Avoid International ATM Fees!

December 18, 2013 — 4 Comments

After traveling for work for ten years and a nine month trip around the world, I’ve collected some strategies for traveling cheaper. I’ll cover them in a ten part series in this order:

A. The flight
– How to Book the Cheapest Flight
– How to Use Free Flight Stopovers
– How to Find Alternatives to Expensive Flights
– Finding the Cheapest Airport Transportation
B. The Hotel / Accommodation
– How to Book Cheapest Hotel Rooms
– How to Find Hotel Alternatives
– How to Use Hotel Points
C. Arriving
– How to Get Local Currency for Your Trip
Avoid International ATM Fees!
Know How Much Things Cost

Avoid International ATM Fees!

We encountered quite a few scams and rip-off artists around the world, but none of them got more money out of us than our own bank!  Sure, their fee was legal and they provided a reliable service, but we could’ve saved a lot of money if we would’ve done some research in advance and switched to a debit card that didn’t charge fees to avoid international ATM fees.

Instead, we took along our Chase ATM card as our primary cash source.  I did research to make sure they were accepted across the world, but I didn’t pay enough attention to how much we’d get charged to use it!  It turns out that Chase charged us $5 US for each ATM transaction – this was on top of the ATM fee charged by the local bank.  After nine months, 25 countries, and 60 ATM transactions, we ended up paying Chase $300 in international debit card fees!

After some quick research, it looks like Capital One has one of the best debit  cards for travel because they don’t charge extra for international ATM transactions.  Obviously this would’ve saved us a bunch of money, but once we were on the road it was a little too hard to switch.  If you’re only going to a few countries, it may not be a big enough deal to switch banks just to avoid the fees.

Watch out for International Credit Card Fees too

We did research credit cards beforehand to make sure we weren’t going to get ripped off too bad by their fees.  We signed up for an American Express Platinum card because they don’t charge a foreign transaction fee and they provide quite a big for international travelers (reservations assistance, some insurance, etc).  The biggest downside of the American Express Platinum is the $450 annual fee, but we more than made it up by saving on foreign transaction fees and using the airport lounge access.

Before you head out on your trip, call your credit card company so you know how much they’ll charge you for foreign exchange transaction fees.  As mentioned above, American Express Platinum doesn’t charge a fee, but our Starwood American Express, Mastercard, and Chase all charged at least 3%.

Credit and debit card spending is an area where you can save quite a bit of money while traveling if you do the research beforehand.  If we would’ve done it, we could’ve saved $300 US!!

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4 responses to Avoid International ATM Fees!

  1. $300 is a pretty big lesson to learn. I take lessons like that on a case by case basis. Sometimes that “convenience” fee is just that and worth the cost in less stress in the long run.

  2. I can’t even remember what the foreign ATM fees were on my overseas trip a couple of years ago, but I do remember we only went to the ATM three times. Then again, it was only for two weeks.

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