How to Avoid Paying Bank Fees While Traveling

By Nomadic Matt | Published January 13th, 2014

an atm to get money at
Banking overseas is more than just putting your card in an ATM. When you travel abroad, banking overseas involves knowing three things: how to avoid paying bank fees, eliminate foreign transaction charges, and get a good exchange rate. I know too many people who travel overseas and pay ATM fees and get hit with credit card transaction fees. There’s no need for it. You didn’t save up all this money in order to give it the banks, right? I know I didn’t. I want to keep it all for myself because every avoided fee is more money for food, drinks, and activities.

Three years ago (to the day), I wrote about this topic but since banking rules are constantly changing, I thought it was time to update the article in order to provide more current and in-depth information. Here is how you eliminate ALL bank fees when you travel:

Eliminating ATM Fees

ATM fees can really add up. Let’s think about it. While you’re on the road, you will probably withdraw money from an ATM twice a week. Fees vary around the world, but on average you end up paying $5 USD per withdrawal. That is $10 per week, $40 per month, or $520 per year. Even if you only use the ATM half the time, that’s still $260 USD per year. Most travelers I know go to the ATM even more than twice a week, which only increases the amount in fees they pay. Why give banks money you need for travel? You did a lot of work saving your money, don’t waste it by giving it to a bank. Here are four ways to eliminate fees:

First, pick a bank in the Global ATM Network. This is a network of large banks that have come together and waived fees and allow for free ATM withdrawals. While they have the highest fees ($5 USD per withdrawal) for banks outside their network, by using partner ATMs you can avoid ATM charges.

Below is a list of major banks in this alliance:

Be sure to check with your local bank on specific coverage areas. There are some exceptions i.e. if you use your Barclays card in one country, there might not be a fee but in another, there is a fee. Double check before you go! Note: Bank of America charges a 3% foreign transaction fee on all withdrawals not in USD, though in Mexico you can use Santander to avoid the fee.

Secondly, if you are a US resident, the best bank to use is Charles Schwab. Why? Charles Schwab has no fees and reimburses all your ATM fees at the end of each month. You will need to open a high yield checking account in order to qualify, but there is no minimum deposit required and no monthly service fee. Their ATM card can be used in any bank machine around the world, and you’ll never pay a fee. This is my primary bank card. Since getting it, I’ve avoided all ATM fees. It’s saved me hundreds per year.

Third, get a low fee card. I use HSBC as my back up because HSBC has ATMs all over the world and charges only $2.50 USD per ATM transaction when you use a non-HSBC ATM. While it’s not as good as zero, its still better than what a lot of other banks charge. Additionally, Capital One doesn’t charge any withdrawal fees, but you do have to pay any fees charged by the local bank.

Finally, ask your local bank or credit union. Not charging ATM fees has become a widespread practice over the last few years so make sure to ask your local bank. Some other banks that don’t charge overseas ATM fees:

Citibank Australia
Norwich & Peterborough Building Society (UK residents)

If you are looking for other ways to cut wasteful expenses on the road, visit this collection of all my best money saving tips for further savings.

Avoiding Credit Card Fees

The next major fee we need to get rid of is the credit card foreign transaction fee. Most credit cards change a 3% fee on purchases made overseas. That can add up since most of us use our credit card for everything. The following cards have no overseas transaction fees:

Capital One No Fee Hassle Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Ink (Business card)
United Mileage Plus
Some Discover cards
Barclays Arrivals World

I use my Chase Sapphire when I go overseas so I can earn points for free flights and hotels as well, but any of the cards listed won’t charge additional fees while you’re abroad.

For non-US citizens, check the following websites that list cards that might not charge an overseas fee:
http://www.creditcardfinder.com.au/travel-rewards-credit-cards (Australia)
http://uk.creditcards.com/travel.php (UK)
http://www.rewardscanada.ca/ (Canada)

For UK citizens, check out this no overseas fee card the Post Office:
Post Office Credit Card UK

By using one or two of the suggested ATM cards and the above credit cards, you’ve eliminated all bank fees while you’re abroad. Not bad, huh?

If you are unsure what card to get or how to even pick the right card, this blog post will walk step-by-step through picking the right travel rewards credit card.

Minimizing the Exchange Rate “Penalty”

Every time you use your card overseas, your local bank coverts the transaction into your local currency for billing purposes and take a little off the top for doing so. Thus the official rate you see online is not what you actually get. That’s the interbank rate and unless you become a major bank, you’re not going to get that rate. All we can do is get as close as we can to that rate. To avoid getting on the real losing end of conversion, follow the following tips:

foreign currencyUse a credit card – Credit card companies get the best rates. Using a credit card will get you an exchange rate closest to the official rate, and for this reason I use a credit card whenever possible.

