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Cash Withdrawals in Europe

We've always used our credit union debit card for cash withdrawals when living/traveling in Europe. Things are slightly different for credit cards and debit cards - now when using a credit card they ask if you want your purchase charged in dollars or euro (or whatever the local currency is), and we've been told it's always best to charge in the local currency. Now, when withdrawing cash using a debit card (at a bank only, not at one of those privately owned machines), you're asked if you want the withdrawal charged in local currency or in US dollars. The machine shows what the cost will be if you select USD, but you don't know the cost in the local currency until you check your bank account.

We made our first withdrawal in Dublin at an AIB bank, and were charged a rate of $1.17, which was the current rate shown online. Subsequent withdrawals at either AIB or Bank of Ireland, have all shown the USD option to be at a rate of about $1.20, so I assumed we were correct to select 'euro' rather than dollars. I know saving 3 cents/dollar isn't much, but if I can get $1.17 instead of $1.20, I'll take $1.17 every time, right?

So today I was able to look at my credit union acct online, and for all but the first 2 withdrawals I've been charged a rate in excess of $1.34. I've called my credit union, and they're going to check with the bank who processes their ATM cards, but their initial reaction was no hopeful. I'm probably one of 10 people in the entire credit union who even travel to Europe, so they have little, if any, experience with this situation.

Has anyone else experienced this situation using a debit card for cash withdrawals?


100+ Posts
I always use my bank debit card for ATM withdrawals and if offered always choose withdraw in Euro, not dollars. I've always been charged what looks like the same rate I see for the bank rate (via XE Currency) for that day. This has been true for my Bank of America account as well as my local bank account. Bank of America had added a 3% foreign transaction fee for withdrawals a couple of years ago so I've only used my local bank's account in the last couple of years. You might ask them if they also add a percentage to the withdrawal.


100+ Posts
I don't know if this is relevant in your case, but I've decided that I don't want to be dependent on searching for or using ATMs while abroad. I look for the best way to get foreign currency before the trip, and just fly in with the amount I planned that I will need. Works for me. Cash is used for the smaller transactions and emergencies - the credit card is saved for the bigger expenses - and it's just a matter of being sure you keep it safe. That's a subject for another discussion.
I find this weird as well. I read somewhere that some ATM/Bancomat default choice is DCC and the choice to use "local currency" is not easily seen.

We stopped using our credit union account once they started adding the 1%/2% to cash withdrawals and credit card charges for foreign transactions. Our travel account is with First Republic Bank, a regional bank. We called our branch directly when we had an ATM withdrawal problem (€500) in Paris a couple of years ago and we were made whole right away.

The customer service is great. Also, a number of their employees at our branch travel internationally, so understands travel issues.
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I'm in Canada so I'm not sure if my experience will help you, but your question got me to take another look at my banking transactions during our trip to Spain in May 2018. Just as an example, on May 23, I withdrew Euros from the ATM in Madrid at an exchange rate (as recorded in my bank statement) of CDN$1.55 per Euro. The official exchange rate for that date was about CDN$1.50 so I paid about CDN$0.05 more than the official rate - I'm not surprised by that and it doesn't seem excessive. Plus, I paid a EUR3.00 service charge to the Spanish bank and a CDN$5.00 charge to my Canadian bank. These are flat rate fees regardless of the amount I withdraw.

In general, I only use the debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs and use my credit card for larger purchases. I don't recall getting the EUR/CDN$ option at the ATM - maybe I wasn't paying enough attention, but I would have selected EUR out of habit.

When offered the option to purchase in Euros or CDN$ (on the credit card), I have generally selected Euros. When I got home and checked the exchange rate on my credit card statement, it seemed to be in the same ballpark as I would have paid had I selected the CDN$ option.

