Stop paying too much to withdrawal your own money. It is very simple once you understand the possibilities. I don’t haggle with local artists mercilessly, or beg small, family run businesses for minimal savings. Under no circumstances do I hand over money to large financial institutions needlessly . Never.
It should be noted that this advice is from a US account holder’s perspective. I am told that certain tips, such as fee-less and fee reimbursement, are not available in many countries.
Here are five ways you could be wasting money at an ATM.
1. Never, ever, ever let the ATM convert to your home currency! This is a terrible idea and by far the easiest way to save money. This picture shows me withdrawing 2,600 Czech Koruna. According to the conversion option this will cost me $130.33 USD. Actual cost to me in this example was $114.24 USD, far exceeding even the 9% “convenience” fee they are offering.
Effort to save: Pressing one button over another.
Savings: 12.35% of all cash withdrawn.
2. Using an ATM with a fee in a country with fee-free ATMs.
Many countries, especially in Europe, have ATMs without fees. Simply go to one of those! Look for a “real bank” machine not an “ATM here” sign. These middle-man ATMs are generally found at transit points (train stations and airports) and major tourist attractions. This example is from a train station in Prague. The ATM in the foreground has a three euro fee. The other ATM is fee-free.
Effort to save: A short walk.
Savings: 3-5 USD per transaction.
The next three items share a similar cause and solution. These are all fees added by most banks in addition to the above.
3. Being charged by your own bank to use an ATM other than theirs.
Savings: approximately 3 USD every time.
4. Not being reimbursed by your bank for any ATM fees that cannot be avoided.
Some countries charge fees no matter what ATM you use. A good example of this is Thailand. It has become one of the most expensive places to withdraw money. There is a government mandated withdrawal fee of 200 baht, approximately $6.40 USD per transaction.
Savings: 3-7 USD per transaction.
5. Paying a foreign transaction fee on your ATM card.
Savings: 5 USD plus a 3% transaction fee for withdrawing money abroad.
Solution: Select a bank or account that does not charge these fees.
Effort to save: It will take some work, talking to your bank to learn what your current situation is, and getting a new account if necessary. It is much simpler than you think though.
In eighteen years of traveling with an ATM card, I have never paid these fees. I constantly hear how people don’t want to bother switching banks. I get it, you don’t want to change direct deposits or automatic withdrawals. You can simply add a bank account or open a separate “travel” account though.
My personal recommendation is a checking account and debit card from Charles Schwab. They have great customer service, are easy to use, have always provided an excellent exchange rate and again no fees! They even reimburse your ATM fees charged by other machines. It should also be noted that I get no referral fees from making this recommendation. I really do think that this is the best product available for a US traveler.