I will be traveling to Poland in May. I have read numerous articles about currency vs credit card usage. Some say Euro is widely accepted, won't need zloty, others say just the opposite. Some say use cash rather than credit cards. Others just the opposite. So I guess I am asking those who have traveled to Poland recently to share their experiences so I will have a clearer understanding of what I will need to utilize on the trip. Thanks so much!
Euro is not widely accepted at all, it's not the local currency. I don't know what articles have such misinformation (I'm Polish and my family lives there). There is no country out there where it's advantageous for a tourist/consumer not to use the local currency, and Poland is not an exception to this rule. You can use both credit cards and cash, many places accept credit cards. Just get cash at an ATM as you need it for incidentals, no need to order anything ahead of time...an ATM will do. Zero foreign fee cards are typically a better deal than the fees from withdrawing at ATMs, so I would use a credit card whenever possible (assuming you have a good credit card like Capital One).
Thank you. I really didn't understand the Euro thing either. But I thought I would ask. Zloty and credit card it is!! :)
And make sure all of your credit card charges are in Zloty. As a "favor ?" a merchant may offer to charge your card in dollars. Turn it down. He is not doing you any favor.
Frank is right - he's talking about Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) which is a legal "scam" to charge you in your own currency so it's less "confusing" but also incurs an extra fee - don't do it! Always pay in the local currency when paying with a card (or taking cash out of an ATM).
Thanks! So I am assuming from what you have said that the ATM will give me the option to not select DCC?
I've never seen an ATM in Europe that won't let me skip DCC - and some ATMs don't even push it on you. Just something to keep an eye out for.
Yes, in my considerable experience over the last 3 years, DCC has always been optional. However, in 2015 it was a very rare occurrence to be offered the option. It was more common in 2016, and even more common last year. It's like an epidemic. But as long as I can say "euros" (or whatever the local currency is), I don't mind.
It's when a scammy human being in a hotel or restaurant makes the selection for me, without consultation, that I get really annoyed. I'm sure they often get away with it because people either don't notice the currency shown on the receipt (especially euros, which are not that far off from dollars, even now) or don't have time to stand around and argue. I now check out of my hotel the night before departure so I can lean on the counter and say--repeatedly, if necessary--"I want to pay in euros; I don't care that you don't know how to cancel that transaction; I'm only going to pay in euros." It was in Spain that I ran into that very annoying practice, but I have no doubt that it happens in other areas as well. Nothing spoils the memory of a good meal like a crooked waiter (put up to it by the restaurant manager/owner, no doubt.)
I really don't like the harsh tone when discussing DCC. It just continues to feed the idea is that everyone is out to get the poor tourists. It is not a real scam or a dishonest waiter or owner. Or someone trying to steal from you. It is an option. Some might think it is a convenience. It happens, just be aware of the possibility, and I have never had a problem declining the option. "No thank you, Euro is fine." Does it for me every time but it is not that frequent.
Unfortunately, I clearly declined a DCC transaction In Malta (airport) verbally but the clerk with the machine did not respect my choice. There was not much I could do after the fact.
Who actually gets that arbitraged amount in profit? Is it the machine owner or is it split with the retailer who uses the machines, so they have an incentive to push DCC? Anyone know?
No, Frank, what happened to me was clearly dishonest. I was not shown the screen on the handheld device or allowed to make a choice. The waiters and hotel desk clerk simply chose "dollars" for me--in one case after I said, up front, "euros". I was simply presented with printed receipts with the amount shown in dollars, no doubt with the hope that I would sign without reading anything. It was done very intentionally and was obviously a profit-padding ploy. I resent very much being expected to pay 7% or so more than all the other customers in the restaurant/hotel who happen to live in countries on the euro.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the scam artists also claimed that they didn't know how to reverse the transaction. Funny, they figured it out once it was clear that I wasn't going to sign the dollar receipt or leave until they re-ran the charge in euros.
I don't see the difficulty in refusing DCC. They present you with the terminal, and it shows the amount and you enter your PIN. Or, if you are signing, the piece of paper you sign has the amount on it.
I always check the amount before accepting any credit or debit card transaction, to see if it matches the bill/amount on the till. If it doesn't, I just don't enter my PIN/sign. No need to cancel the transaction, without my PIN/signature it isn't valid.
If they refuse to enter the exact amount on the bill, hard luck, I have offered to pay the correct bill, and they refused to accept it, so I can legally walk away.
There is economic reasons to push DCC. The profit from the mark up in the exchange rate is shared equally (or close to equally) between the merchant and the company providing the access point they use to get to Visa/MasterCard etc. for payments. It was designed to help them offset some of the cost of handling credit card transactions they pay to the card issuers through the interchange fees. And it seems a lot of people are happy to be billed in their home currency and don't mind the amount they lose in the process.