For whatever it may be worth....:)
Just want to mention that if you have an account with Schwab, there are no ATM fees abroad. We keep an account with Schwab for just this reason. A little off topic but I have also found that the Chase Visa cards currency conversion is not good. I try to use my AmEx for charges as the rates are generally more favorable.
Peabody, are you referring to Chase cards that promise no foreign transaction fees (most of their travel-branded cards)? I've thought that, if they were in that category, the difference between cards' exchange rates was negligible, but some of their non-travel-branded cards, such as the Freedom Unlimited, add 3% to foreign currency transactions.
Hi Andrew - the answer to that is YES. Even though there is no foreign transaction fee, the exchange rate is not favorable. Probably not a big deal if you have no large purchases but it can add up to a significant bit of money over the course of a long trip.
On a trip to London a couple of years ago was amazed at the difference in the rates used by Chase and AmEx for GBP charges. AmEx is a respectable $1.4 0-$1.42 over the course of the week. Chase on the other hand was $1.47 - $1.50 for the same time period. So even though there is no foreign transaction fee on either card, the exchange rate is obviously MUCH better through AmEx. What makes it sting more is that I was charged a rate of $1.50 at Chase for a purchase and then the refund for that deposit used a rate of ($1.40 absolutely the only time that low rate was used by Chase) so I paid $31.56 for the transaction which may not be a foreign transaction fee in the general sense but it sure feels like one to me. Since then, I stick to AmEx where possible. I read on Gary Leff's blog (View from the Wing) that it is VISA not Chase setting the exchange rate. It may be that MasterCard is a better option as well but I have not tried it.
As Peabody says, once it's established that these are cards without foreign transaction fees, it's a matter of Visa vs. MasterCard vs. Amex rather than anything specific to Chase. There's this from NerdWallet, with links to conversion sites from Visa and MasterCard. I get that a €100 charge on July 10 would be $117.92 with Visa and $117.60 with MC. It seems Amex doesn't have such a site, and we'd need to go with people's reports of what rates they got. There's also this from Doctor of Credit from two years ago comparing Visa/MC rates with interbank-reported rates.
Well, our CU is still talking to 5th 3rd Bank, who don't have a clue. Yesterday they credited us $382+, the amt we were overcharged. My guess is that someone mis-keyed the exchange rate, confusing Ireland with Northern Ireland, but I haven't heard anything yet.
I found during a stay in Barcelona during the winter of 2018 that some banks were charging more for cash machine withdrawal than others. The rate is always disclosed, so it pays to check more than one ATM. My local credit union has stopped charging for withdrawals, so I just have to focus on the ATM rate. Obviously, we are all captive of the fluctuations in currency exchange rates. Last winter was a terrible spike: we were paying 20 percent more than the winter before! Ouch!
I never exchange euros in the US because the rate is obnoxious. I try to save euros from the preceding trip to get me started when I arrive. Then I use my credit card as much as possible.
OK, here's an update. Our credit union has been going round and round with the bank they go through - Fifth Third. 5/3 says it's not their problem, it's with Mastercard, or whoever issued the debit card. The other party blames 5/3. Typical pass-the-buck incompetence by everyone.

Our CU has persisted, and seems to have made a break-through. It seems the initial bank where we made the withdrawal was correctly charging us at the rate of $1.17 for euro withdrawals. We made withdrawals of €400, so that would cost us $468. The other bank then processed the $468 at the rate of $1.17, increasing the charge to $547.

And, not surprisingly, we're not the only ones this is happening to, but as I feared, many people don't realize it, and may just assume that there's a surcharge.

Someone from one of the the computer companies will be at our CU tomorrow so we'll see what happens.

And yesterday when we withdrew our first British pounds, the same thing happened.
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Another update: Yesterday our CU had a video call with someone from one of the banks, then another video call with the other bank. Everyone is blaming someone else, but seem to acknowledge there is indeed a problem. I've asked for the name and number of anyone, just so I can vent. I know it might not do any good, but I'm really frustrated and just want to scream at someone.

I'm also wondering about all the others who have no idea they've been overcharged - anyone know anything about class action lawsuits? Should I take to social media? (My biggest problem with this is trying to explain the situation as clearly as possible!)


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