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Best way to use/exchange dollars in Europe
Old 06-14-2009, 09:10 AM   #1
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Best way to use/exchange dollars in Europe

We are planning on going to Portugal/Spain next week and I'd like to know the best way to handle money exchange, use, etc.

We haven't been there in 8 years so things have changed. In the past we used travelers checks and exchanged it at the banks when needed, Is this still the way to go?

We will use our credit card for auto rental, hotels, and big purchases. Is it safe or cost-effective to use ATMs, should we take cash and exchange as needed instead?

Thanks,
Maria
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Old 06-14-2009, 09:46 AM   #2
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I no longer use travelers checks when I travel to Europe. I just rely on my credit card and my ATM card. It is wise to have some euros in cash for cabs and stuff when you first arrive.
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Old 06-14-2009, 10:53 AM   #3
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I always keep a couple of hundred dollars in my wallet as backup, but like Gumby I stick with using ATMs.
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Old 06-14-2009, 10:54 AM   #4
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Avoid travelers checks or exchanging money when traveling to developed countries like Spain and Portugal . . . they're both very costly and completely unnecessary. Typically you get the best exchange rate by using ATMs and credit cards, although they've both been piling on fees recently. If you have more than one credit card or bank, check into their specific fee structures. Some are better than others. I have a Capital One credit card that I only use when I travel overseas because I don't pay any foreign exchange fees.

Have a great trip!
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Old 06-14-2009, 11:21 AM   #5
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We just returned from Europe--used our Fidelity ATM which only has a 1% processing fee. With our regular bank ATM, the charge was 3% which is pretty standard. We also used our Cap One credit card for some purchases since CapOne also only charges the 1%. As always the devil is in the details of your ATM card. Most travel advise points to ATM since you get the best wholesale rate on the currency exchange.
Happy Travels
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Old 06-14-2009, 11:40 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by artist59 View Post
We are planning on going to Portugal/Spain next week and I'd like to know the best way to handle money exchange, use, etc.

We haven't been there in 8 years so things have changed. In the past we used travelers checks and exchanged it at the banks when needed, Is this still the way to go?

We will use our credit card for auto rental, hotels, and big purchases. Is it safe or cost-effective to use ATMs, should we take cash and exchange as needed instead?

Thanks,
Maria
As you indicated that you are planning on using your credit card overseas, I would advise letting your credit card company know ahead-of-time which dates you will be overseas and making those charges. They will make a note on your account. This will avoid any issues when you go to use your card. Also, it will prevent fraudulent overseas usage outside of those travel dates.

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Old 06-14-2009, 11:45 AM   #7
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As you indicated that you are planning on using your credit card overseas, I would advise letting your credit card company know ahead-of-time which dates you will be overseas and making those charges. They will make a note on your account. This will avoid any issues when you go to use your card. Also, it will prevent fraudulent overseas usage outside of those travel dates.

omni
Great Advise Omni. Be sure to do likewise with your ATM issuer. One of our travel group advised CITIBank and they still could not use their card, so you may even want to confirm. It is best to contact them a week in advance as it seems to take awhile for some to get the info on your account. With Chase you can do on the web. I had no problem with Fidelity ATM in Turkey despite using in some pretty remote towns.
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Old 06-14-2009, 12:02 PM   #8
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It can't hurt to contact your issuer, ATM is definitely the way to go, I also like the idea of a couple of hundred US in standby somewhere, but Spain and Portugal are notorious for pickpockets.

I've used my Chase ATM all over South America, Europe, Africa and Asia, with never an issue. (only in Cuba did it not work)
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Old 06-14-2009, 01:01 PM   #9
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but Spain and Portugal are notorious for pickpockets.
Hidden money belt + decoy wallet solves that.
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Old 06-14-2009, 05:33 PM   #10
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Make sure your ATM card has a 4 digit pin. I believe that all most european ATMs will take. Also, most are numeric only.
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Old 06-15-2009, 08:04 AM   #11
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If you have both a Visa and a MasterCard (sometimes called EuroCard in Yurp), take both with you. Some restaurants only take Visa and some only MC. And some only take cash.

When we go, I usually get some cash at the airport upon arrival -- ATM if possible. Just enough to get by for a little while until I can find a non-airport ATM, where the fees might be smaller.

I second the hidden money/passport pouch and two wallet approach. And take a photocopy of your passport front page, in case you have to replace it.
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Old 06-15-2009, 08:36 AM   #12
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Timely question...I've been using this as my main resource
Travel

Look for Americans Traveling Abroad FAQs (2nd column from left, "Preparing for a Trip Abroad") and country specific info.
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Old 06-15-2009, 04:47 PM   #13
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I agree with previous posters... credit card + ATM card are the way to go! You should definitely let your card issuer(s) know you will be using cards abroad and find out what type of fees you will be charged ahead of time. My card was suspected of fraud and was blocked few years back when I tried to use it in Europe (I was lucky I had a fall-back card).

Also, you should have a general idea on how you will get by in case your ATM gets stolen/lost. Even though my DH thinks I am being paranoid, I keep a (different) VISA debit card and some type of ID in a different place than the rest of my wallet.

Have fun on your trip!
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Old 06-15-2009, 08:20 PM   #14
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I second the hidden money/passport pouch and two wallet approach. And take a photocopy of your passport front page, in case you have to replace it.
I second all who say to take various credit cards and get cash from ATMs.