While I do not expect my banking transactions to be free by any definition, I do want to pay the lowest fees possible and not get scammed. Unfortunately DCC does feel like a scam when the clerk hides the screen from you, claims they don't know how to cancel a transaction that appears in DCC, tells you there is no other way for you to pay, and on and on. I have walked away from many shopping opportunities when this was forced on me. Even when the merchant magically "discovered" how to make the machine not go through DCC, usually by that point I just don't want to deal with them any more.
There is no PIN for the vast majority of US credit cards when used in a face-to-face transaction. The people trying to pull the scam simply pick up the device, press a few buttons while you cannot see the screen, print the receipt and hand it to you to sign. You are given no opportunity to decline DCC. What you can do, and what I have done, is refuse to sign the receipt. They tend to get more than a little annoyed about that, but that's too bad. The problem is that not all tourists have time to stand around and argue.
It is interesting that the two people in this thread who have had this pulled on them are female. I wonder whether there is some perception that a female traveler may be less financially astute. Correction: Two of the three people who've been victims are female.
I've never had this pulled on me in a shop.
Hey, acraven, make that two out of four people were female, this was done on me in Barcelona a year ago, this was with my wife and waiters for some reason always go to the man. I had to stand up and see what he was doing, he kept his handheld away from me, and of course he was trying to approve it himself since there was no PIN.
I challenge the statement "it seems a lot of people are happy to be billed in their home currency and don't mind the amount they lose in the process." How many of these people are happy about the convenience but are unaware of how much they paid for this convenience? Taking money from someone without their knowledge, what is the legal term for this? As Rick said to Ugarti, "I don't mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one." If the amount of money lost seems trivial on an individual basis, please remember the plot line of Superman III, where Richard Pryor's character notices all the fractional cents the company is receiving on their bill payments rounded to the next cent and programs all these fractions into his account, causing a huge loss for the company and sending them after him.
The difficulty is not in refusing DCC. The difficulty is in finding out that it is even being done to you, and what it actually means (and this is without getting into the ATM machines that have turned the language around so that refusing DCC makes it look like you are quitting the transaction altogether, or otherwise scaring people with "if you refuse this the exchange rate cannot be guaranteed").
Well, some people are also happy to buy currency at the exchange booth at the airport or from their local bank or other such place because "there is no fee and they gave me great rate!" but will never disclose what the rate is (because it really isn't such a great rate when you actually compare it to the rate you get at an ATM).
It is probably more they just don't understand what DCC is and have chosen to not educate themselves because it is easier to look at the receipt and see USD instead of being bothered with doing the math. I don't see DCC as any type of a convenience to me.
I can say this has happened to me at least twice, both times at airport shops. In Malta, I was buying some books and verbally declined the DCC but the clerk ran it that way anyway (I don't know if I realized what happened until afterward when I carefully looked at the receipt). In Munich, the clerk at a juice stand definitely "presumed" I was ok with it and did not give me the chance to decide one way or another.
In both cases, it sure did look like it was done intentionally and I was really annoyed. I don't think it really had to do with me being a woman, I'm guessing more so because it was obvious I had a foreign credit card (the magnetic stripe gives it away...I don't think Euro cards use the magnetic stripe, do they?). The payment machine may very well "default" to an arrangement more profitable for the merchant and company providing the access point by design, and the clerk may not be enthusiastic about over-riding it for reasons mentioned earlier.
Bottom line: I don't really know how prevalent this is...I'm guessing it's a very small share of all transactions and not worth worrying one bit about, but these financial "stings" stand out a lot more vividly in our minds so they create their own "availability bias".
Yes, it has been a small percentage for me. Three times in 3 months in Spain, and I use the credit card whenever I can except for purchases under 10 euros; for those I mostly use cash.
Another question for y'all. I was reading that I might need a pin for credit card use in Europe/Poland. I called AMEX, they said they don't have a chip and pin system, only chip and signature. My question is, based on your experience, will I need a pin for my other cards to be able to make purchases? (I didn't seem to need it a few years ago in Germany)
Also, one couple traveling with us does not have a debit card for ATM withdrawals of foreign currency once we arrive in Poland. I was wondering if it was possible to purchase a "gift card" or cash card or something like it from AMEX or Visa and load it with US currency and use that for ATM withdrawals.
You don't need a pin number to use a credit card. You need a pin number if you wanted to get a cash advance at an ATM. That is an expensive way to get money but in an emergency who cares what the expense is.
As to the pre-load cash cards -- Historically pre-load cash card come with lots fees some obvious and some hidden so you need to look carefully at all the fees associated with a cash card. Also, you don't have the same degree of protection with a cash card as a debit or credit card because the banking industry views a cash card as a gift card. The cash card will work fine IF it is on the appropriate network is available. The most common networks are PLUS and CIRRUS. Don't know what network AE uses. Get a VISA or Mastercard branded ATM card. In fact get two on two different accounts so you have a back-up.
No, American credit cards are behind the times so the vast majority are chip and signature (no PIN). You won't need a PIN for someone to run your card. Also, don't count on AMEX to be accepted in most places - it is the least accepted card overseas. Make sure you have VISA or MasterCard as your primary cards.
