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Bring euros or use an ATM?

I have always gotten any foreign currency I need from an ATM after arrival, if possible using an ATM in my bank's global network to avoid any extra fees (I have a NFT debit card). But yesterday, a friend who travels a lot said that he always gets euros from his bank here, and said it's a better exchange rate. That was a surprise to me. Have others found this to be the case?

Posted by
2285 posts

My experience - I have never once found that to be the case - it's always been a better exhange rate in country than here at home.
.
On my last trip, 23 days in Italy, I used a total of 50€ cash, the rest of the expenses were on my credit card, regardless of amount - 1€ treat at a bakery or 600€ to clear a hotel bill.

Posted by
17766 posts

I have actually done both.

My bank BoA uses the VISA rate. If you use your ATM card in Europe and request to be billed in the local currency, they you will get the VISA rate. My bank waves or refunds all the fees (cause they like me), but that is going to be 3% more or less either way if you stick to Bank ATM's. The private ones will clip you in the cash they hand back to you. If you want to check what your bank is doing to you vs an ATM on the same day, then check your bank's rate and compare it to this: https://usa.visa.com/support/consumer/travel-support/exchange-rate-calculator.html

But to be honest, it feels good to have some cash in my pocket when I land. I travel a lot so always have some laying around, but if I didnt, I would be inclined to get $100 worth before leaving. So, how bad could I be ripped off? Maybe $5 and thats $5 for convenience and peace of mind (but I fly Budget Economy so I have $5 left over for such luxuries).

Posted by
23223 posts

Never!!! Your friend doesn't know or understand exchange rates. The best exchange rate will always be at a bank owned ATM via debit card in country. Don't where the 3% comes from in the above comment. But my exchange rates via ATMs are always about 1% over the interbank rate that is determined almost hourly. No such thing as a VISA rate.

Posted by
271 posts

I also have a BOA account--Mr E, do you mean that getting euros here at BOA would be at the same exchange rate as in a Multibanco ATM in Portugal? There are no banks in BOA's network there.

Posted by
17766 posts

Cant guarantee anything. I checked about 2 years ago and what the bank offered was the same as the VISA rate. Today? No idea. BUT, I only bring "peace of mind" cash. So we are talking $100 as 90% of the world takes credit cards so you really dont need much cash. And if you do, well, go to a Bank ATM. And if I were to pay a $5 penality on that $100, I really dont care.

IF, you are talking about pulling out big bucks. Then do go to the BoA exchange page and see what they are offering today and then go to the Visa page and see what they are offering. Then decide for sure. Anything else is speculation (i confess to speculation based on 2 year old data).

Just checked, I would save 74 cents on 100 euro using an ATM in Europe

Posted by
23223 posts

Probably not since your local bank may add additional fees. This is the fee structure with both debit and credit cards ---

Interbank rate -- set almost hourly and used for huge money transfers. Beginning point for the final exchange rate for debit and credit cards.

Network fee -- depending on the network used a small fee -- generally less than 1% is added to the Interbank exchange rate and is presented to the credit/debit card company. Most common networks are Plus and Cirrus.

From this point forward --- all additional fees are added by the ATM owner and or the card issuer. In the US those fees must be disclosed. Historically in Europe the ATM owner does not add fees but that may be changing. In the US those fees are common if the ATM is not owned by your card issuer.

Posted by
17766 posts

You are correct Frank and my bank charges none and rebates most when using a bank ATM, but the private ATM's in europe can get a tad pricy. Still use them from time to time for convenience. But doesnt really cost anything because I use the cash in my Budget Economy Ticket Discount Wallet. lois dont expect BoA to rebate your fees. That's not common. They just like me.

Less tounge in cheek, lets say a trip costs $2000 for plane tickets, $2000 for hotel and $2000 for mad money. If i pay 3% too much on the mad money that is $60 or an increase in the total trip cost of 1/10th of 1 percent. I am out to enjoy myself. It just doesnt matter so much to fret over it.

Posted by
1643 posts

Like Mister É, I prefer to have a little cash in hand upon landing. I get it from my bank and ask to have it in small denominations, because I'll likely use it for tips or small purchases or possibly bathrooms (in places where one has to pay/tip for those).

Otherwise, I use my credit card and bank machines over there, as needed.

Posted by
1579 posts

"There is when using your Visa Credit Card."

