What travellers need to know for using their debit cards in Europe
Rule 1: Call your bank before departure on your international trip. Before you go on your trip, verify with your bank that your debit card will work in Europe and alert them that you’ll be making withdrawals while travelling, otherwise they might freeze your card if they notice odd spending patterns.
Rule 2: Your ATM card’s pin number must have 4 digits. In Europe pin numbers have a max of 4 digits acceptable. In the US most banks permit 5 digits as well. Before you travel abroad, make sure you go to a local area office and change your pin to 4 digits. Don’t forget to test the new pin. Europe has been moving to 5 digit pin numbers recently but there are still many older ATM machines that only work with 4 digit pin numbers.
Rule 3: Take out cash only by using your ATM card from an ATM machine bearing one of the logos on the back of your card. The logos on the front (VISA or MasterCard) are essential only for purchases. Many ATM machines show the sign VISA or MasterCard only and none of the cash network signs. If you don’t see one of the signs on the back of your card, then look for another ATM machine.
Rule 4: Know your cards’ fees. Call your bank and inquire them how much they charge you for international purchases. In spite of if it’s a VISA or MasterCard, each bank that issue a credit card has its own charge and they are required to tell you what fees they are charging. Consider that your bank’s fees include the VISA (or MasterCard) foreign transaction fees. The typical foreign transaction fees are 3% of the amount.
Rule 5: Increase your daily maximum cash withdrawal. Depending on the fees charged by your bank, it makes a lot of logic to withdraw the maximum allowed in one transaction. The reason is that many banks charge a flat fee per withdrawal, apart from the amount.
Rule 6: When you are in abroad, withdraw cash only from a local bank ATM machine and not from shopping malls or train stations. These ATM machines most likely will charge you additional money.
Rule 7: Always have some cash with you. Yet if you have a first-rate credit card, a number of places in Europe still only accept cash.
Rule 8: Never withdraw cash using a credit card. This is valid in the US as well, but even more so abroad. You will pay very much!
Rule 9: Setup a pin number for your credit card. Even though US credit cards have started having a chip in count to the magnetic band, the US credit cards do not require a pin. Though, especially when travelling to Eastern Europe, a pin number may be required for a credit card transaction.
Rule 10: Don’t change your buy currency. Don’t accept merchants’ recommending to change your buyers currency to your home country’s currency when making credit card purchases. Their question seems kind: “Would you like to pay in US Dollars or Euros?” You may think that’s a good thing but it’s not! They can put their own charge and it still counts as foreign transaction on your credit card. Just answer no!
Rule 11: In some countries (especially in Eastern Europe), an ATM may give you high value bills, which can be difficult to break. Follow the strategy: Request an odd amount of money from the ATM (such as 2,800 instead of 3,000). If the machine insists on giving you big bills, go to a bank or a major store to break them.
Rule 12: Bringing an extra ATM card provides a backup if one is demagnetised or eaten by a machine. Make sure your card won’t terminate before your trip ends. You do not need a chip-and-PIN card to use a European ATM — your standard magnetic stripe card will work fine.
Rule 13: Most bank ATMs in Europe don’t charge a usage fee. Withdraw cash only from a local bank ATM machine and not from shopping malls or train stations. Stay away from “independent” ATMs, which have high fees and may try to trick users with “dynamic currency conversion.” These ATMs are labeled with names such as Travelex, Euronet, Moneybox, Cardpoint and Cashzone which are frequently established nearer to the bank ATMs in the hope that travelers will be too confused to notice the difference. These ATM machines most likely will charge you additional money.
Rule 14: When possible, take out your cash from bank ATMs placed outside banks, a robber is less likely to aim a cash machine near surveillance cameras, and if your card is munched by a machine, you can go inside for help.
Rule 15: Before you go, ask your bank how much you can withdraw per 24 hours, and consider adjusting the sum. Some visitors favor a high limit that allows them to take out more cash at each ATM stop, while others wish to set a lower limit as a safety measure, in case their card is lost. To stay away from surplus per transaction fees, usually go with a higher maximum value limit. Either way, it’s a better idea to supervise your account while travelling to detect any illegal transactions.
Rule 16: Remember that you’re withdrawing a different currency than dollars; for example, if your daily maximum value is $300, withdraw just 200 Euros. Many travelers have walked away from ATMs thinking their cards were discarded, when in reality they were asking for more cash in Euros than their daily maximum value allowed.
RULE 17: Be attentive that many foreign ATMs have their own limits. If the ATM won’t let you withdraw your daily maximum value, you’ll have to make more than a few smaller withdrawals to get the amount you want. Note that few ATM revenue list the switch rate, and some ATMs don’t give out receipts at all.
Rule 18: If you’re looking for an ATM, ask for a “Distributeur in France”, a “Cashpoint” in the UK, and a “Bankomat in Italy” just about everywhere else. Many European banks have their ATMs in a small entry entrance which protect users from thief’s and bad weather. When the bank is closed, the door to this lobby may be locked. In this case, look for a credit-card-size slot next to the door. Simply put in or take your debit or credit card in this slot and the door should automatically open.
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