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12 Tips for Accessing Money in Europe

Travel Tips Trip planning

November 12, 2019 by Brian Taussig-Lux

Maybe you have saved up for your Untour. Surely you have shopped for the best airfare or used our services to help save you money. Everyone wants to stretch their travel dollar. Now how do you access money from Europe without paying exorbitant fees?

Here are a dozen tips to help, from those of us who have learned from our mistakes.

  1. We normally don’t recommend buying European currency before you leave the US. Exchange rates are never very favorable on these transactions. If, however, you’re going to Italy where ATMs at airports don’t always work, it might be a good idea to buy a small amount of Euros before you leave the US.
  2. Use a credit card with no international transaction fee. You’ll get the best possible exchange rate with all credit card transactions. Use this card as much as possible to limit your need for cash. Cards are more and more widely accepted throughout most of Europe, even for small transactions. For some reason, we’ve found that Prague can be an exception to the rule. Small shops and restaurants there often don’t accept plastic.
  3. For convenience, use a “contactless” credit card. Transactions are much faster and you can often use ticket machines that would otherwise require a PIN number. If it’s easier, use Google Pay or Apple Pay for contactless payments with your smartphone.
  4. Use an ATM card with no international withdrawal fee. Yes, you actually can avoid those fees with some cards. Here’s a list to get you started. If you still plan on using a card with fees, just reduce your per transaction fees by withdrawing more at a time.
  5. When using a credit card, you’ll sometimes be asked whether you’d like your transaction to be made in US Dollars or local currency. Always choose local currency. Otherwise, you’ll pay an undisclosed fee for the privilege of knowing exactly how many dollars will be withdrawn from your account.
  6. On a recent trip to Prague, we came across an interesting new ATM scam. Like the credit card choice between US and local currency, many ATM machines are doing the same thing. Always choose the local currency transaction to avoid an unnecessary and undisclosed fee.
  7. Avoid withdrawing cash from an ATM with your credit card. The cash advance fees are very high.
  8. Avoid exchanging cash at an exchange booth. Exchange rates are not very favorable.
  9. If using cash, use the currency of the country you’re in. You’ll pay a surcharge to use dollars in Switzerland or Euros in Budapest.
  10. Call your bank(s) before you leave to let them know you’ll be traveling. Some banks can put a hold on your ATM or credit card if they consider your transactions from abroad suspicious.
  11. Carry some US cash just in case. In a pinch, it’s nice to have $100-$200. Most people know about how much a dollar is worth.
  12. Relax. If you slip up and pay an unnecessary fee here or there, it’s not the end of the world. It’s all part of the travel experience.

Remember your Untour includes an orientation session with our local staff people who can fill you in on money-saving ideas and share information on currency, tipping, and other local practical matters. Have a great time in Europe!