Use an ATM – ATMs offer the best exchange rate after credit cards. They aren’t as good as credit cards since commercial banks take a little more off the top, but it’s much better than exchanging cash. Money exchange offices offer the worst rates because they are so far down the food chain, they can’t get the best exchange rate (plus, they usually charge a commission as well).

Don’t use ATMs in weird locations – Using those ATMs you find in hotels, hostels, local 7-11’s, or some other random place is a bad idea. They’re convenient, but you’ll pay for that convenience. They always charge high ATM fees and offer horrible conversion rates. Skip those ATMs and find a major bank.

Don’t change money at airports – Most exchange bureaus in airports are so far down the financial food chain they don’t have the clout to offer good exchange rates. The rates you see at airports are the worst and never, ever use an exchange bureau there unless you absolutely have to. Another tip: avoid using the company Travelex at all costs – they have worst rates and fees. Never, never use them. Avoid their ATMs too!

Always pick the local currency – When you use your credit card abroad, you will often be given the option to be charged in your home currency (i.e. instead of being charged in Euros, they will charge you in US Dollars). Never say yes. The rate at which they are converting the currency is always worse than the rate your bank will give you. Pick the local currency and let your credit card company make the conversion. You’ll get a better rate.

Bank fees can add up to some serious money over the course of a long trip. If you want to save money, you need to be proactive when it comes to banking and currency exchanges. I see too many travelers visit the ATM all the time without paying attention to the latest exchange rates. You’re on the losing end of the stick that way. Be smart and bank smart. Give the banks less and your trip more. I haven’t paid a bank fee in years and you shouldn’t either.

And with these simple tips, you’ll never have to again.

NEXT: Keep planning your trip from start to finish with my step-by-step getting started page.

comments 122 Comments

God. Since I moved to Belarus I’m suffering from cuts on my money withdrawals. Since I work as a freelancer I’m kinda stuck on this commission point. If I keep using my national bank card, they will keep taking comissions from me, but if I get a Belarussian card, then they will take 30% income tax. So kinda stuck and I hate to give everytime 2-3% to the atms/malls etc…

If you’re not a US citizen and happen to be German, there is no better bank than “Deutsche Kreditbank”. It’s just like Charles Bank with absolutely no withdrawal fees worldwide.

NomadicMatt

Thanks for the tip.

I used my Bank of America debit card in South Africa (ABSA) and France (BNP) in the last two weeks and I was still charged the INTERNATIONAL TRANSACTION FEE. The standard $5.00 fee is on top of this.

NomadicMatt

Did you call up and ask why? You could have got stuck in a loophole but if you used the ABSA atm in South Africa, according to the rules, they shouldn’t have charged a fee. I’d fight it.

BofA’s terms mention this “Use your debit card or ATM card within the Global ATM Alliance in the countries shown with no ATM operator fees or Non-Bank of America International ATM Fees. An international transaction fee of 3% may apply when converting your currency.”

The charge on my account was the 3% conversion fee. Also, the Bank of America global alliance list does not include all of the banks on the Global ATM Alliance, for instance ABSA in South Africa is part of Global ATM alliance but not on BofA’s list.

In South Africa, what I noticed was that even with the 3% fee BofA was cheaper because the banks in South Africa had higher fees for currency exchange.

I think getting a Schwab account makes more sense for someone who travels outside.

NomadicMatt

There’s always a fee for the conversion. The Global Alliance just means no added ATM fees. Foreign currency conversion fees exist at all banks.

joe

Bank of America since November 2013 is charging 3% international transaction fees , even if you use an alliance bank ATM

Camille

Hi Matt,

Unfortunately, Joe is right and the first tip you give in the article is not that great anymore (since last November).

I had been using the Bank of America network with my ATM card for 2 years, so I’m very disappointed and I will look into Charles Schwab and HSBC.

Frank

I understand that BoA charges no foreign transaction fee if you are a Wealth Management customer.

NomadicMatt

A conversion fee and an ATM fee are two different things. Even HSBC and Schwab take a percentage in the exchange rate. The info is valid as it regards ATM fees not transaction fees.

Beth

Actually Matt what they are saying is correct. Before November once you used an ATM in the Global Alliance you were not charged any fee no matter the currency. I should know because I live in the Caribbean and use Scotiabank to withdraw in local currency. Once I called BOA to find out why I was now being charge they said the international fee is if I withdraw in local currency. If I withdraw US dollars I wont be charged a fee. You may call them for yourself to find out.

Great info! Wish I’d had this before leaving on our journey 4 months ago. I’m from Canada which offers less options but my travel partner is American so we will definitely be opening up a Charles Schwab account when we go home for a visit this summer.