That is the problem, never use a cc at an ATM, you get charged horrible rates. Always use a debit card.

Posted by
2285 posts

My reference to the Visa CCs had to do with the posted daily Visa exchange rate WHEN using your Visa CC to make purchases and absolutely nothing do to with using your Visa CC in an ATM machine - that's a completely different storyline.

Posted by
4772 posts

Many feel it is a good idea to have some local currency in hand before you leave the U.S.

If you wait until arrival, there is the inconvenience of having to find a machine, waiting to access it, the stress of hoping it works (they do occasionally malfunction and / or run out of currency), and perhaps doing all that while somewhat jet lagged. Getting two hundred of the local currency beforehand from a local bank will cost a little more than getting from an ATM, but the amount it cost to have money in hand when arriving is money well spent. And the cost relative to the overall cost of the trip is very minor.

No matter what you do, check with your bank and to see if you need to put a travel alert on your account(s). They may see a foreign transaction, suspect fraud, and shut down access to your credit / debit and ATM cards. Some banks require it, some don't, and some waiver back and forth because they are so big not everyone at the bank knows what they are doing.

Posted by
7202 posts

I always like to arrive at a country with some local currency, so I either save some from a previous trip to bring, or I obtain some from my bank ahead of time. The small cost is worth it to me to not be doing a financial transaction while I have jet lag.

I flew home yesterday from a month in Europe in England, Wales, Slovenia, Croatia & The Netherlands.

For most restaurants and hotels, I paid with my credit card that’s been loaded into my iPhone Apple Pay wallet. It was so convenient, especially for taking the Tube in London! Smaller places were fine with cash except a gelato shop in Oxford & a coffee shop in Leiden. In Croatia I mostly used cash, but that’s because I wanted to reduce the amount stored in my money belt before returning home.

Posted by
6469 posts

I too like to have a little cash when landing, and I have about 100 euros now in a desk drawer, from my last trip. I'll use bank-owned ATMs for more in Europe, located at physical banks during banking hours. I bank with Chase, and I can't imagine that my local branch wouldn't charge me more to get euros than an ATM in the euro zone. They'd have to get the currency from somewhere, maybe Seattle. It would take days at best.

I'm also with Mister E about not sweating the small costs of money-changing. If you don't have euros at home, you could get a small amount at a US airport currency-exchange place like Travelex. They'll rip you off on the rate, but it's a small rip to have maybe 50 euros when you land, for a taxi or coffee or bellman tip or whatever. Then hit the ATM as soon as it's convenient.

Posted by
19078 posts

Don't [know] where the 3% comes from in the above comment.

I just checked on the Chase bank website, and their fee for using an ATM card outside the country is 3%. I think a lot of US banks charge the same. Last time I was in Europe, my bank, Wells Fargo, charged a flat $5 fee for using an ATM. At ~$500 per withdrawal, that about 1%. I think BofA charges the same. My credit union debit card also charges 1%.

I don't use my Chase debit card at ATMs anymore. They've priced themselves out of the market.

But there is more to it than card fees. The small mom and pop guesthouses and privatzimmer I stay in don't usually take cards, and they are far less expensive than the big hotels that do take them, so I always stay at small places, pay cash, and save.

Unless you just happen to like staying in more expensive places, using your credit card for accommodations will cost you a lot of money in the long run.

I've found Wells Fargo to have the best exchange rate (~5%) for getting euro over here before leaving, but you have to bank at WF to get euro there. It's still considerably more than you will pay in Europe at an ATM,

When my partner wanted to buy some clothes at Kaufhaus in Munich, I used a credit card, because I wasn't going to look all over town for a place that sold the same thing for less but only took cash. It was the same price with a credit card at Kaufhaus.

Posted by
827 posts

Just checked, I would save 74 cents on 100 euro using an ATM in Europe

Like Mr E, I usually buy some euros at home before a trip, at my BofA, to have some on hand when I land. The exchange rate they offer is excellent, as Mr E has shown with his research. Even without such a good deal on the exchange rates, I don't sweat the cost to convert a hundred or so dollars to have euros or whatever foreign currency in my pocket upon arrival. I have not needed or bothered to get cash from an ATM in Europe since 2015 or so since I always get some from BofA before leaving home.

