Tips on Using ATMs on your vacations

How to use a cash machine: Insert card, pull out cash.

ATMs are the easiest and smartest way for travelers to get cash. You’ll pay withdrawal fees, but you’ll still get a better rate than you would exchanging your currency for local cash at a currency exchange booth (terrible rates).

Finding Cash Machines

In most places, cash machines are easy to locate. Small towns may have a limited number of or even no ATMs. To avoid getting into a bind, consider stocking up on cash before heading to a small-town or rural destination.

When possible, withdraw cash from bank-run ATMs located just outside that bank. Ideally use the machine during the bank’s opening hours, so you can go inside for help if your card is munched. Bank ATMs usually do not charge usage fees and are generally more secure, as a thief is less likely to target a cash machine near surveillance cameras. Many banks place their ATMs in a small entry lobby, which protects users from snoopers and bad weather. To get in, look for a credit-card-size slot next to the door and insert your card.

Avoid “independent” ATMs. These have high fees and may try to trick users with “dynamic currency conversion.” Note that these “independent” ATMs are often found next to bank ATMs in the hope that travelers will be too confused to notice the difference. Their machines may even have signs that scream “Free Cash Withdrawals” — don’t believe it.

Withdrawing Cash

Cash machines are easy to use. They always have English-language instructions— except they spit out foreign cash, calculated at the day’s standard bank-to-bank rate.

It’s best to use a debit card that charges low fees for international ATM transactions. To further reduce fees, limit the number of withdrawals you make by taking out larger sums.

Remember that you’re withdrawing cash in the local currency. If your daily limit is $300 in US dollars, you may be able to withdraw just €250 or so (depending on the exchange rate). Many frustrated travelers get an “insufficient funds” message and walk away from ATMs thinking their cards were rejected, when actually they were asking for more cash in local currency than their daily limit allowed.

Be aware that ATMs themselves have withdrawal limits. If the ATM won’t let you withdraw your daily maximum, try several smaller withdrawals to get the total amount you want. (Or, to avoid excessive per-transaction fees, try another cash machine — maximum withdrawals vary by bank and location.) Note that few ATM receipts list the exchange rate, and some machines don’t dispense receipts at all.

In some countries, an ATM may give you high-denomination bills, which can be difficult to break.  Request an odd amount, and/or head right inside a bank to exchange your withdrawal for smaller bills.