International ATM Withdrawal Mistakes (DOs and DON’Ts )

Last Updated on January 10, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

Overseas ATM mistakes
Overseas ATM mistakes

Whether you’re jetting off to an international vacation or solo-ing on a business trip, it’s essential to have easy access to your money while abroad. International ATM withdrawals can be easy or tricky.

Navigating the complexities of foreign ATMs requires a bit of  knowledge to avoid unnecessary fees, security risks, and other potential travel pitfalls. Recently, I traveled to Mexico, where you’ll find ATM machines at banks and private vendors where travelers can withdraw money.

I decided to film a youtube video on international atm withdrawal mistakes but I quickly realized that what applied to Mexico applies globally. Other than the Spanish language, there really wasn’t much of a difference in my ATM experience from Italy, Japan or Nepal..

I’ll share the dos and don’ts of international ATM withdrawals, so you don’t pay excessive fees.

Watch my 22 International ATM withdrawal mistakes you NEED to KNOW

21 International ATM withdrawal mistakes: DOs & DON’Ts

1. DO use a currency converter

Use a currency converter on your mobile phone like GlobeConvert or XE.com to decide how much to withdraw in local currency.

2. DO use bank ATMS.

Bank ATM machines have better conversion rates and lower withdrawal fees. Cameras everywhere and it’s safer as most people are there strictly to do their banking. Go during operating hours. That way if anything goes wrong with your foreign card being eaten, you can get support.

international atm withdrawal mistakes
Atm withdrawal dos and donts

This is not always the convenient option but it’s safer with less fees. Private non bank ATMs tend to have higher withdrawal fees and bad conversion rates. But private atm machines are often found in convenient places such as convenient stores.

3. DON’T use ATMs in sketchy, dark areas or late at night.

ATM machines in questionable or unsafe locations carry potential risks. They are more vulnerable to be tampered with and if your card gets stuck or your money doesn’t come out, you’ll need to wait the next day for help. There is a scam called skimming where thieves place a card reader in the ATM machine to skim your information.  This is why bank ATMs are preferred.

 

international atm withdrawal mistakes
atm withdrawal mistakes

4. DON’T using ATMs in touristy areas

ATMs is in touristy areas have higher ATM fees.  BBVA  bank in Valladolid centro cost me $174 pesos or $9 USD in ATM fees. In downtown Bangkok, I used to occasionally withdraw money from Skytrain ATMs  and the fees were $5 USD per withdrawal. This is just the foreign ATM. It does not include whether your home bank will charge you an additional ATM fee of a couple of dollars.

5. DO bring a backup card

Bring more than one bank/Debit/ATM card in the case one of your preferred card does not work. I’ve had this happen to me on several occasions. So I bring two ATM cards, a credit card and extra cash in USD, when going to cash based countries.

6. DO have a separate account and debit card for travel only

Of ATMs withdrawal dos and donts, this one is optional but I used to have an HSBC account for years because HSBC is a bank chain that is global. I was almost always able to find an HSBC ATM machine. Thus, I had a separate account for it dedicated only to travel. This was additionally nice to have as I had only reserve funds, so in the case anything was stolen, it was not my main bank account.

Note: I stopped using HSBC when my debit card grew to have pin code issues and stopped working. But instead, I got a Charles Schwab account and debit card that I use only for travel.

7. DO use a mobile translate app to translate the ATM in your language.

Download Google Translate app, a handy translation app I use for translations abroad. It has this camera tool which scans the foreign word and offers a translation. Sometimes, it’s a mistranslation but often, there’s enough keywords to get the gist. Asian language and alphabets can be a little more translation as there may have multiple translations to a single word.

Tip: You can also memorize the general steps of the ATM process.

8. Use an ATM that’s part of your bank’s network.

To avoid out-of-network and operator fees, choose atm machines that are part of your bank’s network. The machine often shows icons from networks, like Cirrus (which I remember because it used to be part of my credit union bank).

9. DO beware of Dynamic Currency Conversion

 Dynamic Currency Conversion, or DCC is what travelers call a legal scam. It happens around the world, where the ATM is trying to get you to accept their ATM exchange rate, which is always going to be a rip off over the rate your home bank will give you.

Always chose to be charged in the local currency. They’ll pose it in a way which makes it sound you should, but the code word is DECLINE or NO.  You don’t want them to convert in your home currency. Let you bank do that.

On my bank statement after I got home, what was taken out was $223 and not the $243 as the foreign bank quoted me. So the bank’s Dynamic Currency Conversion, would’ve charged me $20 extra. On top of their ATM fee which was exorbitant $9 fee

10. DO take out enough cash for the duration of your trip

To avoid atm withdrawal mistakes, you want to make sure you’re not returning to the ATM every two days to withdraw cash.  ATM fees both from the foreign ATM and your bank back home can add up!. Usually I like to withdraw in two week increments.

11. DO Maintain distance with others when withdrawing money.

Make sure no one is standing too close and looking over your shoulder. Make sure you’re hiding your PIN when entering it.

12. DON’T forget your bank card in the ATM machine!

In the video you can see that I forgot my bank card. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it can happen when you’re in a foreign environment and juggling too much in your brain.

13. DON’T carry all your withdrawn cash on you while sightseeing.

Drop your withdrawn cash off at the hotel before going sightseeing.

14. DO Splinter your money and stash them in different places when you leave the ATM.

Have go-to stash pockets. You don’t want to keep all your money in one place in the case you encounter a thief.  Don’t forget where you stash your money. For the money I know I’ll use, I like to stash it in a Banjees wrist wallet. and I always like to carry a money belt.

