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My husband won an academic contest and the prize was a trip to the Netherlands for a global conference on his specialty.

He's responsible for paying for food and transportation, but the lodging and flights are being booked through the college.

His options for spending money are:

  • get cash here in the states (international exchange rate (commercial bank) + 8%)
  • use his American credit card (Visa) (international exchange rates (credit union) + 1%)
  • use an ATM while he's there (haven't found fee information yet)

How can we decide how much cash he should carry? What types of things is he likely to need cash for?

As a note since some answers are concerned with magnetic stripe versus chip and pin: Our credit union is in the process of switching to chip and pin. He was able to call and get a new version of his card so it should be here before he leaves.

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    Why would he want to carry a different amount of cash than he usually carries at home? Are you thinking that using a credit card or finding an ATM in The Netherlands might be difficult, so he should carry more cash than usual? If so then that's not the case. Or are you thinking that there's a high likelihood of being robbed in the Netherlands so he should carry less cash than usual? Again, that's not the case. If the question is just about transaction fees then the answer seems pretty obvious... – A E Apr 4 '15 at 19:35
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    @AE we don't know how many of his purchases will have to be paid with cash because credit card processing isn't available. So far no one has really addressed that. – Zaralynda Apr 4 '15 at 19:44
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    If you plan to use a credit card, double-check that it will work in Europe! Europe has largely switched over to chip-and-pin cards, and many merchants may not accept American cards with a magnetic stripe. – Kevin Keane Apr 5 '15 at 2:11
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    Please be careful not to change the intent of the question. You've now changed it from 'how to decide how much cash to carry' to 'what types of things will he need cash for', which renders early answers 'incorrect' and they start getting downvotes :/ – Mark Mayo Apr 5 '15 at 4:22
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    There are few countries where it's easier to go without cash than the Netherlands, I use cash twice per month or so. But an American Visa credit card may be accepted slightly less than a Dutch bank's debit card. – RemcoGerlich Apr 5 '15 at 11:18
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If I travel to a destination in Europe that is outside the UK (my home base), I take 100 Euro in cash. There's no need for more because ATM's are available.

If I go outside the EEA, like to the US or Africa, I take 200 in Sterling and the equivalent of 100 dollars in local currency (like Canadian dollars for example). My rationale is that if more cash is needed, then something extraordinary has come up where there's a problem anyway.

The exception being Russia. Although you are supposed to be purely Rubble in everything you do, you only need about 3,000 Rubble with the rest in Euro.

What Mark didn't mention in his answer (+1 from me by the way) is for the generic case where you travel a lot. Then it can be better to keep denominated bank accounts. They can help prevent your getting whipsawed in both directions. I keep a Dollar account along with my Sterling account just for that purpose. Talk to your bank if you think that a denominated account can be helpful for you. These types of accounts are available at most of the major banks in the US.

Adding from commentary

If you are going to be driving and the country levies on-the-spot speeding (or whatever) penalties, make the cash amount in local currency enough so that you will be able to pay there & then. Or expect to have your car impounded until you pay in some countries.


Update (5 April 2015)

You have updated your question to now ask "What types of things is he likely to need cash for?"

In the Netherlands (and most of the EEA in general), he would likely need cash for...

  • News agents
  • Small grocery stores
  • Traffic penalties
  • Tips
  • Older style taxis and gypsy cabs
  • Open air market vendors
  • Charity donations (including cathedral collections)
  • Illicit items (out of scope here)

The most consequential of these are penalties which are actively intervened by the police (as opposed to violations caught on traffic cameras). Penalties can vary, but in all except the most egregious cases are less than 50 to 70 Euro...

Foreign offenders will be fined the penalty payable in the country of the offence, but fines vary across Europe, with Germany levying €10 for a minor speed offence while France fines offenders €68 (or €45 if paid promptly).

Source: http://www.connexionfrance.com/Europe-traffic-fines-speeding-mobile-phone-15191-view-article.html

In the Netherlands, speeding penalties are calculated with a mathematics formula, but it would be extraordinary to see a penalty exceeding 35 Euro if you are clocked within 6 km/h of the limit.

