Using ATMs Abroad: Exchange Rates, Fees & the Best Debit Cards That Save You Money

Mar 29, 2022
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To get cash for your travels overseas, you may be tempted to go to your local bank or credit union to buy foreign banknotes. However, these traditional places, as well as bureaux de change kiosks in airports, are some of the most expensive places to convert paper money.

If you want to buy euros in the USA or in the UK, for example, then the experts at Monito recommend opening a multi-currency account with a digital bank.

Otherwise, the next cheapest way to get local currency is to use ATMs abroad with a debit card. In this guide, we will show you how to get the best exchange rate with ATMs abroad and whether you should use an ATM abroad with or without currency conversion.

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Open a Digital Bank Account and Debit Card

Unlike traditional high-street banks that operate expensive local branches, digital "challenger" banks can securely manage your finances completely online with zero monthly maintenance fees.

N26 in Europe, Starling Bank in the UK, and OnJuno in the US are just three great digital banks that never charge foreign card transaction fees and even offer free foreign ATM withdrawals.

Jarrod Suda rivers of osaka city in osaka prefecture japan

How To Use ATMs Abroad With the Best Exchange Rate

When you spend abroad with your debit card issued by your home bank, you will have to convert your home currency into the local currency of your travel destination.

Your card payment provider, such as MasterCard, Visa, or American Express, will do that conversion near the real mid-market exchange rate. This margin is quite negligible; their rate might be something like 0.004% weaker than the mid-market rate.

The fees that can really hurt, however, will either come from your home bank, which might charge foreign transaction fees, or from dynamic currency conversions (DCC). We will discuss more in-depth what a dynamic currency conversion is later. What is important to understand is that card payment providers (like Mastercard) will give you the option to do a DCC because they recognize your card as a foreign one.

If you open a multi-currency account with a digital bank, then you can avoid the currency exchange process altogether. When you present your multi-currency debit card abroad, it will be treated as a local customer's card wherever you spend money or withdraw cash from an ATM.

Using a Multi-Currency Travel Card at ATMs Abroad

Multi-currency accounts give you access to dozens of currencies around the world, which you can top up, save, and access all from one single card. The Wise Multi-Currency Account and Revolut are two such companies that will convert your money into foreign currency at the actual mid-market rate. Instead, they charge industry-low fixed fees per transfer.

The Wise Multi-Currency Account and Revolut are available for residents around the globe. Take a look at our travel money card guide to see how they compare to compare other travel card options.

Wise Multi-Currency Account

With the Wise Multi-Currency Account, convert currency at the mid-market exchange rate. Spend, hold, and convert between dozens of currencies with your debit MasterCard and never be asked to do a dynamic currency conversion.

The only fees that they charge you for using ATMs abroad will come at 1.75% per withdrawal — and only after you've exceeded your €200 monthly withdrawal limit.

Revolut

Similarly, Revolut offers a debit card with the perk of holding and exchanging money in 24 currencies. Depending on what sort of account you have, you’re also entitled to withdraw a certain amount per month for free when you use your ATM abroad.

Revolut's free account gives you a €200 monthly allowance for free foreign ATM withdrawals, before charging 2% per withdrawal.

6 Debit Cards With the Best Exchange Rates When Using ATMs Abroad

Have a look at this comparison table of the six best debit cards offered by digital banks around the world. N26 is offered in the EU/EEA (although the free account is currently only available to new customers in Germany and Austria), Starling Bank and Monese are available in the UK, and OnJuno is available in the US. Revolut and Wise are multi-currency accounts that offer debit cards in dozens of countries around the world.

N26

Revolut

Wise

OnJuno

Starling Bank

Monese

Foreign currency exchange

0.00%

0%-2%

on the first £1,000, 2% thereafter

0.35% - 2.85%

depending on the currency

0.00%

0.00%

0% between GBP, EUR, and RON

2.5% for other and additional 1% on weekends

ATMs fees

0%

on the first three euro withdrawals per month, 1.7% thereafter

0%

on the first €200 per month, 2% thereafter

0%

on the first €/£200 per month, 1.75% thereafter

0%,

waives first withdrawal per month

0%

£1.50

Card Delivery Fee

€0

€5.50 / £4.99

€6 / £5

$0

£0

€4.95 / £4.95

Trustpilot score

3.4/5

20,659 reviews

4.4/5

105,640 reviews

4.6/5

149,609 reviews

4.3/5

183 reviews

4.3/5

27,199 reviews

3.9/5

25,617 reviews

Go to N26Go to RevolutGo to WiseGo to OnJunoGo to Starling BankGo to Monese

dcc dynamic currency conversion

Always Pay in the Local Currency (Never Accept a Currency Conversion)

The second option you have when spending abroad is to use your debit or credit card for spending. In a vast majority of countries across the globe, your Visa or MasterCard will be usable at merchants and ATMs no matter where you are in the world.