Like others, I use Apple Pay or tap to pay with my CC for everything possible in Europe, but I have found local currency to be quite helpful, too - recently we went into a small print shop in the heart of Paris to buy some small prints they showed in the window, and it was cash only - no CC - sure, this a "one off" situation, but it is the very reason I carry euros.

On another occasion on our recent trip, we ducked into a cafe to buy a small takeout snack to share in a local park, and they would only accept CC payment for orders of at least 10 euros - the order came to less than that, and I pulled out cash to pay....despite what the "no cash" crowd tells you here, there are times you will be glad you have some euros in your pocket.

Posted by
23223 posts

.....never use a cc at an ATM, you get charged horrible rates. Always use a debit card. ------ That is a little misleading. Using a credit card at an ATM will get you the same rate as your debit card. The difference is now the transaction is handled by your bank. Using a credit card is called a cash advance or in simpler terms - a loan. With a loan comes a high interest rate so when you pay the balance at the end of the month, the credit card has lots of interest added to the account. Using a debit card you are accessing your own money.

Posted by
2285 posts

The exchange rate they offer is excellent, as Mr E has shown with his research

Hard to tell without seeing the numbers :

Today's BoA exchange rate ie. they sell Euro to you @ US $114.55 for 100.00€

And what's today's European ATM purchase total for that same 100.00€ withdrawal ????

Posted by
27004 posts

If Mister E spends $6000 on a tour and pays $60 too much to acquire his mad money, that is strong text1%strong text of the trip cost, not 1/10%. Either way, percentage-wise, it's a small hit. But my philosophy is not to waste money, so I'll stick to using my no-fee ATM card to withdraw cash from no-fee ATMs as long as the latter exist.

I didn't need to look for a Swedish no-fee ATM last month because I got through my five-night stay in Stockholm without needing cash at any point. I felt just a bit naked with no local currency, but Sweden's not on the Euro, and I didn't want to end up with unspent kronor when I moved on to Finland.

Posted by
17766 posts

Got me! 1%. Waste? Anything beyond Basic Economy airfare and hostels is a waste. $60 in mental peace and comfort and enjoyment is an investment.

Posted by
5570 posts

I used to have a Wells Fargo account for the sole purpose of obtaining foreign currency prior to travel. When I reviewed the transaction and noted the rate I was getting, as an account holder, I stopped that practice. I use my credit union ATM card in Europe and if I stay in my network, there are no fees.

I always bring home about 100 euro for the next trip. If I didn't have a starting balance for a trip, I probably would just wait until I arrived, unless I was arriving late and knew I needed immediate cash.

On my trips to Poland and Switzerland, the plan was to obtain foreign currency as needed after arrival. I never needed cash in Switzerland. In Poland we found it quite easy to get cash from ATMs, though most places accepted credit cards.

EDITED TO ADD:

There are many posts on this forum and others that are seeking information on "the best way to get cash", "the best way to get from the airport" "the best hotel", "the best restaurant". In the case of currency, if "best" means the most cautious, the traveler would obtain it at home from their bank, credit union or AAA. If "best" means cheapest, then in most cases, the answer is at a bank affiliated ATM with a credit union card. It's basically personal preference based on how risk adverse or on ease of obtaining the currency the traveler is. If you are a person that has significant fear of not having currency when needed or likes to do things the easiest way possible, then you obtain the currency prior to the trip.

My only caveat is the person that feels they want to bring all the cash they feel they might need for the entire trip. I've heard amounts like 500-1000 euro. To me, with credit cards being widely accepted, and the potential for loss or theft, that is way too much money to be carrying around.

Posted by
8115 posts

The ATM machines you first see will be non-bank ATM's, and they get you for excessive exchange rates and service fees.
Names may be TravelEx and even American Express.

Find a bank ATM before getting local funds. I try to find a branch bank on the street of cities in order to get cash. And even then, I'm surprised how little walking around cash is required since credit cards can be used for most purchases--including bus/subway tickets.

Posted by
19078 posts

At least at German airports, the first ATM I see is a Deutsche Bank ATM. That's who owned the ATM in the baggage room at MUC (Munich). Last trip I was at the Würzburg Hbf, and they had a Reisebank ATM. Reisebank is deceptive. They try to slip Dynamic Currency Conversion in making it look like you are just accepting the transaction.

Posted by
17766 posts

Then there are the currency dogs at the airport. Yup, those dogs aren't always looking for drugs and bombs, some are trained to sniff out cash.

