Greetings From Copenhagen
If you aren’t following FFU on Facebook or Twitter, then you probably don’t know that I am in the midst of a 37 day pseudo around the world trip that will take me from Chicago to Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Rome, Seychelles, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Dublin, Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, and finally Munich for Oktoberfest.
The itinerary and ultimate booking using United miles was a bit complicated so I am still in the process of writing it up and should have it done shortly.
In the mean time, as I am traveling around to different countries in Europe that unfortunately (or fortunately) don’t use the Euro, I have found myself having to withdraw cash in almost every city because it is a different currency.
Therefore I thought I would repost an old, but extremely valuable, piece that I did on Foreign Transaction Fees and ATM fees and what you can do to avoid them.
The simple banking “move” described below, ultimately has saved me hundreds of dollars over the last few years and will easily save me another $100+ in ATM fees this trip!
What Are Foreign Transaction Fees?
Foreign transaction fees are the fees that your bank or credit card charges you to process a purchase made in a foreign country. This applies to most credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards. Typically the fee is somewhere around 3% although some credit cards companies like Capital One do not charge this fee.
A full list of foreign transaction fees can be found here.
One of the many perks of having a travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Hyatt Visa, AMEX Platinum, etc is that many of these cards have ZERO foreign transaction fees. At a minimum this will save travelers 3% when making purchases abroad!
Therefore, if possible, the best thing to do when you go abroad is to put all your purchases on a credit card that doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees.
Another overlooked benefit of putting your purchases on a credit card (especially abroad) is Purchase Protection!
Personally, when I travel domestically and abroad, I always try and use my credit card. Not only to rack up miles but in the event anything I get breaks or falls apart, I am covered.
When I was in NYC last January, my friend bought some leather boots only to realize when we got home to Chicago, that they were falling apart after one use. Normally, we would just return them to the store, but that wasn’t possible as the store was based in NYC. So we just called up the number on the back of the Sapphire Preferred, explained the situation, and without any questions, they refunded the entire purchase price.
So if you ever travel abroad, just remember you are protected on your purchases if you make them on your credit card.
Getting Currency Abroad
Now sometimes when you are abroad, there is no way to use your credit card and you need cash.
From going to India numerous times, I can tell you that outside of luxury hotels, no one uses or accepts credit cards.
There are a few ways to get currency abroad, a few are good but most are bad!
With the advent of Credit Cards and ATMs, in my opinion Traveler’s Cheques are really a relic of the past and I don’t recommend them.
Exchanging U.S Dollars For Foreign Currency
While this is the route that many people go, it isn’t really cost-effective!
You can exchange U.S Dollars for foreign currency at your home bank, the airport, your hotel, street vendors, etc. However in all of these cases, you are certain to get an extremely unfavorable exchange rate, as the vendor is essentially playing the spread between the exchange rates.
At a minimum, you will lose 5% – 10% by exchanging U.S Dollars for any foreign currency via this method.
Using An ATM In A Foreign Country
Regardless of if you follow my other suggestions below, your best bet is to ALWAYS get money straight from ATMs abroad.
While most U.S based debit cards will charge you an annoying 3% foreign transaction fee AND an ATM withdrawal fee, the money you will withdraw will be at the official exchange rate at that second.
Even with the ridiculous 3% foreign transaction fee and ATM withdrawal fee, you are still certain to get a better overall exchange rate than if you exchanged U.S Dollars anywhere else.
Since your U.S bank will charge you to an ATM withdrawal fee on top of the 3% foreign transaction fee, my suggestion is to withdraw large amounts of money ($500 or however much you need) instead of $50-$100 at a time when you travel abroad. This way you minimize the ATM withdrawal fee which can sometimes be $5!
Just remember to place your money in your hotel safe or travel wallet.
How To Avoid All Foreign Transaction Fees & ATM Fees Worldwide
Now if you are a person that travels a lot, your best bet is to bank with a financial institution that has no ATM fees anywhere in the world!
Yes, those do in fact exist!
Bank Of America
A lot of people talk favorably about Bank of America because they are a member of a “global alliance” of ATMs and allows you to withdraw cash abroad without a fee and a reduced foreign transaction fee of 1% at their Partner Banks.
While this is a start, it is kind of annoying because the Partner Banks are country specific.
So for example a couple years ago when I was in Amsterdam, I used my BofA debit card to withdraw from a Barclays ATM at the airport, as Barclays in a partner of the “Global Alliance”.
However when I came home and checked my statement, I still got charged a 3% foreign transaction fee and $5 ATM withdrawal fee.
When I called BofA, they told me that the “global alliance” only works for specific countries. In the Barclays example, I could only use Barclays ATMs in the UK for free and NOT the one in Amsterdamn, even though it is the same company!
Kind of dumb!
Time To Talk To Chuck
After deciding Bank of America was worthless, I looked for a new bank and came across Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking.
While most people think of Charles Schwab as an investment firm (which they are), they are also an actual bank!
I will preface the rest of this post by saying Charles Schwab is NOT paying me anything to talk about their free Checking Account or promote it in any way.
I am writing this extremely long review because I think their Online Checking is amazing and I want to help you save money!
That being said, with a Charles Schwab Online Checking Account, you get 100% FREE Checking.
No fees, no minimums, no direct deposit needed, plus free checks, and real customer support.