Violations that are caught on camera are dealt with by a penalty notice sent to the registered owner. For visitors it means the rental agency will pay the fine and debit your credit card for the amount plus their handling fee.

  • If you are going to be driving and the country levies on-the-spot speeding (or whatever) penalties, make the cash amount in local currency enough so that you will be able to pay there & then. Or expect to have your car impounded until you pay in some countries. – DaveP Apr 4 '15 at 10:44
  • @DaveP, that should be an answer. Are you suggesting I edit? – Gayot Fow Apr 4 '15 at 18:20
  • I didn't think it was enough to stand alone as an answer. Feel free to add it to your answer if you wish. (Your answer made me recall an incident in Spain a few years ago.) – DaveP Apr 4 '15 at 18:32
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    I think you dropped a 0 on the speeding penalties: you're unlikely to see fines over 350 euros source. – MSalters Apr 6 '15 at 0:00
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I think you are overreacting to the credit card charges. A 1% transaction fee is small, most credit cards charge 3%. Also, most credit cards give a very fair currency exchange rate. Even if you spend $1000 on the credit card during your trip, that only amounts to an additional $10. Enjoy the trip, take only a small amount of cash, and use the credit card as much as possible. If your card has a cashback feature, then it should cost you almost nothing to use it.

  • How am I overreacting to the credit card charges when I want to minimize the amount of cash he needs to pull (and carry)? – Zaralynda Apr 4 '15 at 2:11
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    Because you are trying to avoid a 1% charge in favor of carrying around a lot of cash in different currencies. The credit card avoids the need for a lot of cash, gets you the best exchange rate, potentially gives you a cash back bonus, and avoids the need to find places to exchange money (which usually carry significant charges). Also, you avoid the cost of having to convert any unused funds back to dollars. – Barry Apr 4 '15 at 2:43
  • The rate on the cash is more expensive than the credit card rate. I don't know why you think I'm trying to avoid the credit card charges. – Zaralynda Apr 4 '15 at 3:25
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    @Barry, what on earth do you mean "different currencies"? There's only one Euro. Anyway, forget cash advances on CCs, which are insane. You just use an ATM card and withdraw cash regularly as needed, to minimize leftover. – smci Apr 4 '15 at 16:15
  • Debits cards are actually more cheaper when you take the commissions kept by money exchangers, and it saves you a lot of leg work. I have a debit card that has zero fees for foreign withdrawls. Ask your bank or do some research. – Ayesh K Apr 5 '15 at 12:48
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'How much to carry' is very personal and individual. Some will buy lots of souvenirs, others will want to splash out on restaurants. Then there's cabs and the like as well.

Consider looking into just withdrawing on your ATM card in Europe. Almost all countries there will support it, and depending on your bank fees, it may be a reasonably economical way of doing it.

You could also take travellers cheques. It's a bit old-fashioned, but they're guaranteed, and safer than having wads of cash on you. Of course they can be harder to exchange, and you may find some hotels being grumpy about doing it for you.

We actually have a question on taking currency to a different country and it has a bunch of suggestions that may help as well. It also discourages the 'cash passports' that some foreign exchange places have offered, as their conversion rate is ... high, to say the least.

The best is to work out roughly what you plan on spending on food, and transportation, and then add some for souvenirs and other incidentals that might occur.

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    Travelers cheques are really outdated and most hotels will not handle them for you, most bank branches do not handle them anymore and those few little shops that will cash them will often charge a lot. On top you pay to get them and you pay to get the ones you do not use converted to money. Likely cheaper to use the cards you have even when they are not the cheapest. – Willeke Apr 3 '15 at 13:57
  • @Willeke yeah, like I said, they're old-fashioned, but may just be an option Zaralynda hadn't considered. Certainly she's investigating costs well, so I'm sure she'll look at the overheads. Valid point though. – Mark Mayo Apr 3 '15 at 13:59
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    The sole fact that it is an "option she didn't consider" doesn't make it a good option. – o0'. Apr 4 '15 at 16:16
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    @Lohoris in her original post, she specifically asked for "are there other options that we haven't considered?". Feel free to go check the revision history. – Mark Mayo Apr 5 '15 at 1:33
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    @Lohoris I don't think gold ingots has ever been a valid answer, but I know people who still take travellers cheques for the security it offers. Each to their own, I guess. – Mark Mayo Apr 5 '15 at 10:30
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I recently did a trip to the Netherlands (for the first time) to a professional conference and I faced the same dilemma. How much cash to carry?