Good list. I’d the Fidelity ATM card. If you have a cash management account with them they waive all ATM fees just like Schwab.

I cannot thank you enough for tipping me off to the Charles Schwab bank account. I’ve probably saved ~$100-200 in fees alone in the past year and a half since using it for international withdrawals. I still have my old checking account (boooo Bank of America) but Charles Schwab is just so amazingly convenient. Thanks!!!

NomadicMatt

You’re welcome!

I really appreciate that you actually included some international (and shock horror) NZ/Aus banks!

As a Kiwi travelling for an extended time overseas, I found the Air NZ Onesmart card the best option though it’s not a credit card (http://nzmuse.com/2013/09/how-to-manage-money-on-the-road-while-travelling/). We definitely get stiffed in regard to choices for overseas banking. I spent ages researching the options and they were not great.

NomadicMatt

I try to be as universal as I can. With the banking stuff, it’s sometimes hard.

Casey

FYI-

USAA is no longer open to those not in the military.

NomadicMatt

I made the correction. Thanks.

Banks and credit card companies have been ripping us all off for years. As middlemen, they’ve been sitting there screwing us every which way with a new ‘fee’ every time any money moves through them. You only need look at the yearly profits posted by financial institutes (they rake in hundreds of millions).

The suggestions you make Matt are good ones, but I’m not particularly impressed with these few feeble concussions banks and credit card companies have made for travellers. It’s far too little, far too late.

I feel the new virtual currency ‘Bitcoin’ is an intriguing alternative. Bitcoin uses a wholly decentralized public ledger (‘the block-chain’), where all transactions are recorded. This allows users to bypass banks and credit card companies altogether, and make fast money transfers at almost no-cost. In short, it cuts out the middlemen.

Bitcoin could potentially be a revolution in money which in time will replace credit cards altogether and even obsolete banking as we know it. It could serve as a universal currency – accepted everywhere in the world – so a universal currency, and a way to transfer money at little or no cost – characteristics which would make it ideal for travellers.

I should caution, of course, that Bitcoin is highly speculative at this stage, and some economists think its nothing more than a bubble/Ponzi scheme.

But for those travellers looking for alternatives to credit cards/banks, Bitcoin is an intriguing experiment.

This has to be about the most useful post I’ve read this month. Thanks for it, Matt. So true about the ATMs. I tried all kinds of ‘backup’ systems in case I lost my bank card. The backup systems were all a bust. I actually went into a London bank to get out of the rain, went up to a teller, and the manager told me I’d have to use an ATM, not the human. I’ve been astounded, too, to find Scotiabank very prevalent in Mexico. Not hard to find a familiar ATM there at all.

I agree, the new virtual currency ‘Bitcoin’ is an intriguing alternative. Bitcoin uses a wholly decentralized public ledger where all transactions are recorded. This allows users to bypass banks and credit card companies altogether, and make fast money transfers at almost no-cost. In short, it cuts out the middlemen.

I hate bank fees! I really spent way, way, way too much cash on bank fees. It’s crazy how quickly it can add up. I try to get 1-2 weeks worth of money at a time so i’m not wasting too much in fees.

These are indeed issues we need to worry more about. We tend to overlook the few bucks that they take from us during each transaction. It all adds up… and those sums that add up could buy you an entire trip by the end of the year!

I’ve just ignored the ATM fees eventho I knew about this, but now that I’m traveling more I guess I should look in to it, thanks for the tip!

Thanks for this post and the information added by the commenter. As a beginner in solo traveling I really appreciate all the tips I got about bank matters. This is such a good read!

I tell so many people to get a charles schwab card i might as well work for them! haha. I’ve been using it for years and love it so much- but I’ve been out of the country almost a year now, I called about something non-related and I was warned I might be contacted to close soon if I don’t use it in the U.S. because they aren’t for people “living abroad” – you have to come home sometimes. I actually do live abroad so am crossing my fingers they don’t notice :)

I wonder… Would it count as usage in the US to charge some small item at Amazon and have it shipped to your US address? (Where US address could well be a friend, relative, etc).

Great list! This is really handy, I’m thinking of getting a credit card, I’m actually leaning towards the united one, miles and other perks!

laisya

There’s Indonesian note in that pic :D ( IDR 2000)

NomadicMatt

I have some.

For People in America, TD Bank is also an excellent choice for tourists. Been with them for a long time now and have never compensated a fee of any type. And yes, completely believe the fact with you regarding Citibank’s terrible client support. I have a Citi account in Sydney, and while it’s quite excellent for traveling, the support is the most severe ever!!

