Europe: Cash & ATMs

InstinctX

Level 2 Member
While I plan to pay for items with Barclaycard Arrival, Chase United Explorer (may bring BofA Travel Rewards CC), how much cash should I take with me (7 day trip)? I have a couple of debit cards which do not charge fees for using out of network ATM's. But I read that Visa imposes a 1% fee.
 

ed1chandler

Level 2 Member
If I'm understanding you correctly, that 1% fee isn't relevant unless you actually BUY things with your debit cards.

If you buy things with the two cards you've listed, and use your debit cards only for ATM withdrawals, you'll be fine.

That said, my SOP is to grab about $200 USD worth of local currency when I land. That's enough for cab fare, drinks, and other cash transactions. You can always grab more.

Also, I'm sure you know this, but it's worth mentioning that many European countries don't use the Euro. As of now, I believe that list is: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Just keep that in mind when figuring out how much to withdraw. If you land in Hungary and depart next day, just grab a bit.

EDIT: Just saw the post above mine and yes. To clarify: I grab the local currency when I get there ... I never bother trying to get it before I go.
 

BuddyFunJet

Level 2 Member
FWIW, my process is to use a debit card for the ATM and the no foreign fee credit card for general charges. Even a 1% foreign exchange fee isn't bad for low amount of walking around cash. Much cheaper than the fees for exchanging in advance or cash exchange fees while there.

I also use a different PIN for my debit card than for the Barclay. Before changing pins, I used the Barclay for cash advance by mistake (long flight, tired, etc) and ended up paying an extra $10 in fees.

On the US cash question, I usually distribute $500 in a couple of places but it is only for in case of emergency.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
While I plan to pay for items with Barclaycard Arrival, Chase United Explorer (may bring BofA Travel Rewards CC), how much cash should I take with me (7 day trip)? I have a couple of debit cards which do not charge fees for using out of network ATM's. But I read that Visa imposes a 1% fee.
Here is what I do and I travel internationally about once a month and have for decades. I take about $400 in US cash. Usually I just withdraw it from AFT before I leave. I use my BB as an ATM because it has the best deal and better than any of the ATM cards I used to use. I carefully select the credit cards I carry to be sure they have chip and no forex. The reason I bring cash is this. Sometimes you have ATM issues. I have had major issues in Argentina and India when I was taking students abroad and was glad I had both cash and traveler's checks because the ATM situation was a nightmare. I got to Brazil another time and none of the ATMs would give me anything. I exchanged my cash and ended up having to get a cash advance on a CITI card as a last resort. I think until you have been abroad and had an issue it can seem like you don't need any cash. I always bring multiple ways to be sure I am covered. Just speaking from decades of experience here.
 

BuddyFunJet

Level 2 Member
The previous post mentioning Argentina reminded me of a couple of points.

I like my emergency cash to be NEW $100 bills. In Thailand, I found that the older series $100 bills were worthless since nobody would exchange them. Also, If the country is having currency issues like Argentina, the official exchange rate and the street rate can be different. In those cases, I carry more cash to get the better street rate rather than the official one on credit cards and ATM. On my last Argentine trip, I actually paid my hotel bill in cash since the street rate was about 13 and official was less than 9.
 

Matt

Administrator
Staff member
Disagree.

Always have some cash with you, I wouldn't exchange money here, but I would take some big bills ($400 as Smitty mentions is fine, but depends on your habits, less can work) I also bring some smaller bills- many countries will accept USD at airports for tips/cabs so if you are totally screwed you can find a driver who will get you to your hotel for USD.

Over here I carry much less cash, often none, but when going overseas you aren't sure what works and what doesn't.

Arrival time matters a lot- late at night/early morning may encourage taking local currency on occasion- some places (Japan for one- I take travelers checks there for a better rate) has ATMs that shut down at night.. a real pita.

I tend to still withdraw local currency at foreign ATMs rather than convert my dollars, but if the rate is reasonable I'll buy them there too...

All you are doing by bringing USD is increasing loss/theft risk in exchange for having a backup in the event of things going awry.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
Disagree.

Always have some cash with you, I wouldn't exchange money here, but I would take some big bills ($400 as Smitty mentions is fine, but depends on your habits, less can work) I also bring some smaller bills- many countries will accept USD at airports for tips/cabs so if you are totally screwed you can find a driver who will get you to your hotel for USD.

Over here I carry much less cash, often none, but when going overseas you aren't sure what works and what doesn't.

Arrival time matters a lot- late at night/early morning may encourage taking local currency on occasion- some places (Japan for one- I take travelers checks there for a better rate) has ATMs that shut down at night.. a real pita.

I tend to still withdraw local currency at foreign ATMs rather than convert my dollars, but if the rate is reasonable I'll buy them there too...

