Properly withdrawing money abroad – a very crucial point when you want to save money when traveling. Because the correct use of ATMs / cash machines is a very good way to save a lot of money during a trip – but also to spend completely unnecessarily, if you do not observe the most important points. Here you will get important info on how to keep your nerves even in difficult situations in front of the ATM, so that you never run out of cash while traveling. How to withdraw money abroad the right way:
What are you learning in this article?
Withdrawing money abroad the right way – the basics
The international name for an ATM is “ATM” is the abbreviation for “Automatic Teller Machine“.
As a traveler, you inevitably reach the point where your travel funds have been plundered and new cash needs to be landed – in other words, money needs to be withdrawn. And that can get arbitrarily exciting and sweaty, and not just because of high outside temperatures.
To be honest, I’m always glad myself when the machine makes the rattling sounds of counting money at the end of the button-pushing marathon and my credit card is issued again with a soft beep. Fortunately, I’ve never had my card confiscated for any reason – and I’d like to keep it that way in the future.
What are the advantages of ATMs?
Withdrawing via ATMs abroad has some distinct advantages:
Low waiting time
Instead of standing in lines at exchange offices, the waiting time at ATMs is usually short.
And you’re flexible: if one is too busy, the next one is often not far away.
Good exchange rate
If you withdraw the local currency at the ATM, you usually get a very good, daily updated exchange rate to the inter-bank rate and don’t run the risk of being ripped off by money changers in dubious or not so dubious exchange offices. This also saves you all the stress of constantly looking for the best rate – unnecessary!
Withdrawing smaller amounts of cash without extra fees or worse rates: I’m not a fan of walking around with too much cash in my pocket or backpack. Therefore, withdrawing rather smaller amounts is just the way to go. However, some banks have a minimum withdrawal amount, for example 50 euros.
What are the disadvantages of ATMs?
Issuance of large bills
It often happens that you only get relatively large bills from an ATM.
This can lead to problems if, for example, small stores or public transport drivers cannot change these large bills – and you suddenly can’t pay, even though you have enough cash. The solution here is to buy goods or items you need anyway at a larger store or supermarket, which can certainly change large bills for you.
Risk of missing cash inventories
It can happen that on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day an ATM has no more cash and you therefore cannot withdraw any money. This is especially annoying if you need money at short notice and the nearest ATM is not just around the corner.
Risk of manipulated vending machines
Time and again, criminals tamper with ATMs, putting you at risk of having your card read or money booked incorrectly.
Follow these simple security tips:
- If possible, use ATMs in secured and monitored indoor areas.
- Check the machine carefully for any additional parts / cameras that may have been added later
- Always enter your PIN in a concealed manner
Tips for withdrawing money abroad
In order to avoid unpleasant surprises when withdrawing money from ATMs and to save money rather than lose it, I have summarized the BIG5 tips for you here:
First of all, how much money do you want to withdraw?
You should have an idea in advance of how much money you actually want to withdraw.
Especially if you withdraw a local currency (which I recommend) you will come to the point where you have to enter this amount. For this you should know the current exchange rate and your desired amount (for me often ~50,00 Euro for everyday travel). I usually do the conversion in advance via an app.
Especially when you stand at the ATM in countries like Vietnam or Ivory Coast, you should have calculated how many zeros you have to enter into the ATM (50 Euro ~ 1.400.000 million Dong in Vietnam or 33.000 CFA in Ivory Coast).
#1: Understand the language
In most countries it is possible to set at least English in addition to the local language. This way, you will at least understand what you are pushing in front of you and you will receive your money without financially painful detours.
If nothing works, ask a trustworthy (!!) person (preferably someone you already know) for help. Make sure that the person does NOT enter any numbers or addresses and take care of all PINS yourself, hidden from prying eyes.
#2: Beware of “friendly helpers
Especially with the language problems mentioned above, it can happen that “by chance” a helpful local comes by and wants to help you. So far so good, but pay attention to exactly – as just described – which entries are made. Longer numbers are especially suspicious, they are not needed in a normal ATM process. Unless it’s your personal PIN, which you must enter YOURSELF in every case.
In Cape Town, a fellow traveler had to make exactly this experience, that a local transferred money to a foreign account. So much for helpfulness. The transaction could be canceled in the end, but the credit card was blocked for security and was no longer usable until the end of the trip … so be careful!
#3: Withdrawing money abroad – Choose the right commands
Due to the translation, it may be that the ATM presents some points somewhat difficult to understand or even misunderstood. Sometimes this is intentional, especially to encourage inexperienced travelers to pay unnecessarily high fees or additional services.
After you can at least choose English and read what the ATM says, you proceed as follows:
- Select “Cash Withdrawal“.
Select “Credit Account“, even if you are currently using a debit card and not a credit card.
“Would you like to accept this exchange rate? The exchange rate might change by the time your bank processes the transaction. Select “yes” to guarantee this rate and avoid possibly paying more later.”
“No!” Reject in any case. The exchange rate offered to you by the bank of the ATM is usually a very bad one – in case of doubt even less favorable than in the dubious exchange offices.
This way you can be sure that your bank will process the transaction at the current exchange rate. This is definitely cheaper for you than the suggestion of the ATM.
“Debit in local currency and with conversion?”
The idea behind this is the same as in the previous statement: The ATM tries to force a bad exchange rate on you with the conversion.
How do you do it right?
- 1) Withdraw money ( = debit) always in the local currency.
- 2) In any case, reject the exchange rate proposal of the ATM. Usually there is this option somewhere, no matter how formulated or small listed. If nothing else helps, it is best to select “cancel“, i.e. cancel the transaction. This also often gets you the desired result for these transactions.
“Do you wish a receipt?“
YES! (-> “yes”). Be sure to have the receipt printed out for future audits – even if you are unsuccessful in withdrawing money.
#4: Note the (exchange) fees of your bank
Another classic is the statement of the vending machine:
“Your bank may charge you a fee for this transaction”
Banks charge different (exchange) fees for withdrawals abroad. So here, too, it’s worth taking a close look and comparing offers.
If your credit card is issued by a bank that does not charge any fees for withdrawals abroad – and you should definitely pay attention to this – you can simply disregard this statement. You know that the bank doesn’t charge any fees, and if the machine tells you “they MAY charge”, don’t worry.
#5: Withdrawing money abroad: Deal with additional fees correctly
The typical sentence is:
“This ATM charges a transaction fee of $X.XX in addition to any charges incurred by your bank”
Ohne diese Gebühren zu akzeptieren bekommst du auch kein Geld. Punkt.
My tip: Find out about such fees in the destination country before you travel. It may be that only certain ATM providers charge fees. “Euronet” in e.g. Greece is such a case. The solution is then quite simple: Use the ATM of another bank and save yourself the sometimes quite high fees.
In other countries, such as Thailand, all ATMs charge these fees, which means you can look for other providers, but you will hardly get around the fee. However, the amount of the fee can vary, so that again a certain savings potential is available.
As a frequent traveler, I’ve dealt with ATMs in almost 100 countries worldwide and have always hoped that everything will go well and that my money will appear – and not the card will be confiscated. Foreign ATMs can be very confusing at times, so I hope I can help you with these tips and personal experiences.
Do you have any other tips on dealing with ATMs / ATMs while traveling? Feel free to let us know in the comments!