Tips for Using ATMs Internationally

Tips for Using ATMs Internationally

Posted May 6, 2016

Gone are the days of exchanging large amounts of currency at Forex counters or toting a wad of traveler's checks during your international trips. Throughout the world, ATMs – now widely considered the standard for quickly obtaining local currency when abroad – offer the best exchange rates. Because they are based on the wholesale market rate, they typically run several percentage points better than those you would receive at exchange counters or with traveler's checks.

And wherever your travels may take you, you'll likely find an ATM machine if your debit card has a VISA® or MasterCard® logo:  the PLUS® (VISA) network and the Cirrus® and Maestro® (MasterCard) networks each have more than one million ATMs in more than 200 countries.

Here we offer some helpful tips about using ATMs on your international journeys:

  • Notify your card-issuing institution prior to your travels:   Contact your financial institution's customer service department to make them aware of your itinerary and avoid the risk of them suspecting fraudulent card usage and placing a block on your debit card.
  • Check availability of ATMs in your travel destinations:  VISA and MasterCard have online ATM locators that enable you to determine international ATM locations.
  • Create a numeric PIN for your debit card:  Many ATMs abroad do not have letters on the keypad, so talk to your financial institution and make sure you have a numeric PIN before traveling.
  • Prepare for withdrawal fees:  With the exception of Charles Schwab and E*TRADE® Bank debit cards which include reimbursement of all international ATM fees, ATM withdrawals incur various fees depending on the card-issuing institution and the ATM operator. ATM usage fees typically range from $2–$5 and foreign transaction fees comprise 1%–3% of the transaction amount.
  • Know your withdrawal limits:  Check with your financial institution about your daily withdrawal limit (but keep in mind that ATM operators abroad may impose lower limits).
  • Have a contingency plan for loss of your card:  As a precaution against your debit card being lost or stolen, keep a copy of the front and back of your card in a safe place and know your financial institution's applicable phone number.
  • Always keep transaction slips:  Collect all your receipts in case you encounter any issues with an ATM or need to dispute a transaction.
  • Carry backup currency:  Always travel with a multiple forms of payment – credit card(s), cash, traveler's checks – in the event that you can't use your debit card.

With these tips, you should be able to navigate ATMs the world over. Happy travels!

ATM image from Flickr