Great advice – my bank is not in the Global ATM Network, and that alone is great reason to switch.

Another reason not to use ATMs in weird locations – they are more likely to eat your card or not give you money at all! ATMs attached to banks are usually fine; ATMs in weird locations, like you say, should be avoided.

I tell so many people to get a charles schwab card i might as well work for them! haha. I’ve been using it for years and love it so much- but I’ve been out of the country almost a year now, I called about something non-related and I was warned I might be contacted to close soon if I don’t use it in the U.S. because they aren’t for people “living abroad” – you have to come home sometimes. I actually do live abroad so am crossing my fingers they don’t notice

john obrien

this still doesn’t help me in the philippines. i am in the australian westpac bank.the fees are charged by the LOCAL filippino atm bank not westpac.it’s really expensive to withdraw here.they charge you 200 pesos per 10,000 pesos.figure on about 40 per dollar roughly.
i would love to hear how to stop that.appreciate any advice.

Mike

I believe HSBC ATMs are the only ones not charging the p200 local bank fee in the Philippines. You get the warning that you may be charged but you are not. Manila has several and there are others in different parts of the country.

Lizzie Bennett

The Chase Sapphire Card is also chip-enabled — a huge advantage in Europe, where many restaurants and smaller merchants don’t accept regular (magnetic stripe only) credit cards.

Good info. I have never gotten a break in Aisa using my Scotiabank ATM card. I’m assuming that only happens in the countries you indicated in the bracket. Thankfully, I don’t have to use it very often.

The Thai service charge at ATMs has increased to 180B (5.47US). There is a Japanese bank here (Aeon) that does not charge for withdrawals.

NomadicMatt

Aeon is godsend!

NomadicMatt

Yes, I know. It’s terrible! I was just in Thailand when they made the switch. It’s a tragic loss for frugal travelers.

Rossana B.

Great tips, Matt! I always read your email updates for good travel tips, so thanks!!

I just called AMEX to notify them of my upcoming travel to Spain and decided, in passing, to ask about their fees for foreign travel. Their foreign transaction fee is 2.7% except for a very few fancy AMEX cards, they do charge that for just about all their cards.

I was, however, told that if, while purchasing abroad, I ask the merchant to charge me in USD rather than in their local currency, AMEX would waive the foreign transaction fee. However, based on your very helpful tips above, I know that I will get a worse currency exchange rate from a merchant who charges me in USD rather than in the local currency.

My question is: would it likely be better for me to charge to my AMEX in USD by the foreign merchant (and incur the accompanying loss in their conversion from local currency to USD) OR let the merchant charge me in local currency and get hit with the foreign transaction fee BUT let AMEX do the conversion knowing that they give a better conversion rate than the foreign merchant would. How much of a difference is there generally in conversion rates between foreign merchants and credit cards companies in this conversion hierarchy? Which option would be better? Thanks for your help!

NomadicMatt

I’d just get a better card for traveling. I wouldn’t use an AMEX overseas.

THANK YOU! When I backpacked around Europe 2 years ago I racked up ridiculous ATM fees…I had no clue and it was not a nice surprise! After reading this I’m heading to Scotiabank before my 2 month trip coming up in March! :)

NomadicMatt

Glad I could help!

Anyone have any experience using Ally outside of the States?

Mr Sarkar

Matt, according to 2 BOA reps that I spoke with, holders of the Schwab credit card (from FIA Services) have been grandfathered into the “no foreign transaction fee” category.

Just one more data point re credit cards.

I hadn’t seen the Schwab checking account tip before. That will save me some money while traveling. Thanks for sharing.

I get international bank fees for accomodation that racks up to $25 sometimes. It is so frustrating. How do you avoid getting charged, without of course carrying a large sum of money with you? You noted Citibank australia but I used their redicard credit when I went to the states but got lots of fees. Will check INGDirect if they waive international fees. Thanks for writing this.

Thanks for this, looks like I need to open a Schwab account…we’re Citibank bankers and I was amazed that recently in Mexico I used Banamex which is owned by Citibank and yet was charged each time I used the ATM. Citibank is great because they have ATM’s everywhere so I thought I wasn’t being charged but apparently I was wrong!

Good tip and great to see the banks working together to be fairer. I often find the exchange rate at an ATM can be highly variable so I try to wary of being caught out by this.

I’m currently in China so it is a shame to see the nominated bank only works for US cards only (I’m British).

My main bank account is with a bank which is part of HSBC. I’ve always been baffled as to why when I am in China there is a lower overall ATM transaction charge to use a local bank ATM than a HSBC one! HSBC is very visible in China. I would have thought that with the transaction being within their own banking group the charges would be lower.