I kid you not! Everything you hate about your current bank is FREE at Charles Schwab, no strings or fees attached!
However the best part of Charles Schwab Checking is…
NO ATM FEES ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD & NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES!
Let me just repeat that…
NO ATM FEES ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD & NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES!
Now when I say ATM fees, I am not just talking about the fee your bank charges to use a non-preferred ATM but Schwab also reimburses the fee the ATM charges!
Now I only travel abroad maybe 2-3 times a year, but what is nice is that the free ATMs benefit also applies to U.S ATMs. So I can effectively take money out of anywhere for free.
Most people take out money once a week from their bank’s ATM to avoid fees, and if they run out of cash then they have to pay a fee to use a non-preferred ATM.
With my Charles Schwab Checking Account, I can take money out wherever. If I’m at a bar and run out of cash, I can just hit up the bar’s ATM even if they charge a $3 withdrawal fee because Charles Schwab will reimburse me. Thanks Chuck!
Now I know firsthand what a huge pain in the butt it is to switch banks because I have helped friends switch over to Schwab. However when you realize how much money your bank is stealing from you to perform basic functions, it is unreal!
How Much It Really Costs To Have A Bank Account
I always talk about Mint.com and this is why.
I will probably do a complete overview of Mint.com one of these days, but the reason why it is amazing is that you can get a complete overview of your entire financial situation all at once.
This includes all your transactions over any given period.
So in my numerous attempts to convince my friends to switch to Schwab, I finally just had them sign up for Mint, searched for “fees” and pulled up all the fees that Chase charged them over the last 3 years.
In the image, you only see ATM fees but they also charged account maintenance fees, fees to order checks, minimum balance fees, etc.
Even I was surprised by that number!
Without checking Mint, it is extremely easy to think “Oh my bank only charged me $3, not a big deal” but those $3 ATM fees and $6 monthly account fees add up really quickly!
Unless you do a high level look at your finances, 99% of customers would never know how much their bank charges them.
Do you know how much you spent on ATM fees in the last year? Probably not!
And let’s be honest, your Bank isn’t going to send you any kind of financial statement at the end of the year saying,
“Thanks for being such a profitable customer! In the last 3 years, we charged you $600 in easily avoidable fees that you probably aren’t even aware of. We hope you will continue to bank with us as we plan on skimming some more money from you next year in the form of more unnecessary fees!”
As I stated earlier, I know exactly what a huge pain in the butt it is to switch over your Bank because you most likely have online bill pay set up and a host of other features. However in doing consulting work for a few of the big banks, the dirty little secret I learned is that they give you all those “free” services so they can keep you locked in!
Banks know that if all your financial information (like online bill payment) is set up on their platform, then you are going to be less likely to switch because you have to move all that information over to your new bank.
Remember what a pain it was to switch your cell phone plan before you could keep your telephone number?
It’s the same thing!
Remember it is your money that you are letting the Bank hold!
Banks can make money lending your money to people, but they shouldn’t be making money off of the people who are lending them money in the first place!
Opening An Account With Charles Schwab
Opening an account with Schwab is really easy and can be done online in 10 minutes.
As I said earlier, I get nothing if you sign up for an account except the satisfaction that I saved my readers from some future ATM fees!
Even if there isn’t a Schwab branch near you, I would still recommend opening an account because all of their banking can be done by mail or via smartphones, and as I said earlier, you can take money out of any ATM for free!
There are 3 branches in Chicago, and I have never stepped foot into any of them because all of my banking is done electronically and in the rare event I need to deposit a check, I can deposit it via the Schwab app on my iPhone or mail it in via a pre-paid envelope.
Schwab has NO Monthly Services Fees, NO Account Minimums, NO Minimum Starting Deposit, NO Direct Deposit, etc.
It is 100% free to open an account.
You can open an account with as little as $0.01, and even withdraw that $0.01, and Schwab still won’t charge you any fees even if your balance is $0!
The only requirement is that you open a brokerage account when you open your checking account, however that is also 100% free.
Before you write this off, you don’t ever have to use the brokerage account. There are NO fees for inactivity, and when I applied there weren’t any credit checks to open the brokerage account. (YMMV on that as Readers are reporting in the comments section otherwise, but I know for all my credit reports, there are no pulls from Schwab).
Even in the event there is a Hard Pull, over the long run you will still save money on ATM, Foreign Transaction, and Banks fees that I’d argue it is still worth it.
I personally do not ever use my brokerage account, and I have never been pressured to use it or even contacted about using it or any other Charles Schwab services.
Once your account is open and you fund it, Schwab will mail you your free checks and ATM card.
FYI – until you fund it with $0.01 cents or more, Schwab won’t send you your checks or ATM card.
I had a Roth-IRA which I also moved over when I switched my banking to Schwab, and it was extremely easy.
Best part is that if you ever have any questions about anything, you can always call them up and someone in the U.S will pick up instantly.
Basically getting and spending money abroad can be summed up in 3 major points:
- If possible, use a Credit Card with NO foreign transaction fee for all your purchases when abroad.
- If you need cash while abroad, always use an ATM.
- If you hate your Bank, switch to Charles Schwab.
If you have any questions about anything travel or miles related, you can always email me at FrequentFlyerUniversity@gmail.com!
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