Every day, someone asks how they should go about getting local currency while traveling. Most people think the best way is to exchange money at the bank before leaving home. Others think they should exchange it at the airport in their home country. And the last group thinks they should exchange it at the airport when they arrive at their destination. Well, I’m here to tell you that all of those choices are WRONG!!! So, how do you get local currency? Using an ATM abroad will give you the best rates and fewer fees! *Originally posted on 8/19/2017. Updated on 8/13/2019 – All new info is in blue!
7 Steps To Using An ATM Abroad
ATM machines are your #1 source for obtaining local currency at your destination 90% of the time. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. You should do a little research (as always) before you leave home to be 100% sure. However, in my travels, I’ve yet to come across a country that I’ve not been able to use this method. I imagine, if you’re reading my blog, that you’re in the same boat. You probably won’t be heading to Outer Mongolia or Everest Base Camp anytime soon but even if you are you may be surprised by the places that have ATMs. So, here are 7 Steps to using an ATM Abroad.
Alert the bank of your travel plans. The worst thing in the world is having your card frozen because they think you’re a victim of fraud. It happened to me in Canada as I was trying to buy some Lay’s Ketchup Chips and various other Canadian delicacies, lol! I had to stand to the side and call my bank over $6 worth of junk food. So, do yourself a favor – alert your bank. Luckily, most banks have added this function to their online banking options so it’s even easier.
If you’re worried about theft, open a travel checking account that has a separate ATM card from your normal accounts. This way, you can move over small amounts of money as you need it. Then, IF your card is compromised, the jerks won’t get all of your money and you have something to live off until you return home. While this is a real concern, if you use a reputable ATM, the chances of this happening are slim.
Now that your bank knows you’re traveling and your accounts are sorted, it’s time to use the ATM! But… which ATM should you use? I always use the ATM at the airport in high-traffic areas. While using any ATM, lookout for loose or ill-fitting parts that might not be part of the machine – these could be ATM skimming devices. Also, don’t EVER let anyone assist you – they’re probably picking your pocket. Anyway, if you’re worried about using the airport machines then go to a local bank (during banking hours) where the ATMs are inside. If you don’t have any cash for transportation upon arrival, buy your train/bus/shuttle tickets online before you leave home. Look out for ATM machines that are associated with currency exchange companies. They will charge you crazy high fees and some even have a minimum amount you have to withdraw and it’s a lot. So, stick with local, reputable bank ATMs and you’ll be fine.
Be prepared with currency conversions BEFORE you even step up to the ATM. You don’t want to be “THAT” person fumbling around while the line grows behind you. If you want to take out the equivalent of $100 in Croatia, know how much $100 USD is in (HRK) Croatian Kuna. It’s best to have a currency converter on your phone for quick, easy access. My favorite app – for Android – is Currency Plus as it comes with the converter and a calculator so you can easily switch between the two. Also, this is a big help when you’re shopping and you want to add up your items and calculate the total.
Know the daily (24-hour) withdrawal limits for your bank and the specific country. Some banks allow a $300 – $500 limit but that may only be at your bank at home. Look up the country you’re visiting to find out their daily withdrawal limits in advance to avoid any mishaps. Don’t forget to include any fees and the exchange rate when figuring doing calculations.
Speaking of fees, it’s always best to know your bank’s international transaction and service fees. Remember these fees as they’re important if you want to withdraw the full daily limit so calculate accordingly. Plan your cash spend to reduce the need for multiple transactions. A little money for snacks, transportation, and souvenirs is pretty much all you’ll need.
Luckily, most places in the world take credit cards so there’s no need to walk around with wads of cash. Even with a credit card that has foreign transaction fees, you’re still – more than likely – losing less than if you exchanged money at a money exchange companies. For example, I used my credit card 4 times in one day spending a total of $100 with a transaction fee of 3%. Each transaction ($27 = .81, $22 = .66, $17 = .51, $34 = 1.02) equals a total of $3 in foreign transaction fees. If I had taken $100 to exchange it, I would have lost way more than $3 with their exchange rate and fees.
So, you’ve got your card, your conversions, and you know your limit but is there something you’re forgetting? What’s your PIN number? Is it a series of numbers or is it a word? Some ATMs don’t have letters on the keypad. So now what? Figure out the corresponding numbers before you start your transaction or have a picture of a keypad with letters on your phone. This is, yet another, know before you go tip. Not all ATMs are alike so it’s best to be prepared just in case.
It seems like you’re ready to, finally, withdraw some cash! With these 7 steps, you’re now prepared to use the ATM abroad! After you get your money, don’t forget to grab your card, your receipt, and make sure your transaction is complete. Now, go enjoy your trip! If you need tips on what to pack, check out these 5 Travel Essentials You Can’t Live Without and 10 Travel Essentials Under $10.
Do you use ATMs abroad? What are your experiences good or bad? Tell me about it in the comments and don’t forget to pin this post for later!