Brittney

If you are in Washington, Oregon or California Umpqua is a great bank to use while traveling. They cover 2 atm fees a month and only charge $2.50 after that. Plus they are all around awesome. The teller did tell me that some credit cards will let you pull cash out of an ATM too. Does anyone know anything about this?

KK

Brittney,

Most any credit card should be able to do that. All mine I can, but not the cheapest way to do things. It’s my emergency back up plan.

KK ….. in Thailand right now

Adam

Hi Matt,

I went to Schwab’s website and they had this info posted in regards to the fees you were referring to:

“We offer a rebate on these fees assessed by others: For Interest Checking, Regular Checking, and Basic Checking up to first 6 transactions not to exceed $9.00 per statement period.”

I am confused.. I thought what you were saying is that there are “all” fees are reimbursed, but what they say is “up to 9$ per statement period”..
Which is it?

Thx

Jane

When I asked at a branch and online as well, both said it’s only their “High Yield Investment Checking Account” that refunds all fees. It comes with a side account for investing but there’s no fee to activate it or to not use it, if you choose.

NomadicMatt

Yeah, you get an investment account but I have never used it. It sits there, empty and forgotten.

Sadly the link you’ve given for UK credit cards doesn’t cover two of the most useful card for UK residents, the Halifax Clarity One, which has no foreign transaction fees, uses the Visa exchange rates with no loading and zero fees (other than interest) for cash withdrawals, and the Lloyds Avios Rewards card, which has no transactions fees, uses the Mastercard and Amex rate, and provides you with Avios reward points.

I wrote about them here:
http://experimentalnomad.com/saving-money-while-travelling-abroad/

Jane

In your “Always pick the local currency” section, you mentioned charges to credit cards. What about when the ATM asks you which currency you want to withdraw in? Thanks!

Jen

Thanks Matt for your invaluable info on finances and banking! Very helpful

Yes, Matt — Schwab + Chase Ultimate Rewards all the way!!!

Nicole R

Hi Matt,

Thank you so much for all the valuable information you post on your website! When you say the Schwab account reimburses all fees. Does that include the ATM withdrawal fee that may be charged by a Bank in a foreign country?

Michael W.

Hi Matt.

Thx for a great blog by the way.

I don’t know if you guys know this, but:

If you – as I do – when travelling try to bring a visa card, and use the supermarket as a bank. It is completely normal procedure for us Scandinavians to do so at home. (Denmark/Norway/Sweden). (I’m Danish by the way). E.g. Buy toast and butter for 5 euros and ask the casheer, to add let’s say 20 euros on top of that. you get a withdrawal of 25 euros on your account, and get 20 euros in the hand.

It is most common with 20-50 euros “extra withdrawal”. But with a few grocery-shopping times a week, it is good value.

It works mostly in the larger supermarket chains. Most kiosk-owners e.g. refuse to do so. But it is definitly worth asking!

Libby

Does anyone know if this works in Italy?

Randy

Damn fine post. Thanks much – I’ll be sharing it.

Great tips, these will come in handy.

Bella

Is it wise to exchange currency at a local US bank before leaving?

NomadicMatt

No, just get cash from ATMs.

Nice post! Great information. I use a Citibank debit card with no withdrawal fees and a Chase/United Explorer card for no credit card transaction fees. The Chase card offers travel insurance, car insurance, and lots of other great benefits aside from no foreign transaction fees.

John

I have a direct deposit into my B of A account, but I have it set up to transfer to and from my Schwab account. Going to Australia soon, I think I’ll transfer almost everything to the Schwab account and use that. I read about this in your book, but it’s nice to get an update.

Thanks for the info mate. I suffered quite a number of fees when I traveled to France a couple years ago (unknowingly of course). I’m looking at traveling to Italy this summer and have started to look up what I can do to avoid these hassles. This post really helped.

Thanks!
Brendon

Thanks for the detailed post. For me, I always use an International Master card which allows me to withdraw money from any part of the world.

These are some really solid tips Matt. Will definitely be implementing these during my next traveling adventure!

Great stuff. Thanks a lot. Ive been looking for credit cards that have less transaction fees and so on for a while. definitely going to look into those.
Cory

TTR

Yeah, Schwab is by far the best bank for traveling. Better than the alliance BofA thing which can screw you over. I’ve used Schwab literally in 70 countries and never had a problem. Once my card expired when I was freaking in Tajikistan or somewhere and Schwab Fedexed me my new card for free.

You also forgot Fidelity ATM cards. They charge only a 1% fee and reimburse for withdrawal fees, however, some people find that the 1% is not even charged sometimes so it’s actually no fees.

NomadicMatt

Thanks for the tip on Fidelity.

