdrawls the amount she had tried to withdraw was larger than her established pattern of withdrawls and they therefore had disabled her ATM card and the person she talked to could not reset it. When reminded of the fact that they had been advised of the anticipated unusual ATM activity, the reply was that their system had worked perfectly and it was all her fault.
Fortunately my ATM card is with another bank and things worked out. Had she been by herself it would have been quite another story. Don't let Bank of America ruin your trip.
Beverly Hills, MI USA Fri 06/05/2009
ATM skimmer fraud
Change your PIN! Change it very frequently when travelling! My husband used his ATM on a business trip to Amsterdam two weeks ago. Over this past weekend, three thousand dollars was taken from our bank account using his PIN. The transactions occurred in Amsterdam, at the same location he used the card, then the next day in Bucharest, home of notorious ATM skimmer rings. This is the first form of identity theft we have experienced and we are so very fortunate that our credit union is going to credit us for the lost funds. The mega banks likely won't provide that level of service.
Our peace of mind in using ATMs for cash in Europe is gone. We have used the same card in dozens of countries and I guess our number was up. The only way I can see to prevent this fraud is to use ATMs inside banks as these machines are not likely to be tampered with.
Sequim, WA USA Mon 06/01/2009
ATM cards are the way to go in Rome
Just got back from Rome and using an ATM is definitely the best way to exchange money! We made the mistake of taking mainly cash to exchange (as I was afraid we might have issues with ATMs)and there was a flat fee of $68 (or so) for each transaction as "commission"
My brother traded in $1000 at an exchange place and only received 650 Euro. On the other hand, I used an ATM to take out 160 Euro and it only withdrew $228 from my bank account... much better deal!
In the future, I would just use my ATM card and skip taking cash altogether. I had talked to my bank about using my card abroad and had no issues using it (I did two withdrawals while there)
Beaver Dam, WI USA Sun 05/31/2009
2009-05-09: Just spoke to Schwab to understand limits for my Schwab Platinum Check Card.
Agent indicated $1000 daily limit and even indicated that some ATMs may require that you pull $300-$400 multiple times in a day to reach even that limit.
Double check and make sure card is activated before you go (mine wasn't).
She also gave me the option to disable automatic fraud alerts for 14 days...as she pretty much guaranteed that a lightly used card suddenly being used in Europe would get shut down and require a phone call to start back up.
Very excited to have a 0% fee card (besides VISA 1%)..and any ATM fees rebated.
Milton, GA USA Sat 05/02/2009
I heard from paypal that they don't charge a conversion fee if the ATM does the converting. I wonder how to tell how you know which atms do the converting.
Santa Fe, nm USA Wed 04/01/2009
ATM fees and how to save
Capitol One's Credit Card and their Debit Card (tied to your checking) BOTH charge 0% on foreign exchange fees and ATM usage. You will still be subject to whatever the local ATM owner wants to charge.
Here is a site that lists all of the banks, credit unions and broker accounts and what percentage they charge: http://www.flyerguide.com/wiki/index.php/Credit/Debit/ATM_Cards_and_Foreign_Exchange
Note that there are several who charge zero percent, but it appears that only Capitol One works in the broadest areas.
While I'm not selling Capitol One, I do want to see them succeed and benefit by giving travelers a break, and for just "not being greedy" as so many folks in the financial world are guilty of nowadays!
Reedsport, OR USA Mon 03/30/2009
Visa fee description by Visa
Visa sets their foreign currency exchange rates a day in advance. It is published here: http://www.corporate.visa.com/pd/consumer_services/consumer_ex_rates.jsp More information on exchange rates from Visa is here: http://usa.visa.com/personal/using_visa/exchange_rates_faq.html and Visa's chip and pin response is here: http://usa.visa.com/personal/using_visa/european_travel_tips.html
IA USA Mon 03/09/2009
Go Fee Free with Schwab
Just to add to what Tom in Orlando and Josh in Seattle mentioned, along with a Schwab One Investor Checking Acct, Schwab now offers an "Invest First" Visa credit card with no foreign transation fees. I'm going on a six-week Europe trip and plan to use my Schwab Visa CC and ATM card for totally transaction free travel. (I'm also carrying along my Capital One Mastercard as a back-up and notified all of the above of my travel plans ahead of time.)
San Francisco Bay Area, CA USA Tue 03/03/2009
Check with your bank to see if they have partnered up with any banks in the location you're visiting. I did that for Paris, and found ATMs all over Paris that charged me no fee at all.
Charlotte, NC USA Tue 02/03/2009
Worst conversion quote ever!
I received a personal worst conversion quote at an exchange booth at Heathrow - 28 percent! They felt that their guarantee to buy back unused pounds at the sell price was worth it. I didn't, I hope you don't. Stick with your ATM cards.
IA USA Tue 01/13/2009
Martin, it would be nice to know what your problems were. My son and DIL recently completed a five month honeymoon from Japan to Germany using only a WAMU debit card with no problems and only a 1% currency conversion fee. I was surprised how smoothly things went especially in areas like Thailand, Camobodia, and Malaysia.
Centennial, CO USA Sun 01/11/2009