As for your travel companions, try to convince them that having an ATM card is really the way to go (or lend them some small amounts when credit cards aren't accepted). Do they really not have an ATM card in the States to withdraw cash? There is no reason to reinvent the wheel here...you use an ATM card overseas just like you would at home. The alternatives are not good. If they order money ahead of time, not only will it cost them a lot more, they will likely have leftovers they won't know what to do with (zloty are only used in Poland). Gift cards won't be accepted in Poland, so don't bother getting one (they come with really high fees by the way).
Chip and signature cards should be fine for most credit card transactions. Perhaps at some machines they won't be accepted without a PIN. I have a chip and PIN card but rarely need to use it in Europe - only at a few machines where my chip and sig card will not.
It doesn't hurt to have you PIN for the credit cards you plan on taking to Europe.
Yes, in the US the PIN is only used for cash advances. But in Europe, I have had luck at kiosks where there is no person to run your card when I had my credit card PIN. I have never been charged for a cash advance in Europe when I used my PIN to purchase something with my credit card. Ask your card issuers for your PINs.
Gift cards bought in the US are only useable in the US (except for very rare exceptions). The fees would be outrageous anyway if they were useable. It would be better to just get cash for your friend to use when you get some from an ATM (provided they pay you back promptly).
And avoid American Express and Discover. Except for large chain hotels and maybe car rental almost no one will take an AMEX card. They won't even know what to do with Discover. So, yes, leave home without them.
Thanks again for the advice. Yes I was surprised to learn that our friends didn't have a debit card too because they travel. But believe it or not, after I thought about it, we have several friends who don't. I am not 100% sure but I am thinking that some folks have a real fear of the technology and the just the thought of the possibility of somehow having their funds stolen outweighs the ease and convenience of having one.
The only time I ever paid in euro rather than the local currency in a country is with a small B&B that only takes cash and advertises their prices in euro. This has happened in Croatia and Czech Republic among others. Other than that, always use local currency or credit card.
Jean, excuse me for being dumb, but if your friends don't have a debit/ATM card, how do they get money out of their own bank at home?
Decades ago, you used to go into a your bank and cash a cheque when you wanted cash, then they invented ATM's and that is how I get the cash I need since then. What do your friends do?
One thing you might do is suggest that your friends speak to their bank manager about the possibility of having a separate account or sub-account into which they would place just the money they plan to need during the trip, plus a decent cushion, and having an ATM card tied to that specific (sub-)account. (The new account wouldn't need all that much if they plan to charge everywhere they can.) If they currently have a joint account, one of them could open an individual account. Their bank can tell them what protections are in place in case of fraud. Doing this would be safer than preloading a bunch of money on a cash card (if stolen, it's gone), even aside from the fact that those cash cards are usually so expensive and don't even work.
I've had my wallet stolen four times (only once in Europe), and never has there been any attempt to get money out of my credit union account. (It goes without saying, I hope, that I do not have my ATM number written down anywhere.) I'm careful to look at the ATMs I use to be sure there's no sign of extra hardware (cameras or card-grabbers). Someone would need both the card and the PIN in order to get into the account. I do not use the card for debit transactions, just to obtain money from ATMs.
Chris, I think they do just that, go to their bank and write a check. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that I know two other couples that don't have a debit card either. I know for sure that one of them goes to the bank on a regular basis to get cash and think they might keep some cash at home too just in case. They don't have an online presence either to utliize any electronic transfers for bills or payments, like you can set up online either through the bank or credit union or online through the credit card websites. They mail checks or call the credit card company directly to then transfer funds from checking to credit card for the payment. They always have to call to check balances on accounts.
Great suggestion about a sub account. I will share that with them.
If you are at the restaurant or cafe and happen to be short on zloty or just rather not pay cash at that moment, chances are establishment will take your US credit card. Last June I was a border town on the Polish side of the Oder River directly east of Berlin, stopped at an cafe/restaurant, and paid with the US credit card. I only had Euro and $ as cash on me. At most I was willing to go to the ATM nearby.
It is better to have cash on hand, even though the place may accept credit cards, it may only accept the EuroCard which only Germans have. I did come across once too at a restaurant. That was on the other side of Frankfurt an der Oder. My US Mastercard was not accepted, so I paid in zloty.
@ Jean...On being asked to indicate your PIN when using your US chip and signature credit card, yes, that is true in Germany. I've done it.
When you are buying a train ticket from a DB (Ger. National Rail) ticket machine using your US credit card as payment, the key pad will show "PIN eingeben" ie, time to punch it the PIN for your credit card, otherwise the transaction won't go through. You'll know that when the key pad shows "Vorgang bearbeitet." and your ticket along with the receipt indicating you paid with the credit card drop into the ticket slot.
Don't the DB vending machines allow you to switch the language to English? It has been 2-1/2 years since I was in Germany, but I don't remember having to conduct the transaction in German.
We were in Germany last summer and except for one machine in the Frankfurt airport, the DB machines we used did allow us to switch language to English.