You know those ATMs in pubs or corner shops in the UK that charge you sh*t loads to take your money out? You tend to avoid them am I right? Well, when travelling many ATMs do this. You can end up wasting a load of money taking your own money out. And guess what? You often don’t have to pay those pesky ATM fees when you travel. Wouldn’t you rather have more cocktails on the beach? A new Hawaiian shirt? Here’s how to avoid international ATM fees.
Step 1: Get A Fee Free Card For Travelling
Firstly, if you are using the SAME card you use at home whilst abroad, STOP RIGHT NOW! You are probably paying ridiculous bank fees and throwing money down the drain.
ATM fees abroad are a different ball game to those above. You need a different strategy to beat the banks, avoid international ATM withdrawal fees and save money.
Step 2: Do Your Homework To Avoid Crappy ATM Travel Fees
To avoid ATM fees abroad, before you go to a country you should always research which ATMs don’t charge withdrawal fees. Or if they all do, work out which has the lowest fee.
Free ATMs In The Countries We’ve Visited
To help you avoid international ATM fees, I’ve put together the list below of the ATMs that have no fees or the lowest ATM withdrawal fees in the countries that I have been to recently.
This list is up to date as of July 2019 but things are always changing, so make sure you check if there is a fee or not before confirming your transaction. Be warned, some are sneaky and don’t tell you until it’s too late!
If you have any updates please get in touch so we can keep it relevant.
Foreign ATM Fees: Beware It’s Different Abroad
In the UK our ATMs are largely nice to us. We are used to being able to get our money out for free. Unless we are very drunk and forget that we shouldn’t use that ATM in the pub.
Unfortunately this is not the case in a lot of countries we have visited. Locals can usually withdraw money for no or low cost in most places, but if you are using a foreign card, you better think again. You can often get hit by a big ATM withdrawal fee.
Another Crazy Fee Banks Try To Charge You
There are a crazy amount of card fees standard banks charge when you use your card abroad. You can have the best travel card out there that doesn’t charge you anything abroad, but will still be hit with a fee charged by the ATM provider when you take out cash. Although some US cards do offer rebates for ATM fees.
This local ATM fee is the ATM provider asking your bank to change up some of your cash to whatever currency you have withdrawn and then to send it over to them. It’s pricey for what is an automated process.
A Total Waste Of Money
It’s only a couple of quid here and there right? Well usually yes, but it can be a high percentage of the money you are taking out.
If you are travelling for a long time travel ATM fees can all really add up and can cost you a week or two’s worth of travel over a year. I know what I’d rather do.
So really, instead of asking ‘why should I care about international ATM fees?’ you should be asking ‘why should I pay international ATM withdrawal fees?’ You often don’t have to pay them, so don’t.
Little-Known Tips: ATM Withdrawal Fees
1. Try Out Your Mastercard, Then Your Visa Card
Bring both a Mastercard and a Visa card travelling with you. Sometimes there are travel ATM fees for Mastercard and not Visa and vice versa. We always try our Starling card first which is Mastercard. If it doesn’t work or there is a fee, we then try our Barclays Platinum which is Visa.
2. Fees Can Depend On Where You Are From
Some ATMs may charge people different amounts depending on their bank or home country. This could be because your home bank is part of an international network that offers free withdrawals at some global ATMs. It’s always worth checking with your bank before you go away.
3. Don’t Forget! ATM Fees Are Included As Part Of Your Total Withdrawal
The ATM fee is included in the total your bank thinks you have withdrawn. Don’t forget and get caught out! Make sure the amount you are withdrawing plus the fee, once converted to your home currency is less than your card withdrawal limit, otherwise the transaction will fail or some credit cards may charge you a penalty.
6 Ways To Reduce The Pain Of ATM Fees (When You Have To Pay Them)
You land in Thailand and head out for a night out on Khaosan Road. For those unfamiliar with Thailand, its the main tourist street! You stop by the ATM to get some cash out as you suspect the guy selling fried insects won’t accept cards. And wait… WTAF… you suddenly get hit with a £5.75 fee to take out £30! Yep, welcome to Thailand and the land of extortionate ATM fees. Argentina is also horrendous when it comes to foreign ATM fees.
And you are stuck having to pay those horrible ATM fees in Thailand or Argentina. But what can you do to lower these or at least reduce the impact?
1. Cash Advances
One potential way round ATM fees is to go into a bank and get a cash advance over the counter using your credit card. You will need to bring your passport to do this.
The World Travel Family said this worked for them in Thailand, land of the dreaded huge ATM fees. Although it now apparently only works with Mastercard credit cards.
I’ve never actually tried this as I had already left huge ATM fee charging countries when I read their blog. But I will give it a go next time we are in a place where all ATMs charge fees.
Cash Advances: A Word Of Warning
Each country (and even each bank in that country) will be different.
Some may charge fees to do a cash advance and some may not let you do it at all. Your bank may not allow cash advances or may charge you for doing so, so you’ll need to check this as well.
Remember credit cards usually charge interest from day one, so you’ll need to pay this off the same day to avoid this. Check out our travel credit cards and card fees whilst travelling blogs for more information.