I got nailed with a little more than 75,000 in relatively small bills when boarding a Turkish Air flight in Houston a few years back.

The officer saw the look on my face when the dog started scratching at my bag. He laughed and told me not to worry, told me it was a currency dog, and asked how much cash I had. I confessed and the officer told me to have a safe flight and let me pass. Never looked.

Fortunately the legal limit is $10,000 without the paperwork, and 75,000 forints was about $300 back then. But it was a big wad of cash.

Posted by
271 posts

Thanks for all the responses! I had never thought about bringing euros with me, since I usually have some left from the last trip, although only about 25€ this time. There are two reasons I was thinking of some this time, though. I’ve arranged for a guide to pick me up early the morning after I arrive in Portugal for a day trip to Sintra, which isn’t included on the RS tour, and I will need to pay for that in cash. And what I’ve read about ATMs in Portugal made it clear that only the Multibanco ones should be used, and even if they are outside a bank, they are not necessarily related to that bank, since Multibanco appears to be a consortium for ATM services. If the ATM eats my card, I might not be able to get it back from the bank. Further, while I have usually been able to able to find a bank in BoA’s network, like Banc Paribas, Barclays, or Deutsche Bank, I couldn’t find any in Lisbon that were at all convenient. So if I do need euros, I will need to hope that the Multibanco ATM is working properly. I’ve never had a problem with one, but you never know.

Like many of you, I have found that almost everyplace will take a credit card, but some cash is needed just in case. And there might be more of those cases in Portugal. At least, any leftover euros can be saved for the next trip! I never had local currency in Iceland, which was good since it can’t be used elsewhere—but no matter where, or how small the purchase, cards were fine.

Since I will need cash the next day after arrival, I probably will get around 200€ before I leave, which will cover the tour with some leftover, and use my Capitol One debit card as need--will avoid the BoA ones since there are fees at out-of-network ATMs, and the ones in Portugal are out-of-network. As several folks pointed out, fees are a small percentage of total travel costs; I’ve never stressed about them although it's nice to avoid if not inconvenient to do so. I was surprised at my friend’s comments about a better exchange rate here, but he does often sound very sure of things even if it isn’t warranted!

I thought Mr E’s story about the currency dogs a hoot! I guess it makes sense if there is a lot of currency smuggling. The only time I saw an airport pooch in action was after coming home from Italy a few years ago. The beagle was walking around and clearly interested in a kid’s backpack, because he kept looking at it, but nothing more. Finally, his handler did ask what had been in the backpack, because the dog was interested but not indicating a problem. Seems it had been full of meats and salamis for their picnics, and the aroma was too tempting to ignore!

Posted by
2285 posts

If the ATM eats my card, I might not be able to get it back from the bank

That is an incredibly rare occurence BUT if it haunts you, more and more ATM machines are offering Contactless entry followed by your PIN on-screen, perhaps look for one of those.

Posted by
227 posts

This is a good reminder to check on these things before our trip to Scandinavia, Helsinki and Tallinn. Acraven mentioned not needing any cash in Stockholm which will be one of the cities we are staying in for several days. But we are also going to Copenhagen, Oslo and Bergen. So the whole trip would involve 4 currencies. I plan to use Apple Pay or credit card. We have 10EU and change from our last trip in 2019 and we are only in Helsinki and Tallinn a total of two days so maybe we can squeak by, but not sure what to do about the others. Worse case scenario, just check that CC or Apple Pay are accepted or don't go there.

Posted by
879 posts

I was surprised the other day to find that I had a $100 bill in my wallet. I don't know how long it's been there--years? I don't even know how I got it--I paid for something with my credit card and my sister paid her share with a $100 bill?? My point is that I don't even use cash in my own country. I know some who always pay for everything with cash and visit an ATM weekly. That's their comfort level. When I visit western Europe, I always pay with a credit card. However, if I were to visit smaller towns/villages away from large cities, I would want some cash in local currency.

I'll be visiting Costa Rica in December and will take US dollars as the guide books suggest since they use that currency with no exchange rate involved and cash is still king.

Posted by
27004 posts

Norway is almost cash-free. You will see signs at some places noting that cash is not accepted. It's quite unlikely that someone on the standard tourist circuit will need cash in Oslo or Bergen.

