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Euros at the ATM?

I read elsewhere that the cheapest way to buy Euros is at the ATM at the airport.
I don't have a bank debit card. I just have a Wells Fargo Bank ATM card. Can I use a WF ATM card at the airport in Madrid in order to get Euros? Is there a better/cheaper way?
I went to Wells Fargo bank today and they wanted $180 more than the going exchange rate. I said no thanks. I'll check around.
Any suggestions?

Posted by
6171 posts

Can you clarify? A bank debit card IS an ATM card liked to your checking account. Is that what you have? In that case, find out what Wells Fargo charges in foreign fees when you withdraw local currency in other countries. My credit union charges no flat fees for each withdrawal, but 1% of every transaction. Most banks charge both a flat fee and somewhere between 3%-5%. Get a debit card for travel (linked to your checking account) that doesn't charge you high fees, then use an ATM abroad just like you would at home.

You don't "buy" Euros when you use an ATM card, you simply withdraw them from a machine using your PIN.

Posted by
2518 posts

Wells Fargo loves your money. They try to keep as much of it for themselves as possible. Not only will you pay a per transaction charge but you'll also pay a 3% foreign exchange fee on withdrawals. Similarly, if you use a credit card through WF (or WTF) you'll get nailed on the FX charge. There are many credit unions and banks that charge no fees or FX charges. There are also banks that do the same. I opened a checking account at Capital One bank and use their Debit card for ATM withdrawals. I also have a Cap One credit card for the same reason. Shop around and you'll be richer for the experience.

Posted by
4820 posts

As mentioned, with your Wells Fargo card you can withdraw euros from an ATM in Europe (at the airport, a bank, any ATM). Unfortunately Wells Fargo will also charge you ~$5 per transaction and a 3% Foreign Transaction fee. This is not cheap, but it is less than getting euros from Wells Fargo or exchanging cash there. If you have a credit card, it probably makes sense to use that when possible, then withdraw $300-$400 worth of euros for smaller expenses.

Posted by
4499 posts

A debit card, if tied to a checking account, is an ATM card. They both withdraw funds from an ATM from your checking account (just like you do at home). It might not work as well for purchase transactions; for that you'll want to use an actual credit card.

Even if your bank charges fees for ATM use oversees, you will likely find that the total cost for your trip is less than $100 and that the hassle of opening and managing new accounts for a once-in-a-lifetime 2 week trip isn't worth it.

Exchanging or buying euro from your bank or a currency exchange will always come with very high fees and rates (on order between 10-20%). Even at the most, using an ATM will be less than 5% in fees.

Posted by
11154 posts

"I read elsewhere that the cheapest way to buy Euros is at the ATM at the airport."

Actually, the cheapest and easiest way to get euro cash is to use an ATM in Europe - anywhere in Europe, not just at the airport.

"I don't have a bank debit card. I just have a Wells Fargo Bank ATM card. Can I use a WF ATM card at the airport in Madrid in order to get Euros?"

You should be able to. You will want to call Wells Fargo to notify them of your upcoming travel, so they don't block the transaction for suspecting fraud.

"Is there a better/cheaper way?"

Yes and no. If you have another checking or savings account, check if it has lower fees. If you have time, you can open an account at a credit union, TD Bank, or Charles Schwab, all of which have lower fees (sometimes no fees) for foreign use. However, if you don't have another account and don't have time to get one (or don't want to get one), using your Wells Fargo ATM card at an ATM in Europe is the best and cheapest way.

"I went to Wells Fargo bank today and they wanted $180 more than the going exchange rate. I said no thanks. I'll check around.
Any suggestions?"

It sounds like you were asking them their rate for buying euros in the US. This is always a worse deal than using an ATM in Europe. Some choose to get $50-200 worth of euros before leaving, for convenience; others feel this is a waste of money. But if you do this, don't get more; just enough to tide you over on arrival.

For more, read all of the links on Rick's money page, and you'll be an expert: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money

Posted by
20624 posts

Were you trying to convert about 1500 to 1800 dollars? That is a lot of cash to take. Even if WF charges $5 per withdrawal plus a 3% fee it is still cheaper than an exchange bureau or even local US banks. The best deal, of course, is no fees but you may not have time to set that up

Posted by
2865 posts

Just be wary of a practice, particularly prevalent in Spain, known as "Dynamic Currency Conversion." It happens at atm's and with credit card use. Your are asked if you want to have your account charged in euros or in dollars. The correct answer is euros. Charging you in dollars allows the bank or retail business to use whatever exchange rate they want. That is the whole point of DCC. You will not get more favorable than rate that used through the normal banking exchange. To add insult to injury, WF will almost assuredly still charge you a foreign exchange fee.

Posted by
6412 posts

go for the Wells Fargo Deal;
how else are you going to get cash for your trip since you do not have a ATM debit card

Posted by
7173 posts

How difficult is to go to your local credit union and open an account??? It's not rocket science and it's not nearly as painful as pulling teeth. If all you have is a WF account and they're charging you exhorbitant fees then the answer is "Go to your local Credit Union".

