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June 22, 2021

Should you use ATMs when travelling abroad?

By Gordon Powers, Sympatico / MSN Finance

A friend of mine preparing for a recent holiday in Europe was surprised when told just how much he'd likely be charged for withdrawing his own money from an overseas bank machine.

The major advantage of exchanging money with your ATM card is that all cash withdrawals are exchanged based on a wholesale exchange rate, usually reserved for large interbank exchanges, according to Ambassador Travel. This rate is often a few percentage points better than what you can get from exchanging traveler's checks locally.

And, yes, there are fees associated with any international ATM withdrawals. At the very least you’ll likely be charged the same transaction fee that your bank presently charges you when using other banks’ ATMs. And that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than at home where they're rarely more than $1.50. As well, some institutions will tag on a currency fee that might be as high 2% of your transaction.

Depending on your bank, you may get a break from those machines sporting the the Global ATM Alliance logo. Scotiabank is a founding member, along with Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and Westpac. See if your particular institution offers similar reciprocity.

ATMs in some countries spit out only higher denomination bills, so it's a good idea to go to a bank – or, as a last resort, your hotel – fairly quickly to get some smaller bills. And don't be too quick to take out a bundle to save on future fees, as you may be setting yourself up to be robbed, suggests the Women on the Road blog. 

Something else to consider is that many ATMs abroad, particularly in Europe, don't accept PINs longer than four digits. Also, if your PIN is based on letters rather than numbers, be prepared to translate the letters into numbers as many overseas outlets only have numbers on the keypad.

What’s your preferred method for accessing cash when travelling? Any savings suggestions?



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...