Great tips, I’ve learned some of them the hard way in my travels.
I go to Asia on a fairly regular basis and one thing I found useful was opening a bank account in Asia (Hong Kong and/or Singapore) to hold my travel funds. Most major banks issue a debit card and you can hold funds in multiple currencies within the account. All I needed was a valid passport and proof of overseas residence like a utility or phone bill. For US citizens may be more difficult (I’m from Canada). Because of laws passed in the US like FATCA, some foreign banks may not be so willing to open personal accounts for Americans – but check it out yourself, policies vary between banks.

Jim

Hi, Matt, these are great tips. As more and more merchants in Europe require cards with a “chip” travelers may find that their non-chip US cards are not accepted. Capital One does not have a card with a chip, or didn’t last fall when I checked with them. Bank of America does have a travel rewards card with a chip that charges no foreign exchange fee, and I used it in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in Nov-Dec 2013 with no problem.

Andi

What about using prepaid credit cards? My daughter is going to Israel and will be using the Payoneer card. Any information would be helpful.

Thanks for the info Matt. I currently don’t bank with Barclays, but when I’m ready to travel I think I may just have to switch over to save the atm fees!

Out of interest do you spread out your money across various bank cards or just stick with some cash, a bank card and then a credit card? Having never gone RTW before it’s interesting to know what you recommend is best!

Thanks

april

So how can you get local currency without going to travelex or other airport currency exchange booths?

NomadicMatt

ATMs

Sophia Williams

Thanks for the useful information. Charles Schwab sounds fantastic. We have heard how great it is, anything negative that you can think of?

Great tips Matt. Being a Canadian traveler I am a little more limited on choices but good that you pointed out some.

I have just discovered that Bank of America is now charging a 3% fee on Santander [Mexico]withdrawals!!

alex

Really good tips. When I went interrailing I had NO clue about charges and had a horrendous surprise when I got back. I think I even always opted for paying in pounds too (my home currency). Clueless. For what it’s worth, now I usually use prepaid currency cards, as I don’t want to get a credit card. Available in the UK but not sure about elsewhere? In UK I have used a Caxton one in the past but now i’m using one from company called Weswap, as find I get better rates. Better than debit cards and like 98% of credit cards for fees.

@Jane – when ATMs ask you which currency you want to withdraw always say the local one, or they’ll just apply whatever exchange rate they want. Learnt that hard way.

Scott

If you live in the UK and can get to London, open an account with Metro Bank. No foreign atm fees, including loading fee so you get the best rate.

Careful, I read this before:

The bank account used to stand out from the crown because of its free overseas transactions and withdrawals worldwide.

Sadly from March 18 the fee-free deal will only apply to transactions in Europe – but this is still not to be sniffed at and its new rates still beat the rest of the high-street banks.

Inside Europe

If you travel a lot, it could be a great money saver – although you will have to pay the going exchange rate, Metro Bank will not charge you for either using your card or withdrawing money from an ATM abroad.

Outside Europe:

Customers will now have to fork out for 1.9 per cent to make purchases and withdrawals in the rest of the world, as well as an additional £1 flat rate charge to take out the foreign currency from an ATM.

But, with the average fee between 2.75 and 2.99 per cent this is still fairly competitive, as is the flat rate charge which most banks set between £1.50 and £2.

It’s great news for going abroad

Tim C

Bank Of America started charging 3% on all international withdrawals. This just started in November 2013, so a lot of people have not noticed this yet. Avoid BANK OF AMERICA!!

Dianne Lewis

Thanks so much for all the tips on everything and more than I thought about. My friend and I are Canadians. We are travelling to Paris this coming summer. I have 2 bank cards…Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal. I have 3 credit cards…all with chips. I have the Scotiabank VISA, Capital One Mastercard, and Gold Scotiabank AMEX. I’m not really sure which ones I should use. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Matt! Great article! I wanted to ask you about the Charles Schwab account: You mention that Charles Schwab offers the best card to avoid ATM withdraws fees. Then you mention to get a low fee card, in your case, HSBC. Thus, you recommend to get both? I would think I wouldn’t need a second card after the Charles Schwab’s card! I’m about to open an aacount with Charles Schwab in order to get that card, but I wonder if I should get another card like the one from HSBC. Thanks for your time and your article. Look forward for an answer!

Oscar

NomadicMatt

It’s important to have a back up card in case something goes wrong or the first card gets lost or stolen. That’s why I also have HSBC.

Good advice, though I’ve found the best way to avoid fees is to bring enough cash in the first place. Ok, that only works for trips of two weeks or less…

Great info! Thanks! :-)

I did once said yes to change the currency to my local currency when paying an item with my credit card! Bad choice I guess … :-(

Awesome article! I wish you had written this before I left for southeast Asia this past October and I spent days researching which credit card and ATM card to get. It’s stellar that you’ve put this all into one place for readers!