Here is what I found out:

  1. I initially thought that I would be hit by a lot of high rate fees on both my debit and credit cards.

  2. Then I thought, what if I am stuck somewhere that doesn't accept my card?

It turns out both my fears were unfounded:

  1. First of all "cash" is a loose concept in the Netherlands and depending on where you go about in the city, you may not need it at all. I only used cash when I forgot to add a tip to the bill (I stayed in Amsterdam and traveled frequently on the public transit); and I remember using it to tip the taxi driver when I couldn't figure out how to get to somewhere on the transit (turns out, streets in Amsterdam are confusingly named even for the taxi drivers). Out of sheer nervousness (and to make sure my card worked) I withdrew cash at the airport lobby to purchase the train ticket. Turns out, this was also unnecessary as the automated machines accept credit cards and so do the agents at the counter.

  2. As your card is billed in USD (a major currency) you will not be hit with the double whammy of having to convert your card's issuing currency into EUR and then EUR into USD and then back - this was not the case with me (unfortunately).

  3. The fees are very reasonable; so much so that it is cheaper to use your card than to carry cash. The only exception is if you are converting a large amount of EUR (something in the 10,000 range) where you would be getting a favorable mid-market rate).

My recommendation:

  1. Make sure you notify your bank of your travel plans so that they don't block your card thinking you are a target of skimming/fraud. This would also help you as you can ask your bank if there are any specific ATMs that would charge less for cash (your bank may have preferred arrangements).

  2. If you feel you must, carry no more than 200 EUR in cash with you. The cheapest way to get this would be to buy it in the US from a forex bureau. Avoid the ones at the airport (as they have a hidden airport tax). Your bank may also offer you a nice rate.

  3. You will find it most convenient to use your credit card; I am struggling to recall even seeing an ATM (besides the one at the airport) during my stroll through Amsterdam.

  4. Avoid using your debit card. The rates aren't as favorable plus almost all ATMs in Europe are CHIP+PIN enabled, your card may be rejected if it doesn't have a chip (most US issued ATM cards don't). Credit cards are an exception.

  5. The most expensive way to get cash would be to use your credit card at at ATM in the Netherlands.

Since you asked specifically, places you may need to use cash:

  1. Restaurants (some may not have POS machines).

  2. Tipping (in general). This is a personal habit of mine as I always forget to add the tip on the card receipt.

  3. Topping up your travel card on the tram (if you don't do it automatically at the machines).

Beyond the above, during my 4 day trip I didn't need to use any cash. In fact, I ended up bringing the majority of it back with me.

Enjoy your trip!

  • I wouldn't describe a donner kebab stand as a restaurant. Actual restaurants will accept cards. And anyone who accepts cards should accept non-chip-and-pin cards. Chips occasionally fail and, when that happens, the magnetic stripe is the fallback. That means that everybody who accepts cards is supposed to be able to accept a card that has only a magnetic stripe. – David Richerby Apr 5 '15 at 9:11
  • Your point regarding the non-chip-and-pin is valid - in that the machine should fallback on swiping; however the issuer bank may decline these transactions and the merchant bank usually charges a higher rate for these on (due to higher risk of fraud). Which reminds me I should add a point to the answer that's very important. – Burhan Khalid Apr 5 '15 at 10:22
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    The issuing bank isn't going to decline the transaction for using the magstripe because, in this case, it only issues non-chip-and-pin cards. And are you sure the merchant bank chargets a higher rate? Card fraud is the merchant's loss, not the bank's. – David Richerby Apr 5 '15 at 11:38
  • The acquirer does, yes. Each type of transaction is flagged differently and some transactions are charged higher. – Burhan Khalid Apr 5 '15 at 11:45
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    You may not recall seeing ATMs but they are everywhere, never further than a few hundred meters away in a city and in the centre of Amsterdam probably a lot closer. – Sebastiaan van den Broek Apr 5 '15 at 16:34
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I haven't been to the NL that often yet, but credit cards should work in most places and even if not, debit cards do almost everywhere. However, I strongly suggest to always have around 50 to 100€ per person in cash on you; after all, you never know... Here in Switzerland the EFT system broke down for some hours recently. In such a case it's always good to have cash on you.

