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ATMs and Paying with Cards

I will be travelling to Athens and the Pellopennisian penninsula in April.

I know during the height of the Greek economic colapse, there were severe restrictions on Greeks withdrawing money from banks. Is this still an issue today? Would I be wiser to bring currency with me?

Also, once outside Athens, what is the availabilty of ATMs or the ability to pay with a card at local restaurants etc?

Posted by
3335 posts

Even during the summer 2015 economic crisis, the currency situation affected ONLY Greeks with bank accounts, no affect whatever on visitors. NO reason to bring currency with you at all, unless some friends want to give you a few "leftover" Euros from trips. You get off the plane, go thru passport control & there's a long corridor with banks AND atm machines.

AVAILABILITY of ATMS - They are everywhere, even small islands like Serifos have them in the port towns, and in larger islands they are in various villages. My only suggestion is to use ATMS that are attached to a bank, and (since I"m super-prudent) I use them during banking hours. That's just in case for any reason my card would get Stuck, I could inform the bank staff (it's never happened). Another tip about a practice in a few ATMs in Athens (and in other European centers); when you request your transaction in English, there may be a pop-up question, Do you want a "dynamic currency" Transaction? Say NO. This means your withdrawal will be stated in dollars, not Euros. (this means a Double conversion, costing you EXTRA % cost. say NO -- and put in your request for cash in Euros). This is not common, but I believe Pireaus Bank was one culprit in Greece in this fleece-manuever.

PAYING with CARD -- At most hotels and at larger restaurants you can pay with a credit card if you wish. In small B & Bs, and in modest tavernas, some do not take credit cards (or, surprise! find that their card machine is malfunctioning). That's because their prices or room rates are so modest, the % fee that Visa charges them really affects their bottom line.

I hope you are aware that charging everything is not "cost-free" the way it is in the USA (as long as you pay balance in full monthly). For "regular" non-deluxe card types, for ANY charge abroad, the card (Visa, Master etc) adds 3% fee to the amount. Why? Because they CAN, no other reason. Your card may be a "Diamond Card" or "Ambassador" or some label indicating that you pay an annual fee and/or your annual charge amount is large ($25,000+), in that case, the fine-print may say you don't get hit for the 3%. My plain garden-variety Visa levies the charge. In the course of 3 weeks, if I'd charge $100 worth per day = $2100 x 3%, that's $63. To some people, that's "chump change," but in Greece, that's FOUR ample taverna dinners, including 1/2 Liter of house red and tip.

Posted by
1396 posts

Janet is right on the overall question of not needing to bring cash.

Her warning on 'dynamic currency' conversion is also useful. The practice isn't just restricted to Piraeus Bank. When we were there at Christmas every ATM at which we made a withdrawal, regardless of bank, offered us the option.It's worth reading what you are being asked fairly closely. The question is not always posed very clearly although, as Janet says, the cheapest option is always to have the transaction shown in Euros.

Finally, it may be easier than it has been to use cards even in smaller places. One of the new tax changes brought in on 1st January means that Greeks themselves have to use cards for a certain percentage of their expenditure in order to claim their annual tax allowance.



Posted by
2771 posts

Note that CapitalOne has a MasterCard that does not charge any foreign transaction fee AND psys 1 1/4 or 1 1/2% cashback, depending on program. Never a problem using it abroad. So we actually are ahead when we use it instead of cash, even without ATM fees. I think there are some other cards with no foreign trans fee.

Posted by
3335 posts

You are absolutely right, Larry, and more people should be aware of this. Another source of no-fee or low-fee credit cards is one's Credit Union -- many people are unaware that there are NON-Profit credit unions all over this country where u can open bank accounts and credit-card accounts which are low-fee or now-fee overseas, even if you don't work for a particular company. For example the Philadelphia credit union is open to any resident of Pennsylvania. My warning was directed at new travelers who use their existing credit cards daily at home, at no fee -- and are unaware that the rules change when they go abroad.

Posted by
5 posts

Another thing to pay attention to is not only the possible international translation fee but some banks could also ping you for using a ATM outside their network. Check with your bank prior before you leave on your trip to see if they have any partner financial institutions to the countries that you will be visiting. If they do then it could help avoid the non-branch ATM fees (but there still could be internation transaction fees). Best but it to setup/fund an account that doesn't charge any of these fees. That's why I setup an account with Charles Schwab. The debit card offered by Charles Schwab has no international transaction fees and they will reimburse you any ATM fees that you might be charged. Make sure to keep a copy of your ATM receipt or take a picture of it since not all financial institutions report ATM fees in the same way and you might need to request a refund of the ATM fee with proof of the ATM receipt. Usually this is not needed.

Depending on where you are flying from, you might also have the option of picking up some foreign currency during a layover. That's what I did when flying to Athens. I had a 3 hour layover in Amsterdman, so I found an ATM at the airport there and used my fee free card to get some cash in hand before my final destination.

Also... make sure you call your bank before you leave and inform them of your travels so you don't get your card locked up while traveling.

Posted by
3335 posts

All good tips, sourmix. Charles Schwab is another no-fee options.

We shouldn't have to say this, but people DO have mistaken impressions -- ANY fees that you are charged come from YOUR bank... the Greek ATMS (or ATMS in other European countries) charge NOTHING for use. People always seem surprised at this ... they put the blame on foreign banks not their own Greedy Bank.

Another tip, about getting cash at a layover, reminds me of a precaution. A bank or credit union or Credit card, when you call to inform them you'll be getting money abroad, will ask "Where will you be travelling." It's safest to say "Europe" rather than just "Greece" or "France." A friend of mine (and a smart experienced traveller) forgot this. She told her Bank "Greece." But she had a layover in Frankfurt & wanted some Euros to buy breakfast, so she popped her card into an ATM there ... and LOCK-UP. NO MONEY!! It was a hell of mess to straighten out. So be aware.