All you are doing by bringing USD is increasing loss/theft risk in exchange for having a backup in the event of things going awry.
And things often do not go as expected. The more options you have the better. I often also bring one US check. One time I got in a situation where my ATM card did not work in France at all and I just paid another American by check for some Euros at the going rate. I also have a 100 Euro traveler's check that I have been carrying around for a long time. Some day I may need it. I had a $100 traveler's check too for a long time and finally I needed it when I found myself in a US hotel the night before I was flying to Taiwan and knew I needed to have some cash. I almost never carry cash in the US and expected to just withdraw some and couldn't find a working ATM.
 

youpaiyou

Level 2 Member
The Charles Schwab debit card has zero fees. I am 99.9% sure a hard inquiry results in an application for it though.
 

chinomad

Level 2 Member
+1 on bringing some cash with you -- a few new $100 bills do not take up much space in a money belt for 7 days. Good for you on have multiple debit cards with you just in case one doesn't work and for a having a chip/pin card. You'll find some countries, especially in southern and southeastern Europe, to favor cash more heavily and not take ccs.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
The previous post mentioning Argentina reminded me of a couple of points.

I like my emergency cash to be NEW $100 bills. In Thailand, I found that the older series $100 bills were worthless since nobody would exchange them. Also, If the country is having currency issues like Argentina, the official exchange rate and the street rate can be different. In those cases, I carry more cash to get the better street rate rather than the official one on credit cards and ATM. On my last Argentine trip, I actually paid my hotel bill in cash since the street rate was about 13 and official was less than 9.
Depending on where you are going, having new, intact bills with no tears can be essential. I recall that in Russia, parts of South America and most countries in Africa the bill had to be perfect or it could not be changed. Countries in Central Europe would be more likely to have this happen. I would also echo Matt's point that carrying some small US bills can be important as well. In many places they can be given as tips in a pinch.

Another point to consider is that ATMs sometimes run out, or will only distribute a certain amount per person that is lower than your bank usually allows. This was my experience in Argentina.

I might also mention that if the OP is American, it is easy to forget that we live in society that uses much less cash than the rest of the world. You can literally negotiate the US context without much cash almost everywhere. However, many, many countries are more cash societies. Many places do not accept credit cards widely. Cash is essential.
 
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chinomad

Level 2 Member
Did those, except Capri, 1 1/2 years ago. For us, credit cards worked at hotel/nicer restaurants/nicer shops but had to pay in cash a lot of other places. No problems with debit cards (if you have a B of A account, BNL worked for no-charge ATM fees -- so you might want to see if that works for you). Didn't see Naples on your list -- we loved it -- its reputation has changed for the better recently. If you are planning on taking the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento (or Pompeii), be careful at the Naples Circumvesuviana station. Very active for pickpocket teams (we saw one in action).
 

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
There's also the fact that many of the places you'll want to experience may take CC, but consider it a PITA, so it's easier and more polite to hand over some euros, than a CC, in a bar (spritzers/coffee) or at a gelateria. Because who goes to Italy and skips the gelato?
 

inflightmeal

Level 2 Member
Going to Europe next week. Will probably bring $500 USD cash. The goal will be to use as little as possible, and put most spend on Barc Arriv+.
 

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
It's important to remember that US cash is not really a necessity if you have no plans to go off the beaten path in the EU. I've been to several countries, but stayed in cities and larger towns. It's never been an issue to use either a CC or DC, or to use one or the other for cash at ATMs (called bancomat, in Italy).

I'd hesitate to carry such a large amount of cash unless I really needed it, myself.
 

ed1chandler

Level 2 Member
Yep, stash a couple of $20s in your luggage ... just in case ... and call it a day. There's no reason to carry US cash in Europe. Just visit an ATM ... and if you don't yet have an account that gives you free international ATM withdrawals, look at Schwab.
 

janetdoe

Level 2 Member
Another point to consider is that ATMs sometimes run out, or will only distribute a certain amount per person that is lower than your bank usually allows. This was my experience in Argentina.
My experience in Argentina was that we pulled pesos out of the ATM, and then learned that we would have gotten 30% discounts by using USD in most places. RGN also seemed to prefer USD over MMK. So definitely, I echo the previous comments that you always need to double-check the local situation, in some places USD are more valuable than the local currency.

If the currency is EUR, we never bother to take more than $20-40 or whatever happens to be in our wallet.

I definitely agree that paying cash for small transactions (coffee, snacks, cab) seems to be more appropriate in Europe, and even some nicer restaurants (e.g. 100+ EUR for two people) do not take credit cards, so be sure to research/plan your ATM options before you get there.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
My experience in Argentina was that we pulled pesos out of the ATM, and then learned that we would have gotten 30% discounts by using USD in most places. RGN also seemed to prefer USD over MMK. So definitely, I echo the previous comments that you always need to double-check the local situation, in some places USD are more valuable than the local currency.

