How to Use an ATM When You Travel in a Foreign Country

In this video I share with you solutions to the most common complications you’ll encounter when using an ATM in a foreign country. I tell you where to find the best ones, how to avoid, or at least reduce, fees, and what unique features you’re likely to encounter.

Using a foreign ATM when you travel can be confusing. Once you find one that will take your debit card you’ve still got to deal with a foreign language, new screen options, strange choices and the stress of hoping it will give you the local currency you need.

This video will make using an ATM abroad easy – and help reduce your stress while traveling. In just a few minutes I’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to use a foreign ATM with calm and confidence.

*On some of the links provided we might make a commission if you purchase something by clicking through our link. This creates no additional cost for you.

For more on Handling Foreign Money When You Travel, watch this video:

These are the links I reference in the video (there are bonuses for you to use them if you’re interested):

These banks charge NO ATM FEES – ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. In addition, they reimburse you for fees charged by other banks on your ATM transactions.

Aspiration and Radius and maybe Charles Schwab.

These statements are made in June 2021. While these policies have been long standing at these banks, please check for current specifics at the time you apply.

Foreign ATM FAQ

What are the fees for using a foreign ATM?

There are 2 fees you’ll incur when sing an ATM in a foreign country. One is the fee from the bank that owns the ATM which is disclosed during the transaction. The other is a fee from your bank for using an ATM that it not theirs. They may also throw a foreign transaction fee on top of that. It can be very expensive to withdraw money from a foreign ATM so always take the maximum amount to reduce the number of transactions you have to do.
Alternately, you can look for a bank that doesn’t charge foreign ATM fees. Some of these even reimburse you the fees the ATM’s bank charges, like Lending Tree or Aspiration. It is entirely reasonable to keep an account you only use for traveling in one of these banks to reduce your travel expenses.

Does it matter whether my ATM card has a Visa or Mastercard symbol on it?

Usually it doesn’t matter whether you have an ATM card with the Visa or Mastercard symbol. Most places that accept one will accept the other.
However, there are certain countries, usually those a little off the beaten path, where a Visa or MC symbol is favored. In Sierra Leone there was only one bank that took our ATM card with the MC symbol. If their ATM’s were down, or had a line, it could be a long wait to get money – in a country where having cash is an absolute necessity.
Carry both if you can, and if you’re traveling anywhere that’s less than modern, check to see if there’s a preference before you go. (By the way, a Visa symbol is the safer bet in West Africa.)

Is it safe to use an ATM in a foreign country?

The level of safety depends on where you are. Generally they’re as safe as anywhere and you should take standard precautions. But when you’re somewhere that you stand out as a foreigner, and especially if you’re in a place where every foreigner is seen as rich, you might want to be a little extra aware.
Often it’ll just be people coming up looking for a handout or trying to sell you something now that you’ve got a pocket full of money. My recommendation is to walk a little distance away from the ATM before hailing a ride or engaging in business with anyone.

Video Transcript

So here’s what you need to know about using foreign ATMs when you travel.

First thing you want to do is find a symbol that matches both on your card and on the symbols that are posted above the ATM, or on the door of the ATM booth if you’re using a booth for the ATM.

When you step up to the ATM, it is going to all be in a foreign language. Don’t worry. As soon as you put your card in, the first thing that happens is you’re given a choice of language. It will give you a choice of either the local language, or your native language as your bank knows it. And if you ever get confused on how to put your ATM card into a machine, it’s always chip up and goes in first.

One of the next screens you see will discuss fees. And the fees on withdrawing money on ATMs can get absolutely crazy when you travel. I mean, you know, $5, $10, $15 at a time. So I am going to highly recommend that you try and find a bank account that offers free ATMs anywhere in the world.

We have a list of two that Tim and I use that I will put in the description. Because they not only don’t charge for foreign ATM use, but they actually reimburse you for any local bank fees that you may incur during the transaction. It’s a really good deal. Especially if you travel at all. It’s even a good deal at home.

And yes, we get a benefit if you use our link to go sign up with those banks, but you get a benefit too. I’ll explain all that in the description.

The next confusing bit can come up when it shows you which accounts you can pull your money from. A lot of times instead of saying Checking, it will say Current. And that is a little bit of a confusing thing, especially for people in the US. So know that Current is your Checking account. It is whatever your transactional account is, so if you want to pull your money from your Checking, just hit Current. Even if it says Current and Checking, Current is always a safe bet.

Okay, so this next block of information is a little bit intense, but it’s very important.

One of the things you do want to know when you step up to that ATM is you want to know how much money you want to get out of it, and you need to know that number in local currency. There is no foreign exchange calculator on the ATM for you.

If you’re in a place that is cash heavy, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of small merchants, or the exchange rate is really extreme, I’m going to recommend that you just pull out the maximum. Especially if you don’t have one of those fee-free debit cards, because the fewer transactions you make in one of these debit machines means the fewer fees you’re going to get hit with. So always pull out the maximum.

However, there’s even a trick to that though, because sometimes you need more than it pulls out. Here in Vietnam, a lot of times the limit is 2 million dong (VND) per transaction. Well, that’s like $87, so you can see you might want to do something that requires a lot of cash, and then you have to do a lot of transactions to get it.

The first way to try and get around this is when it gives you the options of the amounts to choose, hit Other, punch in the amount you want, and see if it works. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t, sometimes those machines have a hard limit.

The next option is to find out where the high limit ATMs are.

There almost are always high limit ATMs in the country. One of the tricks to finding a high limit ATM is to ask at your hotel, or ask at the merchant where you might be making a large purchase. They will usually know where the high limit ATMs are.

Another trick for finding both high limit ATMs, and if you’re having trouble finding any ATM at all that will take foreign cards, is to look for the ones that are near the property of a resort, or a fancy hotel, or travel agency. Because if foreigners are hanging out there, that’s the most likely place you’re going to find the high limit foreign card taking ATMs.

Now that you’re an expert in using foreign ATMs and getting the local cash in your hot little hands, go check out my video on How to Handle Your Money While Traveling, so that you have easy methods for calculating the foreign exchange rate in your head. I make it really simple.

Thanks for joining me.

See you next time.

Team Hazard

Old, fat and disabled and traveling the world anyway. Join Trina and Tim as they wander around the planet bringing you honest stories about the people and places they encounter.

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