Tip: Use the same splintering and stash pocket technique with your luggage bag at the hotel.

Read 24 Ways to Deter Pickpockets and Thieves

15. DO have a money routine when you travel

When traveling there are so many things you’re juggling.  Cash, credit cards, itinerary, rental car keys, hotel room card, etc… So many things to be mentally aware of that it’s easy to forget the basic things.

Having  a routine helps you entrain it into your body memory so your practices are automatic. Have your regular stash pockets, always put your debit/ATM in the same place, know the inside outs of whether you’ll withdraw cash from the airport ATM, order local currency in advance through your home bank, exchange a small sum of cash through the airport OR hold your breath and wait to get to your hotel to look for an ATM to withdraw cash from. The more you travel, the more it becomes a routine, so start yours today!

16. DON’T withdraw cash from airport ATMs.

Airport ATMs almost always have a worse conversion rate than bank ATMs in the city. The airport ATMs will charge you more, because they know travelers will want to withdraw local currency when they arrive. This is simple convenience that travelers won’t mind paying a little more for.

If you’re on a tight budget, hold off until you get to your hotel, to find a local bank .

17. DO occasionally break these money-saving rules.

If you’re an I-don’t-want-to-stress type of female solo traveler like me, DO break some of the rules I share with you here.  Travel has  many variables and you may have limited time for your vacation, where seeking out ATM machines in the city may not be worth the time you’ll lose in sightseeing.

I travel a lot of developing countries and there have been times that either, my hotel was nowhere near an ATM machine or the city I traveled had few ATM machines and they wouldn’t accept my debit card, my airport did not have an ATM machine (or accept my foreign debit card)… and I couldn’t use my credit card to take a taxi or public transportation into the city.

Thus:
I have withdrawn small sums of money from the airport ATMs to tide me over for a day until I found a local ATM in the city.
I have exchanged small currency at the airport exchange (in Myanmar) to have enough local currency to get a taxi into the city and to avoid money changers that were said to rip of travelers.
I have gotten to airports which did not have an ATM machine and discovered the city had few ATM machines as well as that was new technology to the country.
I have ordered local currency from my home bank because I was concerned the airport I’d be arriving into may not have an ATM (and I was correct!).

All these scenarios have happened and I’ve broken those rules to avoid what I felt was a greater stress and hassle. While saving money is great, there are times saving a couple of dollars are not worth your stress or risking your safety. The airport is sometimes, your one-stop-shop (i.e. ATM machines, foreign exchange, SIM cards, etc…) in preparing you for entering a foreign city. As a traveler traversing a foreign country- especially a non-western one- you must never assume that there’s a western standard and the convenience of foreign ATM machines that take your card.

18. Always keep your transaction receipt

Hold onto your transaction receipt in the case there is an error and you must show proof of what you withdrew in the case you need to contest anything.

19.  Be aware of hidden ATM cameras and skimming devices

Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN and check for any suspicious attachments on the ATM before using it. There’s illegal devices called skimmers and they’re inserted into the card reader and can read your card (or skim your information) when you enter it. Make sure there is nothing in the card slot before using it.

Read travel scams to Avoid

international atm withdrawal mistakes
atm withdrawal mistakes

 

20. Choose a bank with NO ATM FEES like Charles Schwab.

Choosing the right bank is the key to unlocking the best rates and minimizing fees. Look for banks that offer low or no foreign transaction fees and a competitive currency exchange rate. Trust me, your wallet will thank you!

Charles Schwab is one of the best known cards for travelers because it has refundable ATM fees.  So any ATM fees you collect during your travels abroad is refunded when you get home. If you’re planning to open a Charles Schwab bank account for the debit card but you’re flying out next week, call their support number. They’ll be happy to send your card to your hotel at your final destination! (Note: there’s a lot of flexibility in the account terms. You’ll need to set up a brokerage and bank account at no extra fees or cost)

Tip: For digital nomads and expats who work abroad, you’ll be happy to know that the wire transfer fees are only $15, if you transfer money from your foreign bank to your brokerage account (upon signing up for a personal checking account you also get a free brokerage account for stocks and investments). Transferring money through your personal checking will cost $25; although ACH bank-to-bank transfers are absolutely free (even if you’re transferring to an international bank)!

21. Notify your bank!

Inform your bank or credit card company about your travel plans to avoid any unexpected surprises. Banks sometimes freeze cards if they notice suspicious activity, and the last thing you want is to be stranded without access to cash. My bank used to continually freeze my card when I traveled (even when I notified them). But they’d also flag my card when I used it to purchase things with companies that were headquartered in countries different from what I notified them about. So if I were traveling in Greece but bought a Turkish Airlines flight, my card would get flagged, because my bank was not notified I’d be in Turkey.  Hostelworld was also another nightmare booking for me when I traveled because they are headquartered in Ireland.

Banking technology is improving however. My bank now offers the ability to update travel notifications and alerts in their mobile app. Check your bank to see if that is available in their mobile app too. It will save time and stress.

TiP: Download your bank’s mobile app and turn on your spending notifications to alert you of whenever you make a transaction. Always keep your bank’s phone number handy in case you need to Skype them from abroad. Build a relationship with your bank and a clerk who you can call when things go wrong.

How much should you withdraw when traveling abroad?

As a female solo traveler, I have a daily cash allowance of $40 USD/ day western country; $20-$25/day developing country. But this also depends upon the country economy, cash based activities and if I go shopping.

 

Watch my  ATM withdrawal dos and donts from Mexico

 

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By following the dos and don’ts of international ATM withdrawals, you can make the most of your travel experience without the worry of running out of cash or falling victim to financial scams and excess foreign ATM fees.

 

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