If the currency is EUR, we never bother to take more than $20-40 or whatever happens to be in our wallet.

I definitely agree that paying cash for small transactions (coffee, snacks, cab) seems to be more appropriate in Europe, and even some nicer restaurants (e.g. 100+ EUR for two people) do not take credit cards, so be sure to research/plan your ATM options before you get there.
Being able to buy almost everything with a credit card is not normal practice in most of the world. @InstinctX, consider getting some Euros before you go too. Italy is still a surprisingly cash centered place to travel.
 

InstinctX

Level 2 Member
There's also the fact that many of the places you'll want to experience may take CC, but consider it a PITA, so it's easier and more polite to hand over some euros, than a CC, in a bar (spritzers/coffee) or at a gelateria. Because who goes to Italy and skips the gelato?
I suffered from gelato withdrawal for over a week after returning from Italy.

One of my ATM cards got a fraud block -- even though I called the in advance to place a vacation override. Once, my friend and I in a rush to get back to Rome from the Alfami coast...we were on tight schedule (felt as though we were in an Amazing Race episode). We were scrambling to get enough euro's together to buy 2 Tenglia train tickets (42 euros each...our ATM cards weren't working; and the self ticketing machines weren't accepting our CC)... we literally scrounged every coin in our pockets and backpack and money belt. We had $.50 leftover.
 

MickiSue

Level 2 Member
Supporter
For the gelato deprived...if you are anywhere the chain of gelaterias called GROM does business, walk right past any others and buy it there. First time we went there was in Padua. Tons of places to buy gelato, with no lines. The Grom had three lines, 10 people deep. Because it's all organic and all amazing. Also one in Venice. Not sure all the places, but I've never had such wonderful gelato.

I was there last, in Oct/Nov of 2013. The big difference, today, is that I'd be sure to have a chip and pin card, as it's getting harder and harder to use a magnetic strip card in Europe. Even last fall, I couldn't use my regular card to get gas for my daughter's card, and needed to use cash.
 

nrdk

Level 2 Member
Heading to Dublin, London, and Paris in the next few weeks. Common consensus seems to be for western Europe and larger cities not to worry too much about cash beyond say $100 a head?
 

ed1chandler

Level 2 Member
Get a checking account with no foreign ATM fees ... Schwab, PNC has one, etc. Then yeah, just a bit of cash for tips, cabs and rinky-dink purchases at little stores is all you need. If you go to festivals with lots of vendor booths or antiquing, more.
 

nrdk

Level 2 Member
Have the Fidelity Cash Management account, reports mention no international ATM fee, just gotta figure out how to get cash in there lol No real plans for festivals, first time across the pond for the soon to be Mrs and myself so will stick to the major attractions probably
 

ed1chandler

Level 2 Member
Oh, and don't leave your debit card in an ATM in Lhasa and they fly to Bangkok the next day.
That is ... less than ideal.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
And check the expiration date on your ATM card. Ask me how I know. Fortunately, I had back up options, lots of them. The more options the better.
 

nickelfish1

Level 2 Member
I use my BB as an ATM because it has the best deal
Why is this?

We usually just use an ATM at the airport for Euro's. If we're moving around countries not on the Euro from a Euro country we've just exchanged at a bank we find. We usually carry $500 US with us to exchange incase the ATM doesn't work when we land in the first country as we never just go to one country when we hit up the EU.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
Why is this?
We usually just use an ATM at the airport for Euro's. If we're moving around countries not on the Euro from a Euro country we've just exchanged at a bank we find. We usually carry $500 US with us to exchange incase the ATM doesn't work when we land in the first country as we never just go to one country when we hit up the EU.
Lately, ATMs at airports don't have the best rate. I wait until I am in town.

Via Frommers, the only ATMs available in the airport terminal are those run not by a bank, but by the currency exchange company Travelex. Evidently Travelex has managed to boot all of the bank ATMs out of the airports of Europe. Today, when you land in London/Heathrow, Madrid/Barajas, Paris/De Gaulle, or any other major European airport, your only options for getting euros (or pounds) will be one of the currency exchange counters, or an ATM run by one of these exchange companies. It's a monopoly and they have lousy exchange rates.

I find an ATM that takes Amex and use BB a good bit. Fees used to be less but it is still not a terrible option. And I never bring just one ATM option anymore. I've had enough situations that were tricky to warrant a multifaceted approach and make no assumptions about ease of getting money. Europe is usually not problematic, but you just never know. I have been to countries with no ATMs (Bhutan), ATMs that will not distribute cash to US cards (Brazil), ATMs that run out of money (Argentina), ATMs that just don't work at all (India), ATMs that eat my money (Chile), ATMs that eat my ATM card (Thailand). In French Polynesia, none of my usual ATM cards worked. I used Chime on a whim and it worked. Surprised me too!
 
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