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I will be visiting Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark for holidays in a couple weeks. I live in the US and have a Bank of America bank account and debit card.

I will be spending money in Stockholm and Copenhagen for basic expenses like food, local travel, etc. I believe my debit card will incur an international fee on every purchase which I’d rather not pay.

It seems as though Sweden and Denmark have their own currencies, Swedish krona and Danish krone, each with different exchange rates to the USD.

What’s the best and easiest way to spend money when traveling in these countries? I’d prefer not to carry a bunch of cash. Is there some kind of a prepaid card that I can load up and spend in both countries? What do most people do?

Thanks for any advice!

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    Note that is is legal under Danish law for a merchant to add an additional fee (typically up to a few percent of the amount due) for use of payment cards issued outside the EU. These fees are not always clearly communicated before you use the card. As a short-stay tourist I would recommend that you just grin and bear it, since the price level will vary from what you're used to anyway. Treat it like you do sales tax at home (and be happy that the actual VAT you pay in Scandinavia is always included in the sticker prices). – Henning Makholm Jun 23 at 17:57
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    There are many US credit cards that have no foreign transaction fee, so you could consider getting one of those to avoid Bank of America's 3% fee, especially if you plan to travel internationally more in the future. – Zach Lipton Jun 24 at 2:11
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    "It seems as though Sweden and Denmark have their own currencies" Just a heads-up but that reads really weirdly, as if you're surprised that countries have their own currencies. Almost every country in the world has its own currency. – David Richerby Jun 24 at 10:47
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    @DavidRicherby Aside from UK, there are two countries that joined EU before 2000 but don't use euro: Sweden and Denmark. It should be surprising that they still have their own currency. – JiK Jun 24 at 12:09
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    @JiK given that the asker also thinks it's worth remarking that these two currencies have different exchange rates (again, a completely normal situation), I really don't think the issue is that they were expecting them to use the Euro. – David Richerby Jun 24 at 12:16
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Credit and debit cards are ubiquitous in Scandinavia. You should have no trouble using a Visa card. Before you travel, you could apply for a credit card that has zero foreign transactions fee. You can also take out money from an ATM, like almost anywhere else in the world. Some banks' ATM cards refund ATM fees.

Purchases in a foreign currency are no problem with a major credit/debit card (i.e. Visa). Purchases will appear in USD on your statement, possibly with a small foreign transaction fee (typically 3%).

As a Bank of America card holder, you can use ATMs from banks that are part of the Global ATM Alliance without paying a non-BofA ATM fee (but still the 3% Foreign Transaction Fee (FTF)).

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    You'll have to look up the specific terms and conditions for your card; you can also call customer service using the number on the back of your card to ask. Typically, if you use your Visa debit card at a point-of-sale (like in a restaurant or a store), you will probably pay a foreign transaction fee of 3%. If you use it at an ATM you may incur fees from both your bank and the ATM operator totalling around $5. However, I think Bank of America has an agreement with some foreign banks to use their ATMs for free. That's worth a little research. – nibot Jun 23 at 17:38
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    @Carpetfizz: Check the conditions of your card, which you should be able to get from your bank. If the only fee you're charged is a percentage of the transaction, you probably don't need to worry; you would lose more in exchange rate spreads (or leftover cash) by doing things differently. It's only a problem if you'll pay a particular dollar amount for each transaction regardless of size. – Henning Makholm Jun 23 at 17:38
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    @Carpetfizz From my experience, when withdrawing or paying you will get a choice to pay in local currency or in USD. When you select local currency, BofA will convert US to local. When you select USD, the local bank will do it at a higher rate AND the store gets a commision of that. This is why store clercks will sometimes make the choice for you and select USD. An honest car rental agency in Poland told me this 2 weeks ago. When a clerck hands you the terminal with the price in USD, refuse and ask to pay in local currency. – LVDV Jun 24 at 8:37
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    Note that cash-free shops and cafés are very common, at least in Sweden, so you even if you take out money at an ATM, you may have trouble using it. – Toivo Säwén Jun 24 at 8:51
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    I was in Stockholm over the weekend. I took 200 SEK in cash and also left with them. – Carsten S Jun 24 at 9:15
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As was suggested above, you should consider getting a credit card that does not have a surcharge for foreign transactions.

Generally speaking, you should have no trouble using your cards in Sweden and Denmark. There are only two things you should be aware of. One is that debit networks are not 100% interoperable with U.S. networks. So your debit card might not work in some stores and smaller banks, but should be fine at ATMs owned by larger banks. Credit cards work everywhere.

The other is that European credit cards are Chip+PIN, while U.S. cards are Chip+Signature. This was occasionally a problem at automated ticket kiosks in railroad stations, since the kiosk would not take the credit card without a PIN. To buy a train ticket, I sometimes had to go to the ticket window and buy from the ticket agent.

  • Getting a card that does not have a surcharge for foreign transactions, I'm not sure if this exists — they'll either charge a fee per transaction, or a markup on the exchange rate, or both. – gerrit Jun 24 at 14:01
  • "U.S. cards are Chip+Signature" Although signature isn't required anymore: businessnewsdaily.com/… – Acccumulation Jun 24 at 15:16
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I would get a card from one of the newer "Fintech" providers that are competing on cost in the foreign payments market. They tend to have low fees, and they are also transparent on any extra they are charging on top of the mid-market exchange rate. That's a notional fair rate where you could convert money from one currency into another and immediately back again with no losses. Most banks and traditional foreign exchange providers will use different "Buy" and "Sell" prices and if you're making a card payment it'll be hard to find out in advance how much they differ from each other.

A downside of these providers is that they provide debit cards (less consumer protection) and they don't have the infrastructure of traditional banks for dealing with problems - e.g. there are reports of people's cards being blocked and it being difficult to get them unblocked quickly. So don't completely rely on them.

Examples of newer providers are Revolut and Transferwise (I use both but have no other affiliation).

Also, if a merchant offers to charge you in USD, it's usually best to refuse the option. The rates will be worse than you'd get even from your own bank, and much worse than you'd get from a cheap provider.

  • Thanks! Revolut looks promising but there seem to be some bad stories about accounts getting blocked and travelers being stranded without money. Will look into it further. – Carpetfizz Jun 24 at 8:50
  • @Carpetfizz good point, I've edited my answer – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 24 at 8:52
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    I use Revolut and regularly travel to Stockholm from the UK. You are able to hold multiple currencies on there. It's worthwhile noting that you should do your currency conversion during a weekday, as there is a very small premium to convert currency at the weekend. It's also worthwhile noting Stockholm has largely become a cash-free city, you will find it more challenging to use cash than cards these days. Even food market vendors will more than likely accept card transactions. – Alex KeySmith Jun 24 at 11:11
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    Can you link to anyone having a Transferwise card blocked and difficulty getting it unblocked? I've used Transferwise for years and never heard of that. – gerrit Jun 24 at 14:06
  • My personal experience of that is with Revolut, but I think it's likely to be a general problem with a startup trying to scale. – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 24 at 14:54
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Bring more than one card. Especially in Sweden a lot of people never use cash but if you only have one card and lose it you have a problem, especially as a tourist. So get a second card and leave it in your luggage while your primary card is in our wallet or similar.

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