Posted by
2525 posts

Credit unions and their related ATM cards may be great where others live, but in this part of the world, our credit unions are superior in most ways, save for ATM cards and international travel. So, the oft mentioned advice to get a great ATM card from a local credit union is not always the case. Just sayin'.

Posted by
3318 posts

Generally speaking the least expensive way of getting local currency is from an ATM at your destination.
However, it's always a good idea, in my opinion, to have some local currency in hand when you land. Getting two or three hundred Euros from your local bank will cost you a little more, but it eliminates the hassle of trying to find a machine, the stress of hoping it works (they do occasionally malfunction), and doing it all while somewhat jet lagged. To me the small amount extra it cost to have money in hand when arriving is money well spent, and the extra cost relative to the overall cost of the trip is not, in my opinion, that much. Just one point of view

Posted by
169 posts

I agree with TC. We did get a debit card from our current bank for getting foreign currency and they do not charge any fees at all on our bank's end since we have a checking account. We also went to a Wells Fargo to get some HUF since we will be in Budapest first. We got between $100-$150 worth of HUF and the fee was probably around $7.50. And we found 40EU that we had saved from a trip to Italy eleven years ago! We feel much more relaxed about our arrival having a little bit of each currency that we will use to get started.

Posted by
2525 posts

Will I easily find a functioning ATM at my arrival airport in a foreign country? Yes, every time to date. If unable to do so, I'll change a small amount of dollars into the local currency until I locate a functioning ATM.

Posted by
17653 posts

Can I use a WF ATM card at the airport in Madrid in order to get
Euros [sic, it's euro]? Is there a better/cheaper way?

Using an ATM card at a bank ATM at an airport is probably the cheaper way, if you don't get sucked into Dynamic Currency Conversion. But beware, sometimes airports sell the ATM concession to a 3rd party (like Travelex) that doesn't have to play by the rules and they could charge you extra. Best use an ATM at a bank.

But, a Wells Fargo ATM card, or any other major bank's ATM card, is not the cheapest way Major baniks charge about 4% for foreign currency exchange at the bank (3% plus $5, which is 1% more on a $500 withdrawal limit). Smaller local banks seem to charge a little less, credit unions even less. A few banks don't charge anything. So look for a bank other than Wells Fargo (or Chase, USBank, et al).

$180 more than the going exchange rate

Sound like you were trying to buy about 3000€. Don't do that. I would buy and bring along 100€ or so (enough for my first day's expenses, until I could find a bank with an ATM, in case something went wrong at the airport ATM). But after that I would use ATMs over there. $180, by the way, it about as good a price as you will get over here. A few years ago, I did an extensive test on the cost of getting foreign currencies over here, and WF, at 5% over the Interbank rate, was the best I found. Sometime in the early morning, WF looks at the Interbank rate and sets their rate for the day at 5% over. That's their rate for the entire day. If the Interbank rate goes up or down during the day, you pay less or more than 5% over. Right now, WF is charging $3723.60 for 3000€. At the official exchange rate, according to Oanda, it's $3539.98 for 3000€, so WF is about $184 more. But if you withdrew 3000€ from ATMs over there with your WF card, you'd pay about $3686, still about $150 more than the "going" rate.

The reason DCC is such a bad deal is not that the merchant or bank gets to charge you their conversion rate, but that is doesn't save you money on the conversion by the bank. Your bank no longer calls it an exchange fee, it's an International transaction fee, and you pay it whether the charge is in euro or dollars.

Posted by
5497 posts

My primary banking relationship is with Wells Fargo. It use to be Bank of America until they sold us to a small regional bank. While both Wells and BofA have advantages in terms of a wide range of services, they are expensive when it comes to retail level foreign exchange transactions. The starting point is a FX ATM usage fee (that BofA waives if you can find a partner bank's ATM) and the ending point is comparatively high mark-ups over Interbank rates.

The above said, I do notify Wells Fargo of my foreign travel plans as my back-up account. I use my local CU (no foreign out of system fee) that passes on a 1% FX transaction fee. So far I have not had to use my back-up account ATM/Debit card. However, I will confess to using my Capital One Visa (no FX fee) credit card for larger purchases and hotel rooms when accepted.

While Wells is expensive, I'm amazed that they wanted a $180 premium. How much were you thinking of exchanging?

Posted by
1170 posts

The neighborhoods you are likely to be spending time in in Madrid are lousy with national and international bank branches where you can get cash from ATMs (cajeros mecanicos/automaticos) -- use one that is inside a lobby rather than on the sidewalk. They often have other stuff besides cash, too, like entry and admission tickets for major museums and events) Wait for one of those rather than a 3rd-party machine at the airport.

Consider dickering with the staff at your bank:
Wells Fargo has fancy-shmancy (or maybe hifalutin' ) accounts whose rules include not only no foreign transaction charges but they will also refund you any transaction fee charged by the bank that operates the ATM. The terms of those accounts have other pluses and minuses. Use the cash you get from ATMs to pay for low-value purchases from local vendors. Use your credit card for larger purchases from stable/established businesses, for example to pay for a day cruise or lodging at a Hyatt. The charge will appear on your credit card statement with any of a variety conversion methods or add-on fees, but the way those are calculated might sometimes work out well anyway...