Since October, I’ve traveled to Bali, Thailand, and Taiwan with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card & the TD Bank ATM card. Both have proved incredibly valuable. The $95 fee for the Chase Sapphire means nothing when you’re using your credit card on a daily basis. It pays for itself. With the TD Bank ATM card, I’ve saved the hassle of having to seriously watch how often I take out money. With a $2.50 fee per use, I still try to only take out money once a week, but I’d try to take out even less frequently if I had to pay $5. Plus, knowing that I’m saving 50% on the fee just makes me feel better overall when spending money on a travel tip!

Thanks for providing this all in one place!
Jillian

I was looking into opening a Charles Schwab checking account – as you instructed but on their website it says:
“Yes. The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account is only available when linked to a Schwab One brokerage account.”

So my question is, is this the same account that you are talking about getting? Do you just have the brokerage account & let it sit empty? Also if this is the case, do you only have the checking/brokerage accounts or do you also have the HYI savings account?

Oh also … do you have any guidance for people who can’t get a rewards credit card? (don’t qualify/bad credit) Even though you probably won’t get all the big rewards that you talk about – what do you think about signing up for free rewards/loyalty programs? Usually these are specific to a certain airline, hotel, etc. For example:
https://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/programInformation/main.jsp or
http://www.norwegian.com/us/norwegianreward/norwegianreward/

Obviously these won’t get you the huge sign up bonuses of credit cards, but if you can’t get one/don’t qualify then I figured something is better than nothing. Do you agree?

NomadicMatt

Yes, but it’s free to sign up and you don’t need to use the brokerage account. Mine has never seen one penny in it.

I’ve moved overseas and have been trying to figure out how to lower my fees. Thanks for the tips! – Matt

NomadicMatt

Welcome!

Nancy R

Will I need a special card for Mexico if I don’t use ATM machines? We won’t need many pesos, so can I just use my Citicard Dividend card for anything I need to charge, and avoid any fees?

Kurt G.

Hey Matt,

Great article and advice. Question: what’s your opinion on the Capital One Quick Silver Cash Rewards Credit Card? I don’t see it mentioned in this article or your other piece, “Picking a Travel Credit Card.” NerdWallet lists it as a good one to get because it has no foreign transaction fees, no annual fee, and offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Flyer miles aren’t a priority to me. Thank you for your time.

Source: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/top-credit-cards/no-foreign-transaction-fee-credit-card/#picks

NomadicMatt

If you want cash back, that is a good one as are the Discover cash back cards!

Marlena Santoyo

I don’t use a bank having to do with they’e being a rip off and screwed so many folks re. losing their mortgages being out in the street etc. I one to support unions in general and have been using freedom credit union card AND went to save as much money as possible.
Your Comment?

Really excellent article, I was having problems with fees and withdrawing in Vietnam (as the max withdrawal per day isn’t much when 2 travellers are relying on one debit card). This was very helpful, thanks.

Hi Matt, a really useful post, something most people don’t take into consideration when travelling longterm! what’s your thoughts on pre paid cash cards? do you ever use them?

Aaron

TS

Matt – is that true, to travel in EUROPE, we shall change the PIN (password) of the debit card (Charles Schwab) to 4-digit numbers?

My HSBC debit card comes with standard magnetic strip – is it useful in Europe (I am visiting Germany, Czek and Austria)? Heard the card needs to be “chip-based”.

Kitty

Thank you, Matt, for this useful and helpful post. I will be traveling in few weeks to Australia and I only have Bank of America debit and credit card (both Visa and MasterCard). So do I expect to be charged 3% each time I use my card on all transactions? (Cash withdrawals, shopping, restaurants, etc..)

NomadicMatt

Yes, you’ll get charge a transaction fee for using the credit card and the 3% fee is built into the currency conversion on the debit card.

TC

Regarding Eliminating ATM fees for Canadians you suggest using Scotiabank but as you note it only has sister banks in four countries. Also within those countries only certain cities have the sister banks so it can be hard to track down a free ATM machine. And you can spend as much on transportation to a free machine then you would have on the transaction fee. As well the account that has no services fees requires you to maintain a minimum $2000 dollar balance at all times. Added to that you are only allowed six free transactions per month. So if you are not traveling to one of the four countries with sister banks with Scotiabank there is no point in switching to Scotiabank.
As for money exchange houses change higher exchange rates that is not always the case. I have found in Bogota, Colombia there is an exchange house that has far better rates than the banks and ATM machines (sorry I don’t remember the name).Guelph Ontario Canada also has an exchange house with much better rates. I found asking around is always the best way to find out who gives the best exchange rates.