2. In Argentina Use Azimo
Azimo is an easy way to get around the ridiculous ATM fees charged to foreign cards in Argentina. This is a specific trick for Argentina, as cash advances don’t seem to be available. Also in Argentina the withdrawal limits are so blooming low (like £77 and forever reducing as the Argentinian peso devalues) and the fees you pay are so high, working out at 10-12.5% of your ATM withdrawal in most cases.
This is crazy, so just taking the hit like in Thailand is going to be very expensive. Argentina is also not a cheap country, so you’ll need to withdraw cash multiple times, taking a ATM fee hit each time. You can use cards (Visa is best) in most places in Argentina but you will need some local currency and a lot of shops offer discounts if paying in cash.
Azimo is like Western Union. You can transfer money to bank accounts or to be picked up from partner branches all around the world. You can send money from 25 countries to around 195 countries (basically every country in the world).
Azimo Is Fully Regulated, Trustworthy & Affordable
Azimo are also regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. The fees are MUCH lower than companies like Western Union. It’s similar to TransferWise but TransferWise doesn’t allow you to send money to be picked up from a partner branch.
When we were in Argentina we sent money to ourselves via Azimo and then went and picked it up from a Azimo partner branch. They don’t have locations all over Argentina, but we got enough in Buenos Aires to last us.
Azimo charge a fee and a small commission, but the first two transactions are fee free and with our special Azimo code you get £10 free, which can more than make up the cost of the commission so you’ll end up with a better than market rate. If you are struggling to find fee free ATMs in other countries Azimo could help you out there too!
3. Withdraw As Much As You Can
You’ve now got to strike a balance on how much cash you feel comfortable taking out vs paying a high percentage of your withdrawal as a ATM fee.
For starters you definitely want to rule out withdrawing a tenner like you might do back home, as you could end up paying more than 50% in ATM fees! The more cash you take out, the lower the fee is as a percentage.
A Question Of Comfort
For example if your card allows you to take out £1,200 a day (unlikely if you have a UK card!), then in Thailand for example you can take advantage of Citibank’s THB 50,000 limit. The THB 220 (£5.75) fee is then only 0.45% and much more reasonable. But do you really want to be carrying £1,200 in cash around? Would you feel comfortable doing this back home?
Only you can answer these questions. It’s a case of personal preference and comfort. There are ways of carrying money and travelling with money more securely. You can get special bags, money clips and moneybelts. Personally we try not to carry more than £200-300 at the absolute max.
The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal was the exception, where we had to carry 2 weeks worth of cash around with us, without any idea of how much we would actually need. If you want to do the Annapurna Circuit, this was our budget!
4. Bring Your Home Currency
If you are only away for a short period of time or for the first country you are visiting, you can bring along some of your home currency instead of withdrawing cash from those crazy expensive ATMs.
If you don’t have a strong or popular currency back home, get US dollars as they are always highly sought after. Dollars are useful for emergencies anyway.
You can usually change up dollars for very good rates at an exchange bureau in city centers or in big towns in the country you are visiting. You’ll likely get better exchange rates here than you would at the airport or even back home, where your destination’s currency is not going to be as popular as your home currency (or US dollars).
5. Use Your Card Whenever You Can
Easier said than done. Cash is king in a lot of countries and cards are not accepted. Or if cards are accepted, fees between 3-8% are added.
This is not always the case though for some hotels, restaurants and tour companies, so it is always worth asking. Even if they charge a fee, sometimes it is less than the percentage fee you will be charged when taking out cash at an ATM.
Also using a credit card for transactions over £100 can offer you some protection if you don’t get what you paid for. Find out why it’s always a good idea to get a credit card for travelling.
6. Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) At ALL Costs
Dynamic currency what? ATMs and shops when you pay for goods with your card may ask you if you want to be charged in your home currency for the transaction.
This is the provider offering to convert your money for you, usually at an inflated rate. You should always choose to continue in the local currency and avoid this extra charge!!
Dynamic Currency Conversion is usually crap and you should avoid it. Not selecting Dynamic Currency Conversion doesn’t strictly reduce the impact of ATM fees, but you don’t want to be stuck paying for this on top of ATM fees. You’d rather buy a mojito right?
Avoid Travel ATM Fees = More Money For Mojitos
By following these steps on how to avoid unnecessary travel ATM fees, you will have more money for the things you want. Like mojitos (or whatever cocktail you like), a temporary tattoo or that jet ski ride you always wanted to do. Don’t let an annoying bank take those from you!
As always, please get in touch if you have any comments, questions or suggestions, they are always appreciated!
Explore More In Our Ultimate Travel Money Guide:
Who Am I?
Hello, I’m James. I’ve worked in finance for the last decade – in banking, investments, risk and insurance. I’m also qualified in financial advice and planning. I’ve also spent almost 2 years travelling South East Asia, South Asia, South America and Central America. So I’d like to think I know quite a bit on travelling and finance!
This post is up to date as of March 2019 and will be updated periodically. Always check with the companies mentioned and keep an eye out for new ones I haven’t mentioned. I’ve mostly focused on the UK context. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any tips from your country you would like me to include.
This is what I’ve found to be suitable for our needs. Yours may differ and so the Ultimate Travel Money Blogs can only be taken as a guide rather than constitute personalised financial advice. Please get in touch if you have any specific questions and I will do my best to answer them.
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