I know everyone swears by ATM cards but I bank at two small credit unions and although every time I go, they both say my ATM card will work in Europe, on three trips only one of the two works, and the cap on that one is $300 which doesn't last very long with two people traveling. So, I just get cash and use my money belt. Having said that, what is the knowledge out there of exchanging at the airport vs. going into the city. airport is sure convenient but if the difference is huge I would reconsider.
I can't imagine that a bank would use a different exchange rate for ATM's at an airport as opposed to their machines elsewhere. I WOULD avoid the "no-name" ATM's, though.
The exchange rate is set by your bank/credit union not the institution that owns the ATM machine. ATMs make there money via the transaction fees they charge.
I've never had a problem with my cash card (B of A) in Europe, but I do carry a card from another bank just as a backup. Because I'm never sure the card will always work, when I first get to Europe I go to the ATM every day and withdraw several hundred euros until I have accummulated enough to last a couple of weeks. Of course I carry this extra cash in a money belt. Your daily maximum withdrawal can be set by your home bank, but the ATM in Europe may limit the amount you can withdraw at once. One way to deal with the inadequate amount of cash you have on hand is to be prepared to pay some bills, such as hotels, with a credit card. The only place I've used an ATM at an airport is at Heathrow; I didn't notice any difference in exchange rate from later withdrawals in town. If you carry American $$, don't carry $100 bills. Many banks will not accept them; I think it has to do with the number of counterfeit $100 floating around.
You can ask your bank to increase the daily cash withdrawal limit on your ATM card. I always do this when I go to Europe. As the above poster notes, most ATM machines limit the amount of each transaction, so sometimes I make more than one withdrawal a day if I need a lot of cash (which I sometimes do because I take groups of students and have large bills to pay in cash).
We do not use ATM's either. We take a good supply of Euros with us when we travel to Italy. If we do have to exchange more US for Euros while there we typically do it in a bank. I think Airports have good rates too - but our experience is that the bank is better. It can be a long wait as bank hours are short.
We have even lucked out with a couple of hotels. We will check the exchange rates at the banks (they are usually posted in view) and then ask the hotel what hours the bank is open. Twice (once in Venice and once in Pescara) the hotel staff made the exchange for us at the same rate as the bank.
thanks everyone, I guess I wasn't clear in my request for input here, what I wanted comments on was exchanging USD for Euros cash at the airports vs banks/exchange cambios in the cities. I am going to try two of the ATM ideas here, asking my credit union to up my cap for the duration of my trip and getting an extra card, different account for back up.
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In Florence, I saw several money exchange places. They had a 30%-40% hit over and above the commercial exhange rate. (I did the math). They prey on tourists who need quick Euros. The airport isn't too much better with their foreign exchange kiosks or windows. Use your ATM card and put up with $300 a day. We did. Both our WAMU and BofA cards worked fine and we were limited to 200 Euro a day. ATMs are everywhere so you really don't have a problem finding one.
If you haven't already done so, see if your CU will raise your withdrawl limit. Some ATM's do have relatively low limits but often the limit is set by your card issuer.
If you do exchange dollars for euros. Make sure
that your dollars are in very good condition.