NomadicMatt

Thanks for the suggestion.

Zach Andrews

I’d just like to add some information I have dug up being from Canada and looking to convert CAD > EUR as I am in Germany now for an extended amount of time.

I bank with TD Bank at home in Canada and they offer an All-Inclusive chequing account that waives all international ATM fees. If you have the money ($5,000) to keep in the chequing to waive the account fee ($25/month) it’s well worth it travelling abroad.

Second, look into a currency trading account with XE.com. I opened one up and am still waiting on my German bank account to open before I do any currency trading, but the rates are way better than any bank could ever give you. Today (Mar. 20/2014) I can trade $10,000 CAD with XE to EUR 6,340 whereas at my bank I could only get EUR 6,180 with preferred rates. Of course there is a wire fee from my TD Bank account to the XE account of $30 CAD but it seems well worth it in the long run if you are going to need foreign currency for an extended amount of time.

The setup of the XE.com account does need to be done while you are at home I believe. You need to provide your bank statements from the account which you which to pull money from among other identification documents.

I hope this helps anyone who is travelling abroad for a longer period of time like myself!

Cheers!

Zach Andrews

To add to this, I just discovered today that a wire transfer to your XE.com account is not needed. In Canada we can setup Bill Payee’s in our online banking systems. XE apparently has this setup so I am able to pay XE.com from my TD Account using the Bill Payee option with no charges! $30 more in my wallet :) I think there is still a fee for wiring the money out of XE.com to the destination financial institution though. I will post later once I have done this!

Zach Andrews

Alright so it worked awesome and without any fees! (Other than the fractional conversion fee XE takes)

I Setup a currency trade on my XE.com account, sent the money to XE via. online bill payment through my bank in Canada. Funds received, converted and then sent to my bank account in Germany via. EFT for free. No wires anywhere and no fees for moving any of my money. Just awesome exchange rates and more Euros for less! I highly recommend this system of currency converting when traveling abroad! It takes a bit of legwork to get setup but on extended trips it is sure to save you a pretty penny!

Cheers!

MaWa

We found it best to withdraw as large an amount as we could each time we used a machine. However, in most places, the maximum cash allowed was not stated. At one machine in a town in Spain we were refused that 2000E we requested and the machine informed us the maximum was 300E – AND WERE CHARGED THE FEE to find this out! – then again for the lesser 300E. We subsequently withdrew 2000E in Seville AND there was signage that 3000E was the max cash amount withdrawable.

Using our HSBC card in HSBC ATM in Mexico the maximum is a couple of hundred USD – nothing when you stay in a Cancun resort!

Richard

Does anyone know if Citibank has an ATM network alliance in the UK? I will be travelling around the UK shortly and as far as I can tell Citibank only has ATM locations in London.

NomadicMatt

As far as I know they don’t. I would always call and double check though.

Ivana

I’m an EU citizen and after living in Australia for 6 years I’m returning back to Europe. I’m planning to travel in Scandinavia and the UK. I found out I need a credit card preferably with no ATM fees, exchange rate fee and annual fee. I don’t mind if it is a debit or credit card as I’d make sure to pay balance regularly. I can apply for any credit card here in Australia or in Europe…however, I have no idea which one. The principles of Global ATM Network sounds great but none of its bank members are operating in Scandinavia. I could really use some good advice here as I am truly confused :-(

Hi there. I read through most of above but I may have missed it so sorry if this is a repost. I was on the Schwab website looking and a window appeared for me to chat with a customer service rep. I asked what the fee was for foreign ATMs and she said that “While Visa does charge Schwab a 1% currency conversion fee for foreign transactions, we do not pass this fee on to our clients. So $0 everytime.” Has this been your experience? If true this would make a good card great!

Audrey Buchner

I live part-time in Ecuador – Bank of America has the highest fees ever – to get $100.00 it cost me about $18.00 -

Jason

Great tips David O and Matt!

PockettS

Hey thanks for info! I have done lots of traveling in my own country(us) but finally have the funds to travel out of the country! Am heading to Vancouver early May and hope to hitch hike all the way to Montreal! Mite take bus or train through east Alberta, Saskatchewan, and west Manitoba though, just because of the flat prairie type environment. Looking for information on banking since I don’t trust banks and have therefore never had a bank account. But I need one for this adventure though along with my travels to Central America this December. So you recommend Charles Shwab? Also should I just get like a savings account type thing with a debit card? I am more than comfortable with every aspect of traveling with the exception of money money money banks banks banks. Any advice from NomadicMatt or anyone else would be so awesome. Thanks!!!