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Currency Issues When Traveling

Here are the answers to the most asked questions about currency issues while traveling. Since the introduction of the Euro, it is now easier to travel to several countries in Europe without having to exchange currency again and again. The € Euro is the official currency in most of the countries in the European Union. Britain, however has not adopted the Euro and still uses the £ (pound) and Switzerland still uses the Swiss Franc CHF.

Euro Banknotes

The exchange rate varies daily. To check the Exchange Rate, Oanda is a good site.

It is always a good idea to have some of the currency you will need for tips or taxis when you arrive. You can get some Euros or pounds at your bank before you leave, or use the airport ATM’s. There are ATM’s in every major airport in Europe, and I recommend using them. It is fast, easy and you will get a better rate than at currency exchange offices.

All cash withdrawals, regardless of size, are exchanged based on the wholesale exchange rate, which is usually reserved only for very large interbank exchanges; you are getting the advantage of your bank affiliation.

Once there, you can use ATM’s to get cash and use your credit card to purchase things or pay your restaurant tabs or hotel bills. You will find ATM’s at most banks. You will find many banks in each city. If you have debit and credit cards that are part of the Cirrus, Maestro, Mastercard system, you can look here for Mastercard ATM locations abroad. Those using Visa, Plus or Interlink systems can look hereto locate Visa ATM’s in Europe.

A few other things to note:

Most European ATM’s do not accept PIN’s longer than four digits and only have numbers on the keypad. If your PIN is longer than 4 digits, contact your bank to have it changed. And if your PIN is based on letters rather than numbers, be sure to translate the letters into numbers while you are still in the USA. Most ATM’s abroad will only let you access the primary account on your ATM card (usually checking, not savings).

Credit card companies have now imposed a fee or percentage for using a different currency  – a foreign transaction fee. I use Capital One, and pay no fees. There are other credit cards that do not charge this fee, including America Express. Each credit card company has a different policy; so check it out and use your credit or debit card with the best terms.  You will pay a fee for each transaction, but much less than that at a currency exchange booth.

Be sure to call your credit card company and your bank before you leave, letting them know where you will be using your credit and debit cards. Using cards in unusual locations and circumstances sometimes trigger fraud alerts and you may find your card unusable.

There are places abroad that will only take credit cards with Smart Chips. We noticed this in the Netherlands on a recent trip. We had no issues in France. I have also been hearing that people are having issues using credit/debit cards to get cash from ATMs in Italy. ALways check with your credit card company or bank before you leave.

Written by Terri Fogarty for

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