For backup, I have scans of fronts and backs of all our cards as well as all the passports which I have e-mailed to my yahoo.com e-mail address. These can be accessed from anywhere (counting on having Internet access, I know).
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Old 06-17-2009, 12:23 AM   #15
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I had bad luck with ATMs last year in Spain. When I used the ATM near my hotel, it wouldn't take my card in. So I moved to a second one and that one seemed to work except that my card never came back out. The ATM had warped the card and it got jammed on the way out so after a few seconds, the ATM swallowed it - same thing happened to the person behind me so it wasn't a problem with my card. The bank had just closed for the siesta and since I couldn't come back later to pick up my card, I had to call my bank and have the card cancelled. Lesson: always keep a copy of your ATM card number and bank's phone number -accessible from outside the US- in a safe place (you will need both to have your card cancelled). Once the ATM swallowed my card I had neither since I had not memorized my card number and the bank's phone number was on the back of the card.

So... In case you are unlucky, always bring a bit of cash with you.
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Old 06-17-2009, 01:13 PM   #16
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I second all who say to take various credit cards and get cash from ATMs.

For backup, I have scans of fronts and backs of all our cards as well as all the passports which I have e-mailed to my yahoo.com e-mail address. These can be accessed from anywhere (counting on having Internet access, I know).

Don't you think this is a bit hazardous (to your financial health) being that NO email is 100% secure . And, if intercepted, you're laying out all your financial info for the perpetrator! Make copies and keep in your hotel safe or hidden wallet would be better
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Old 06-19-2009, 08:06 PM   #17
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Don't you think this is a bit hazardous (to your financial health) being that NO email is 100% secure . And, if intercepted, you're laying out all your financial info for the perpetrator! Make copies and keep in your hotel safe or hidden wallet would be better
Maybe I just like to live on the edge. Seriously, nothing is 100% secure-even that safe or wallet.

The point of this back-up isn't to keep someone from using card numbers if found, and even if they do my liability is zero. The point is to have something I can easily put my hands on almost no matter where I am to get replacements, etc. Plus, it saves hauling all that paper around.
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Old 07-13-2009, 09:12 AM   #18
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I just got back from a trip to Scotland and thought of this thread while I was balancing my bank account. Here's an update on my latest experience with exchange rates and fees for European travel . . .

My Capital One credit card is the hand's down winner. I got exchange rates that were about 75bp (0.75%) better than what I got from my Chase checking account when making cash withdrawals from ATMs. All-in-all, the exchange rates I got were pretty consistent with what I've seem quoted in the markets, so I didn't feel I was getting gouged. The Capital One card also didn't charge any additional fees whereas Chase charged me 1% on each transaction. So, on average, my cash purchases were about 1.75% more expensive than things I bought using my Capital One card.

Some other tips . . .
Minimize cash withdrawals at the airport. I got a terrible exchange rate taking cash out at the airport. It was about 6% higher than cash withdrawn elsewhere later that same day. I didn't realize different machines could charge different amounts (I thought Chase determined the exchange rate). It was the only machine that actually told me what the exchange rate was while doing the transaction (I don't recall if that was before or after it dispensed cash), but I think it may have been a warning screen like the ones that tell you about fees (I'll be keeping an eye out for that in the future).

Make purchases in the local currrency (usually). Some vendors tried to charge me in US Dollars for purchases. This was offered up as a "service". The one transaction I remember would have cost me about 7% more because of a bad exchange rate had I accepted this service. Meanwhile, I've read that many credit card companies will still charge their normal overseas transaction fees even while processing USD transactions done abroad (not a problem with Capital One, I assume). So not only do you get a bad exchange rate from the merchant, you still might get charged extra fees by your credit card company.

Although I realize the OP traveled some time ago, I hope this helps others save a few Euros or Pounds on their next European adventure.

Cheers.
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Old 07-26-2009, 02:11 AM   #19
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My Capital One credit card is the hand's down winner. I got exchange rates that were about 75bp (0.75%) better than what I got from my Chase checking account when making cash withdrawals from ATMs. All-in-all, the exchange rates I got were pretty consistent with what I've seem quoted in the markets, so I didn't feel I was getting gouged. The Capital One card also didn't charge any additional fees whereas Chase charged me 1% on each transaction. So, on average, my cash purchases were about 1.75% more expensive than things I bought using my Capital One card.

I've read that many credit card companies will still charge their normal overseas transaction fees even while processing USD transactions done abroad (not a problem with Capital One, I assume). So not only do you get a bad exchange rate from the merchant, you still might get charged extra fees by your credit card company.
You probably want to double-check your Capital One card agreement and any recent changes. About two months ago we got a terms change from Capital One saying that they were going to raise the fees for international transactions, including ATM fees, regardless of currency (meaning that if we use our Capital One card to purchase, for example, a cruise, in USD, from a US company, but it's processed in Bermuda, they charge us the international transaction rate).

This would not be in my original card agreement, because they've amended it with one of those little brochure things. Just worth checking out.
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Old 07-27-2009, 06:27 PM   #20
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You probably want to double-check your Capital One card agreement and any recent changes.
Yes, I fully expected to be charged some fees while using my Capital One card. But according to my actual bill shows no fees whatsoever.
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