While this can be a convenient option, it's worth being aware that it can often come at a steep cost, as the card companies, merchants, and your bank might all be levying various fees. Unlike multi-currency cards, debit and credit cards often cannot bypass these fees.

Using a Credit or Debit Card at ATMs Overseas

If you've travelled frequently enough with your home bank's debit or credit card, then you'll be all too familiar with being at a shop, restaurant, or ATM, and being presented with two currencies to choose to pay with: the local currency or your home currency.

Choosing to pay in your home currency is called a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). A DCC is a special kind of currency conversion fee that allows you to complete a transaction in your home billing currency instead of the local currency — and this fee is always optional.

Always Choose To Pay In the Local Currency

The rule here is simple — pay in the local currency wherever possible and avoid paying in your home currency. This would be euros (€) in the Eurozone, US dollars ($) in the US, pounds (£) in the UK, and so on.

If you instead paid in your home currency, merchants would charge you exorbitant exchange rates up to 4 to 8% (or higher!) than the real mid-market rate. For providing this DCC "service", ATMs would pocket the difference between their weak rate and the real rate. This is a form of a hidden fee.

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Can I Take Cash Out of an ATM With a Credit Card?

While your credit card will be accepted at most banks and ATM machines, be aware that withdrawing cash with a credit card will likely cost you heavily in interest payments.

Taking out cash with a credit card is akin to a small loan, and your credit card company will likely charge high interest rates on cash advances. For this reason, the experts at Monito recommend you to withdraw cash from ATMs abroad with a multi-currency card or debit card.

The Best Debit Cards to Use Abroad

While these debit cards will not be treated like local cards when you spend abroad, you can always opt-out of the dynamic currency conversion. Furthermore, the following banks do not charge international card transaction fees, which is a major money saver.

Most traditional banks will charge foreign transaction fees unless you sign up for a premium account or pay an annual fee for an international credit card. These digital banks, on the other hand, charge zero foreign transaction fees for the debit cards under their standard plans and even offer free ATM withdrawal allowances:

N26

Available for EU and EEA residents to open, an N26 account will never charge foreign transaction fees. All Euro ATM withdrawals are fee-free, giving you free rein to travel the Eurozone. Outside of the Eurozone, ATM withdrawals cost 1.7% per withdrawal.

OnJuno

OnJuno is a new and exciting digital bank available to US residents. Not only do they charge zero foreign transaction fees, but they also reimburse any and all foreign ATM withdrawal fees, which are fees charged by the ATM machine itself.

Starling Bank

The Starling Bank card is an excellent option in the UK for foreign travel. In addition to no foreign transaction fees, Starling Bank does not charge foreign ATM withdrawal fees. You might only be charged a flat fee by the ATM itself, just as you would in the UK.

Monese

Monese is another option available in the UK and across the EU that charges no foreign transaction fees as long as you spend within the EU, the UK, or Romania. Under their standard plan, ATM withdrawals cost £1.50 per withdrawal.

Jarrod Suda View of Geneva Switzerland from La Saleve

Find ATMs Abroad With Fee-Free Withdrawals

The one fee that you will have a tough time avoiding, no matter what kind of card you have, is the service fee charged by the physical ATM machine or ATM provider. OnJuno is unique in that it will actively reimburse fees charged to your account by an ATM. Nonetheless, these service fees are hard to avoid unless you know where to look.

What is the Global ATM Alliance?

The Global ATM Alliance is a global network of banks that waive international ATM access fees. If you plan to take out cash during your stay overseas, then we recommend that you search for a Global ATM Alliance partner and plan your visit to the ATM ahead of time:

Even if you do not have access to a Global ATM Alliance bank, always try to use an ATM that belongs to a local bank rather than a generic Euronet cash machine attached to a wall. This way, you can be more confident that you’ll be presented with the bank’s exchange rate.

How To Use ATMs While Abroad

Have a look at our portfolio of guides to use foreign ATMs in countries around the world.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using ATMs Abroad

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