I will be traveling abroad and plan on bring no more than €400 in cash (I don't like carrying lots of cash in general). My bank charges no fees in Europe and I was wondering how I withdraw money out abroad when I run out.

I read online that the ATM will say something about conversion and that I should say no or something.

(Also how much do you typically carry abroad in cash out of interest?)

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    "I read online that the ATM will say something about conversion and that I should say no or something." Why not go back and read it again, instead of asking us what it said? At least, put in minimal effort. Read what it said, tell us, and ask if that seems true. I do not feel in the least motivated to help you Sep 2 '17 at 22:01
  • a) Be aware that most European ATMs expect the PIN to be 4 digits. 6-digit PINs won't work and the last 4 of a 5-digit PIN may not work. b) Exchange rates at ATMs are usually ok (make sure there's zero or low commission, research which networks in advance, ask your home bank before you leave), but at POS systems they vary widely and usually suck (but occasionally can be better than the ATM); Know what the exchange rate is at all times (you can download an app).
    – smci
    Sep 3 '17 at 0:43
  • I used an ATM in Japan and had no trouble at all withdrawing my money in yen. Currency conversion was handled automatically and if there was a fee for conversion it was deducted from my account automatically and was small enough that I didn't really notice. I also didn't want to carry cash but my ATM and credit cards just worked. You probably have very little to nothing to worry about. If it's possible, you might add what country(s) you will be traveling in because there might be country specific advice someone might have. Sep 3 '17 at 1:13
  • @ToddWilcox One note about Japan: Some ATMs there work with foreign cards, while others are domestic only. Finding international ones isn't too hard, though (or at least it wasn't for me in Tokyo... perhaps it might be harder in areas that don't get as many foreign visitors.)
    – reirab
    Sep 3 '17 at 4:35

Here is a brief instruction on how to use an ATM:

  1. When you find an ATM, first check if it accepts your card. Usually, the ATM shows which card it can accept (e.g. Visa, Plus, MasterCard, etc...) on the edge of the machine.

  2. If the ATM accepts your card, insert your card and start the transaction. After the ATM recognizes your card, the screen switches to a transaction screen.

  3. First choose a language you are most familiar with. Some ATMs display the language as a flag. In this case if you prefer English, choose the UK flag. Enter PIN if necessary.

  4. Then it might be slightly dependent on each ATM, but you should likely choose withdraw. Then choose which account you withdraw from. It is likely savings account but it depends on your bank and your account.

  5. Enter the amount you want to withdraw. Enter PIN if necessary. If you get asked about the conversion, choose "no" (or "without conversion") and make your bank/issuer convert it for you.

  6. After that, the ATM will get you money. Pick up the money and your card, and it is done.

Also, pay attention to people around you while you are using the ATM. And also pay attention to the card slot in order to avoid skimming. And as @Hilmar said in the comment, you shall inform your bank and/or credit card issuer that you are going to use it abroad in case it is blocked by the issuer for a potential fraud.

As to the amount of money to carry, it depends on each country and city, and also your travel plan. I always use a credit card if possible, so in countries that have high credit card acceptance (Estonia, Poland, South Korea, etc...) I only carry one small bill (around US$20). In other cases, I usually carry about US$20 up to US$100 and put emergency money (about US$100 to US$300) in my room.

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    One possible addition to an excellent answer: Let your bank and/or credit card issuer know up front that you are travelling abroad. Otherwise they may assume fraud or theft and block your card. It depends very much on the individual bank.
    – Hilmar
    Sep 2 '17 at 16:22
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    Things this list misses: 1) PIN comes after language and before any other choice in a lot of countries (e.g. Italy). 2) After you have given your PIN and selected an amount it will ask you whether you want to withdraw it with conversion. Provided you have a decent bank always pick 'no'/'without conversion'. Sep 2 '17 at 18:17
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    I am not sure if it makes sense to check which cards the ATM claims to accept. I often get my cards rejected on foreign ATMs, although they are allegedly accepted and often have luck withdrawing money, although the ATM don't show my card brand, or don't make any statements at all about which cards are accepted. Sep 2 '17 at 19:20
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    You say to select "savings" if the machine asks what account you want to use. That doesn't make a lot of sense. If you're from a country where your card is connected to multiple accounts, choose whatever account is most appropriate for you. Otherwise, if your card is connected to just one account (as is the case with, say, UK cards), then it doesn't matter what option you select. Sep 2 '17 at 20:41
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    @JanusBahsJacquet It probably depends on what sort of account the card is attached to. My card is attached to a checking account. As such, I always choose 'checking' (or whatever its local equivalent phrase may be) and it has always worked.
    – reirab
    Sep 3 '17 at 4:42

A few rules of thumb:

  • Whether paying directly at a merchant or withdrawing cash, refuse any conversion (DCC or dynamic currency conversion), always go for the local currency. Your bank/card issuer will charge you for the conversion but it's almost always cheaper. In some countries, local ATM will slap a fee on top of the amount to be withdrawn no matter what, but that cannot be avoided I think.