// Old version; for reference if anybody cares :D

I would like to add that it depends a lot on WHERE in Europe you travel.

Though credit cards are widely spread here too it's by far not as far-spread as in the US. Even our big retailers here in Switzerland do not accept credit cards in many (if not most) of their stores. The same also applies to small hotels and a large number of restaurants.

However, the situation is again completely different if you go to Sweden. There they use credit cards in a fashion comparable to the US and you can use them almost everywhere (though cash is accepted as well).

It really largely depends on where you travel. So if you could clarify that, we could help more accurately.

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    Updated the question, he's traveling to the Netherlands – Zaralynda Apr 4 '15 at 12:39
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My American debit card has been inserted into ATMs in at least twelve European countries. It has zero surcharge (one reason I choose it, I use a different card inside the USA). I generally travel with about $200 US for an emergency if an ATM can't be found. Then I withdraw the equivalent of $200–$300 in local currency. The only place I have had trouble finding an ATM is rural Czech Republic.

My debit card refunds any fees that the foreign bank charges for ATM use because I am a preferred customer. The only country where these fees weren’t waived for foreigners’ cards was Ukraine, and then only some of the banks. (Unfortunately, the only ATMs at Kiev Borispol Airport had very high fees, which were refunded.)

I recommend carrying one’s usual amount of cash. Under no circumstances should you exchange money inside the USA. Our terrible rates and high fees are downright bizarre.

  • In case anyone else overlooks the word "rural" as I nearly did: cash machines are quite easy to find in central Prague, or at least they were when I was there a few years ago, and I suppose the same is true in other Czech cities. – phoog Jul 13 '15 at 1:08
  • UPDATE: All ATMs I used in Iceland charged a fee, which was refunded by my US Bank on request. For some reason, they were not marked as fees in the transaction, but the weird withdrawal quantities (e.g., 5,003.35 Icelandic crowns when I asked for 5,000) made it easy to calculate the amount. All but one village we stayed in had at least one ATM, although in some cases it was not in a bank, but a convenience store. – Andrew Lazarus May 1 '16 at 20:08
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He should carry about as much cash as he normally carries at home. And, with the outrageous 8% fee your bank charges for changing money, he should just get that cash from an ATM in the Netherlands (e.g., at the airport), unless you find that your bank charges an even more outrageous fee for using ATMs abroad.

  • 8% for obtaining Euro in the US. – Michael Hampton Apr 5 '15 at 1:50
  • I am suggesting that you left out a possibly important detail from your answer, and that it could confuse people. I neither said nor implied anything about whether the 8% is outrageous or not. – Michael Hampton Apr 5 '15 at 13:57
  • @MichaelHampton To me, "changing money" means walking into a bank, giving them currency X (or having them withdraw it from your account) and receiving currency Y in exchange. That, by implication, happens where the bank is, i.e., in the USA. So I don't think I left anything out (which is why my guess at what you meant by your comment was so far off the mark). – David Richerby Apr 5 '15 at 17:38
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In the UK, there are exchange companies that will sell you overseas money with the option to pay a small charge so they will buy it back at the same rate.

I therefore get a lot more cash then I would do so otherwise, on the last day of the trip, I count up my cash and get enough out of a local ATM (at a much better rate) so that I can exchange back nearly as much as I exchanged in the first place.

This give me the safety of having cash (ATMs to fail at times, so do links to banks) along with the lower rate of using a ATM for all my cash needs.

protected by Community Aug 12 '16 at 8:28

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