Posted by
17653 posts

While Wells is expensive, I'm amazed that they wanted a $180 premium.
How much were you thinking of exchanging?

Read my post above yours. At 5%, $3600 would have a $180 fee. But if you use an ATM over there with the WF card, they'll get $108 for the 3% exchange fee plus at least $40 if you can only withdraw $500 or less at a time at $5, so it would only cost you $32 more to get it here.

Posted by
28 posts

Hi all, and thanks for the GREAT tips!

To be clear, when I said I don't have a debit card, " just an ATM card", I meant I don't have one of those debit cards that is tied to a checking account. It's just an ATM bank machine card from Wells Fargo. And I seldom use it and on the few times I have, it's only been at a Wells Fargo branch ATM. I didn't even know one could use a specific bank's ATM card anywhere else, hence my questions.

I was trying to get 2000 Euro. But now I see the foolishness in doing/needing that much. I don't have enough time to setup a credit union account somewhere unfortunately.

So I guess I'll just remember the tips I was given here.
Thank you all.

Posted by
2525 posts

P. S. For those overlooking my prior posts about credit unions...not all credit unions offer debit/ATM cards with zero foreign transaction fees and zero other fees. The ones near me do not play nice for international travelers. Search the Travel Forum for several suitable suggestions if none are available near you.

Posted by
11154 posts

"To be clear, when I said I don't have a debit card, " just an ATM card", I meant I don't have one of those debit cards that is tied to a checking account. It's just an ATM bank machine card from Wells Fargo. "

Now I'm more confused. If it isn't tied to a checking account, what is it tied to? If it's a savings account, that will work for Europe just as well. If not, when you withdraw money at a Wells Fargo ATM, where does the money come from?

It's not just my confusion; I'm also concerned that you may have one of those pre-loaded cards, which can have VERY high fees for foreign use, or may not work at all in Europe.

Posted by
28 posts

@Harold
Sorry, I am just not that knowledgeable on debit cards since I don't have one.
Too explain, when I say I just have an ATM card is this:
As an example, my daughter has what she calls a "Debit Card". When she goes for instance to th grocery store, she can pay with that debit card and the funds are taken out of her linked checking account.
I don't have that ability.. My ATM card IS INDEED tied to a checking account but all I can do with it is take cash out of the ATM machine. I don't have the kind that you can use at retailers.

Am I explaining this correctly so all can understand what type card I have?
I hardly ever use these types cards in that I get most of my cash differently.
So I hope I cleared up the matter.
Since I don't use my ATM card very often and since I don't have what I think people call a debit card, that's why I was asking if just have the ATM type card will be sufficient in getting funds out of foreign machines since I don't have the what I call debit type card.
WHOA, even I'm confused now. LOL!

Posted by
11154 posts

OK, you explained everything, and you're fine. You indeed have an ATM card that is not a debit card, but it is tied to your checking account. It should work just fine in ATM's in Europe (with the fees mentioned above), but do call Wells Fargo to be sure.

As I said, some people buy cards, not tied to any bank account, that they load with money. At the time of purchase, they're told how easy and secure they are. Once they go to use them, they may not work at all in Europe, and if they do work, they have enormous fees for EVERYTHING (loading money, checking a balance, using them abroad, using them to get cash at an ATM instead of a direct purchase, etc).

Posted by
61 posts

We have always used our Wells Fargo ATM card to get cash anywhere. Egypt, Turkey, Europe. It is a cash card only, not a debit or credit card. It has always worked. We do notify them where we are travelling to and when. When we get our bank statement, yes they do charge 5.00 per transaction. However, for almost 15 years now, I simply call and ask them
to waive the 5.00 transactions fee and they always have. Especially now, with all the trouble they are in, they are kissing their customers @sses.

Posted by
2525 posts

Despite waiving a $5.00 per transaction fee, Wells Fargo separately charges a 3% foreign transaction fee for each withdrawal when outside the U.S.A., yes?

Posted by
6171 posts

From the Wall Street Journal:
"Wells Fargo said Thursday that 3.5 million “potentially unauthorized” customer accounts were opened as a result of improper sales tactics, a 67% increase over the 2.1 million figure it made public last fall....The sales scandal erupted last September when the San Francisco bank admitted that employees opened customer accounts using fictitious or unauthorized information to meet lofty sales goals. The revelation led to congressional hearings, the abrupt retirement of its then-CEO and a decision by the bank’s board to claw back tens of millions of dollars in compensation from some top executives."

Why would anyone do business with these shady people? Come on folks....you have choices when it comes to your banking services. You don't need to be ripped off on foreign fees or do business with these types of unethical jokers. So what if they wave the fees? The point is that they impose them in the first place as a matter of practice, and it's up to the customer to request relief.