Money for Travel in Europe

Dear readers, as you know, I will be traveling in Europe the week after next. Could anybody offer any suggestions on what to do about money? My sister suggests I carry the entire sum I plan to spend in cash but that bothers me a lot. I know I’ll just lose it somewhere.

Do people still use traveler’s cheques? Or do they just use their American ATM card to withdraw money in Europe? Is that ruinously expensive? Can you pay for purchases with an American debit-credit card? Is that better than paying in cash? Or worse? Are these cards accepted everywhere?

P.S. I just reread the post’s title, and it sounds like I’m asking for money which, of course, is not the case. I only want advice.

14 thoughts on “Money for Travel in Europe”

  1. I haven’t used traveler’s checks in about 10-15 years. Personally, I always carry about $200.00 or so in my wallet when I first leave the U.S. (which I convert to Euros or Pounds or whatever at the airport.) After I spend that inital amount of money, I generally pull out cash from European ATM’s as needed. From what I understand , ATM’s give you a good exchange rate. And I have never had a problem. ATM’s are plentiful and easy to use. I also will use my VISA check card sometimes and never found that I got gouged or anything. Generally, I prefer cash because it makes more aware of my spending though. πŸ™‚ I have done this in several European countries and found that it works well.

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  2. As long as your debit card is a Visa, Mastercard, etc, you can use it anywhere, even Europe. πŸ™‚ Not American Express though–they’re not accepted in most places. A classmate found this out the hard way.

    Watch the conversion rate! I overspent when I was there. I got used to the very favorable exchange rate from dollars to the Czech crown, so when I traveled to countries using the Euro…ouch. I got stuck broke in Amsterdam for a weekend. That was fun. I don’t regret a thing, but somehow I don’t think you’d want to live for two days on bread, alcohol, and cigarettes. πŸ˜‰

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  3. Clarissa: I’d agree with Evelina, in general, but would recommend you call your bank/credit card company before you leave, and let them know you’ll be in Europe, as some will block foreign transactions (especially if you will be visiting Russia). I used ATMs & Debit Card in Asia, fees at ATM were high, but that was Bank of America. Don’t carry more cash than you can afford to lose.

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  4. I will add to the chorus of “use your debit card” (as long as it is Visa, Mastercard, etc) and to let them know you are traveling before you leave. You should be fine to use your debit card both in shops for direct purchases and at ATMs. Avoid using credit cards, which tend to come with worse exchange rates and higher fees (but will still work if you’re in a pinch). The airport is usually the most expensive place to change money, so I would advise against that unless the convenience outweighs other options (and it is useful to have a small amount of cash in the foreign currency when you arrive).

    One last thing: if you are going to the UK you may come across confusion when using your card in shops. Cards there have a special security chip (“chip and pin” system) that the US has not adopted yet. Your card can still be used perfectly fine (also okay at ATMs), but in shops you may have to ask them to swipe it rather than using the machines they normally use. I don’t know if the “chip and pin” system is also in place in other parts of Europe.

    Have a good time on your trip!

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    1. As a Brit living in Germany, I second this warning to be prepared for the chip and pin system in the UK, but also make sure your card is signed on the back when you get to Berlin. In the UK a lot of people (including me) don’t bother signing their cards anymore, as there’s generally no need for it. When I got to Germany and tried to pay for stuff in shops with my UK debit card, that was a problem, as here you have to sign the receipt and they check it against the card. Add in not being able to speak very good German and you have a potentially embarrassing situation on your hands. Although probably not a problem for Americans, if you always have to sign anyway.

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  5. Visa/Mastercard/Delta/Maestro/Solo cards debit or credit will be accepted anywhere in the UK, and most places in Europe. Having said that, some stores, particularly small and non-chain, will have a minimum transaction, (due to the card company’s surcharges to the shop) usually about Β£3 or similar in €.
    Amex, as above is dodgy, and so are Diner’s Club Cards. Traveller’s cheques are a pain in the ass, and even in London, it is surprising how difficult it can be to get them accepted. Some of the big department stores in London will accept foreign currency. Post Offices offer commission free currency exchange if you are in a pinch.
    ATMs should be fine too – they will have symbols to tell you which they accept. In the UK, don’t use the machines that charge – they have to tell you upfront before they do so, and there are plenty of machines that do not charge you – anything linked to an actual bank/building society will usually be free.
    However, your bank may impose a charge for withdrawing foreign currency and there will be no way of avoiding that.
    I second the advice to call your bank and let them know your itinerary – you may be able to get your currency commission free, and it’s important not to arrive in a foreign country and find that your cards won’t work due to fraud prevention blocks. Not that that has ever happened to me on a last minute work trip of course. πŸ˜€ It’s funny now, but it was less so in the middle of the night in Paris.
    I would not recommend carrying all of your money in cash. Way too risky. Don’t change money at the airport if you can help it, they will gouge you horribly on commission and exchange rate.
    If you have time, it can be worth looking into pre-paid debit cards – you put say, a couple of hundred on them and then if your card is lost/stolen you don’t need to worry about your bank account being wiped out.
    That’s about all I can think for now as regards money.

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  6. I use a visa debit card to withdraw cash at ATMs whenever I travel in Europe. I also use my credit card to pay hotels and restaurants. Most credit cards have a 3% overhead for foreign transactions. The rates I have gotten for debit cards to cash are quite reasonable (I believe about a 1% overhead for foreign transaction). I have never had any trouble with this, even in small towns; I think you’ll be fine. I too wouldn’t recommend carrying a lot of money in cash.

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  7. Don’t get traveller’s checks. They are impossible to cash. Some banks or credit cards don’t charge an extra fee for foreign transactions. I actually keep an account that has one of these ATM cards just to travel with.

    In addition, if you have a smart chip card, it’s a little easier to buy gas if you have rented a car.

    And if you are interested in couchsurfing (instead of staying at a hotel both to save money and to meet people who live there), just ask — I’ve had some wonderful experiences this way.

    I just got back from Germany/France/Netherlands. We changed $400 to euros in advance at our bank, then just used the ATMs or credit cards after that.

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  8. Traveler checks are only worth for longer stays. Otherwise bring enough cash, It’s simpler that way. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but I’d still only use them for booking hotels, or flights or something over 100euros/pounds.

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  9. Debt cards to draw chunks of cash from ATMs periodically. Avoid debit/credit cards for small purchases since the fees add up. Do not use outdoor ATMs if you can help it; stick to the ones inside a bank or other reliable indoor space. (I learned this the hard way after having my card skimmed in Italy and losing $2000; thankfully, my bank reimbursed it, but it’s an awful experience. I also suggest getting theft protection on your card — say, to block transactions over some amount, or alert you.)

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