You may well be fine without cash in Finland, too, but I haven't observed "We don't accept cash" signs in Finland as I did in Norway last summer.

The labor rate in the Scandinavian countries and Finland is quite high. The cost of handling cash (making change, balancing the till at the end of the day, etc.) isn't insignificant in that kind of economy.

I haven't been to Estonia yet.

Posted by
302 posts

Greetings, ironically I am here because I am waiting to.provide the needed signature for the foreign currency I ordered for my upcoming trip! I wanted to add that there seem to be two "camps" whenever this question is asked:
Camp#1 always waits until arrival at their destination, primarily to save money/fees but also because they just don't feel the need or,
Camp #2, including me, who is proactive about everything all the time and it's worth the nominal expense and hassle on this end to have $100 of whatever currency I will need.
Or maybe you can have a membership in both, depending on the destination.i would feel more confident with euro than, say, when I traveled to Israel or Australia. It's the "just in case". On the way home if I end up with anything left I put it towards the last night in the hotel or at the airport...
Also, my small local bank doesn't offer foreign currency, and you have to be a customer at B o A, AAA, etc. It was a challenge to find a source I felt looked trustworthy- I can recommend XCE.

Posted by
17766 posts

Karen, there are a half dozen topics here that are meaningless and yet brew great debate (and as such are fun 🤣). I think half of it is just poor consideration of how one's words might be interpreted. I know I'm guilty of that a lot. Cash, Card, ATM, Bank: it really doesn't matter. Just go enjoy the trip and do what is most comfortable. I cringe when the answer begins with "never" or the text includes "in Europe" ...

Posted by
2285 posts

I cringe ...

Why would anyone cringe, when the posting began with the qualifier "My experience ..."

Posted by
17766 posts

Took me a moment to figure that out. I had to go back and look. Apparently you thought I was referring to your post? Doesn't fit what I said. But we are getting off track. My bad. I apologize to the OP.

Posted by
32652 posts

Depending on the country you visit you may use little or no cash and have to turn back your cash (losing on the exchange rate again),

You might ask here about different countries you are visiting and find the current state of play - it will differ a little.

Posted by
19078 posts

No such thing as a VISA rate.

There is when using your Visa Credit Card.

The rate for Foreign ATM withdrawals is set by the bank, not VISA.

If I were to use a Chase Visa card, I would be charged 3%. If I use the Visa card issued by my credit union, I would pay 1%. If I use my Wells Fargo Visa card, I pay $5. I think that if I had a Schwab Visa Card, the rate would be 0%.

Actually, what is referred to collectively as "the Network" charges your bank 1%. Your bank absorbs the Network charge, passes the 1% charge on to you, or adds more (+2%?), as they see fit.

It's the same for credit cards. My brokerage account doesn't charge me for foreign exchange for a credit card charge, but my credit card company charges me 3%.

Posted by
2 posts

You may need little if any actual cash. We were in Scotland, London and Brussels for a month in May-June. We had trouble spending cash. Everywhere contactless credit cards ruled. Edinburgh buses, the London Tube, Canterbury buses, every restaurant, a remote parking lot on the Isle of Skye - all used contactless credit cards (no need for an Oyster Card in London except for multiday passes?). Even the farmers' market stalls all took contactless credit cards. In fact, the Paul's bakery chain only takes credit cards, no cash. No problems with our US credit cards, either.

Posted by
2733 posts

You have to look at what you have been charged to see what the charge really was. I have found that my on Schwab and CapOne bank cards the charge to me in USD was well under 1/2 of 1% above the exchange rate that day. On my CapOne MC, Chase Amazon Visa and Comenity AAA Visa credit cards the purchases have been at the exchange rate that day (making them cheaper than cash even before considering my cash-back bonuses)

Posted by
531 posts

For my usual two week trips to Europe each year, I bring maybe $20 cash, but then go to an ATM upon arrival at my international destination. I never take out more than 40 euros (or whatever currency) at a time because I typically pay by card. I do like having some cash on hand in case I want to buy something at an outdoor market or from a street food vendor. I never use currency exchanges and try not to have too much of a local currency on my way back home.

When I headed home from France last year, British Airways was taking donations for a children's charity and accepted all currencies. It was a nice way to get rid of all my change and feel good about it.

https://www.britishairways.com/en-us/information/about-ba/community-investment