  • If you have a debit card, use that to withdraw cash. Credit cards typically have an extra fee for a cash advance and less attractive conversion rates (higher spread between sell and buy rate). But there are exception and some debit/prepaid card with a credit card brand (e.g. the debit Mastercards mentioned below).

  • Avoid buying foreign currency from your bank at home or travelling with a lot of cash in the hope to exchange it once you arrived at your destination. Both are quite expensive and even with the fees, using a card at an ATM abroad is usually cheaper than carrying and changing cash (and that's not getting into the safety issue).

  • If you can, check the fine print and see if you can get a better deal with another card. Depending on your location, you might not have many options but there are online banks like N26 and “fintech” startups like Revolut, which promise a better conversion rate (close to the official exchange rate, with no fees or spread). This option is best if you're going to a place with a wide acceptance for credit cards, as cash withdrawals are usually limited on these cards but you can pay in shops and restaurants as often as you like.

  • If you really must travel with cash and you are not bothered by the effort, compare the rates and fees and avoid airport cash exchange places or big brands, smaller places might have more interesting rates. I also assume that converting a well-known international currency in the local currency once you arrived is typically cheaper than buying an exotic currency from a main street bank in the eurozone but I have to admit that I haven't bothered verifying that systematically.

  • Whatever you do, you need to understand that a big part of the costs of exchanging money are hidden in the “spread”, the difference between the buy rate, the sell rate and the spot exchange rate. So if you want to compare several options, you should not only look at fixed fees but compare the rates themselves.

Personally, when going to a place where the infrastructure is limited (few ATM, a currency difficult to exchange abroad), I will take a few hundred USD for emergencies. Otherwise, not even that, maybe €50 and that's it.

Also note that nowadays many cards/banks let you set a profile (possibly through their online banking system or an app) to avoid fraud prevention measures that block your card if you use it faraway from your usual location. You might need to activate that before leaving.

  • Another note on debit cards: at least here in Belgium since a few years ago, Maestro cards work by default only in "continental Europe", so if you travel further you need to ask your bank to unblock it for a specific country, otherwise it won't work even if the ATM happens to have a Maestro logo. Sep 2 '17 at 19:56
  • @IgorSkochinsky Good point, I will add something on that. Note that it's possible to go further: the Revolut card for example can be set up to only accept transactions that make sense based on your phone's location.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 2 '17 at 20:08

The choice of languages (mentioned by @mdewey) is usually baked in to the ATM, not your card, so check what banks offer which languages. In the USA, virtually all ATM's offer English and Spanish, many offer French, but not every ATM is going to offer Hebrew or Lithuanian. Interestingly enough, I've found that PNC Bank (based in Pennsylvania) offers German and, even more surprisingly, Hmong as standard languages on their ATM's. Many times, the languages offered are going to depend on the bank's target markets, so you are more likely to find Japanese offered from a bank with a lot of branches in Hawaii than you are from a bank that is mostly centered in Louisiana.

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    " PNC Bank (based in Pennsylvania) offers German" - because that was the native language of the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Dutch. (They were given the incorrect name "Dutch" by Americans, who presumably didn't know German and misinterpreted "Deutsch", or their own name for themselves, "Deitsch".)
    – alephzero
    Sep 2 '17 at 18:30
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    .. and the Hmong-speakers would have been refugees from the war in Laos which ended in 1975 - with a significant amount of US military and CIA involvement (or interference, depending on your political point of view!) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hmong_people
    – alephzero
    Sep 2 '17 at 18:37
  • @alephzero except that "Pennsylvania Dutch" is very different from Modern German, which would be the variety offered at the ATM. I've actually seen a PNC ATM in German before Mar 11 '18 at 16:20

When you put your card in it will recognise it as a foreign card and offer you a choice of languages. After that it should be plain sailing. Do not let it offer to charge you in your home currency (the same goes for transactions in shops) as that will be at a rate which suits them rather than you. Your last question is almost impossible to answer as it depends on the acceptance of cards generally for small payments. In some countries you do not really need cash at all.