¨He who loses money, loses much; He who loses a friend, loses much more; He who loses faith, loses all.¨
How to Find an ATM Abroad
Nowadays, almost every city of any size, or touristic importance, has ATMs. So, you only need to carry a lot of cash if you will be traveling in very rural communities or off-the-beaten-path countries.
That said, it is not unusual to have to visit several ATMs before you find one that will dispense cash. In some countries, there were only a couple of bank ATMs that I could use with my ATM card. When I was in Bolivia in 2014, for example, I found through trial and error that my ATM card only worked on ATMs associated with the Banco de Santa Cruz.
Also, it is not unusual to see that many ATMs are out of order. I would advise you to double-check your account on-line whenever you find that an ATM does not dispense your cash. Once in a rare while, you will see a withdrawal from your account. Twice I had money withdrawn from my account for a failed transaction; however, I received a refund a couple of days later
ATM and Credit Card Travel Tips
- Most ATMs will dispense the currency of the local country only.
- Make sure that you can use your ATM outside of the US and Canada. Most ATMs worldwide are part of the Cirrus or the Plus Network. The majority of ATM cards can work with ATMs on either network. Older cards and some ATM cards issued by local banks may not work with these network ATMs. Generally, your ATM pin must have four numbers to work in most ATMs
- For safety’s sake and the best exchange rates, only use ATMs at a bank. Most banks have safe ATM cabins. (Sometimes you will need to swipe your card before entering). Some cabins even have bodyguards. Also, if you use ATMs in a bank, you will be assured that the exchange rate is the modified interbank rate.
- In some countries, like Costa Rica, most ATMs offer an option to dispense US dollars. Often in these countries, prices for many things are quoted in US dollars, and merchants will happily take US dollars for many purchases. Fortunately, in this case, there are usually no problems associated with withdrawing US dollars from these machines and paying for services in US dollars. (Note: Many hotels in Mexican resort towns allow you to pay in US currency. Generally, pay for services in these cities in pesos. These hotels use dynamic conversion rates.)
- You can get your cash right away from an ATM as soon as you receive a deposit. For years, I received my automatically deposited paycheck at 4:45 p.m. Pacific standard time every other Thursday and found that I could always access my money anywhere at the time. (Taking into account the difference in time between the ATMs location and my hometown).
- You may not be able to pay for on-line purchases and recurring bills using a US credit card. You may need, instead, to have a credit card from a local bank. I cannot, for example, use my US credit card in Mexico to:
- pay for my utilities on-line or
- buy products on-line from many major merchants, like Walmart.
How to Avoid Getting your Credit and ATM Cards Frozen While Traveling
Many banks will not allow you to take money out of your account or to make credit charges overseas if they sense that a transaction could be fraudulent. While there is no exact way of determining when banks will cut you off, it usually occurs when you:
- Make multiple, unusually large withdrawals in a short period;
- Have not traveled much before and/or
- Have not traveled in a while.
To avoid these problems, you should let the bank or credit card companies know your travel plans in advance. (Note: Since I travel so much, my banks and credit card companies have told me that I no longer need to advise them of my travel plans. I have found, however, that I need to notify them if I will be making large withdrawals anywhere overseas except Merida).
You usually can advise the bank via their website rather than phoning them. Unfortunately, you may find that even if you notify the bank that they will cut you off sometimes.
While getting the bank to unblock the card can be a pain the neck, I am glad banks are so diligent. Twice on the road, my bank has found fraudulent charges on my credit cards, and the bank saw the problem before the charges hit my account.
Fortunately, you can usually get the bank to unfreeze your account easily by phoning them. (Most cards have an overseas telephone number on the card itself). Keep in mind that, while many banks have 24-hour telephone lines, they may be better equipped to deal with problems like this during work hours in your home country.
Avoid Problems Making Large ATM Withdrawals
Many Fifty-Plus Nomads will have to make a significant withdrawal from ATMs at some point in their adventures. Credit card use is not as common in some countries as in your home country, and some vendors will only accept local currency even for large transactions. I have needed to withdraw large sums of local money to pay for: (1) private tour guides; (2) tuition and renting a room from language schools; and (3) home repairs.
Getting large sums of money from an ATM can be a pain because most ATMs will only allow you to withdraw a maximum amount, usually around the equivalent of US $200-500, at one time. (Note: You can generally make more than one withdrawal at an ATM if you need more than that amount. However, there is usually a maximum amount of ATM withdrawals allowed per day. In my case, this is often around $750).
Unfortunately, you cannot learn what the maximum withdrawal amount is easily in advance because it varies between local banks. Sometimes your home bank will also impose a transaction amount limit.
It is usually a matter of trial and error. Still, I have occasionally found useful information by Googling something like, ¨What is the best bank in Italy to withdraw a large sum of money from a Bank of America ATM card¨? If you need a considerable amount of money, probably the easiest way is to make the maximum ATM withdrawal every day until you have amassed enough cash to pay the bill.