I'm going to Holland/Belgium in April. I intend to by Euros at my local bank for minimum spending and charge what I can on my Master Card. Is this a good idea or should I buy a prepaid MasterCard? Would I avoid fees this way? Some have suggested I draw from ATMs when Euros are needed. Any advice from more savvy folks out there?
Monica from Northeast, PA
If you have or can obtain a USAA credit card, they will only charge you for the conversion fee, but there will be no additional charges. (This was as of 2005).
When I was in Canada (Montreal and Quebec), in 2005, I used two credit cards including their Visa card and was very surprised. No extra fees! The other credit card company charged me 3%, but I didn't find out until after I received the bill. As a result, I have since switched over totally to USAA, specifically because of this issue.
So, you might want to contact USAA to find out more about it, if you are not already a member. They are a very good company. (I don't work for them, but I have used their credit card and car insurance for a long time.) My feeling is that they treat their customers right, so (in my little way) I reward them for doing so.
Unfortunately, I do not know about Euros, as I haven't been to Europe in quite awhile. I've heard that the ATM fees are high.
Hopefully, someone else can give you additional or even more updated information.
Have a nice trip and let us know how everything goes!
By Cathy G.
Unlike America, many European countries are strictly cash (don't know if this applies to Holland/Belgium, nevertheless, you will still need a credit card to rent a car). Even if they claim to take credit cards, checks, etc. they don't always honor it. ATM's won't always take your card either. You usually can't get bank wires unless you have a bank account in that country and it's almost impossible to get an account in a foreign country. Travel experts recommend you take enough cash to last several days then wire money through Western Union, they do have Western Union offices all over Europe. Get this year's travel guides and look it up, but whatever they say, always have your return ticket home and enough cash to last a few days. I hope you have a lovely trip. Holland/Belgium in the spring when all the flowers are in bloom has always been my dream vacation. Belgium has more chocolate shops than anywhere in the world; eat a piece for me!
You get better value at American Express for the euro exchange and they don't charge any fees. They make their profit from traveler checks more than cash with cash exchange. Also, there's a lot of fluctuating on the dollar value, so if you go one day to exchange for euros, you may get more or less accordingly. Be prepared to have enough money to take that into consideration.
We were in Belgium and enjoyed it very much via tour bus. (02/26/2008)
Here's a link that lets you show the conversion of US dollars to Euro. It's only a guide as it changes, but gives you an idea. We called the bank to find out the cost of converting US dollars into Euros before we left for our trip and it was very high. You can convert US dollars at the Holland/Belgium airport and it won't cost so much, saving you money, but we still used American Express as our main source.
I would recommend going with a minimum amount of Euros. You can always change them at an ATM in the airport when you arrive, and the transaction rate you get will be much better than at a local bank or exchange. When you use an ATM or credit card you get that bank's international transaction rate which is much better than any of the exchanges.
Ask your credit card company and your debit card company if they charge a transaction fee each time you use it to purchase something abroad. Some do, some don't. For those that do, the amount can vary tremendously from 1-5% of the sale.
If you qualify for USAA credit (military background in the family), the above poster is correct that they do have very good rates, however they are now charging a very small fee compared to my other credit cards.
The other poster is also correct in that many places do only accept cash, or at a minimum discourage credit cards. Where you can use a credit card almost everywhere here, maybe that is only true about 50% of the time in Europe.
ATM fees are about the same in Europe as they are in the U.S. and just like here it is by transaction so you may want to take out more at a time rather than little bits.
Also *IMPORTANT* be sure and let your credit card and bank debit card companies know you are leaving the country and what countries you will be in. If your account all of a sudden shows up with purchases in a foreign country and you haven't let them know, they may freeze your account.
If you are traveling with a spouse or partner, it is helpful if you each carry different cards. That way if one is stolen or lost, you still have one you can use.
We take about $100 in dollar bills as most people at shops on the street will take them. Then we get the local currency at an ATM. There is usually one at the airport. Get what you think you'll need then you don't have to hunt up an ATM so often. Our credit union doesn't charge anything unless we use the ATM more than 7 times. But be sure to let them know where you'll be and when. Even when we did, last time they froze my card. Fortunately my husband has the same card, but a different number and they let his work. They have a company that keeps check for fraud and they're the ones that froze my card. Next time I'll contact them too. (My credit union forgot to do that last time.) Most banks have outside ATMs that you can use and if you have difficulty, they'll help you. We feel ATMs and using local currency are the best solutions all around. (02/27/2008)
You might check out Arthur Frommer's website and other reputable travel sites. frommers.com has tips on money and currency, and there's an article there about a new kind of "chip and PIN" credit card in parts of Europe. Apparently some shopkeepers are being very cautious and will take nothing else. (02/28/2008)
We were in England in 2006 and everything we charged (debit cards with a Visa logo), including an ATM, charged us an international fee. Next time we plan on taking money out of an ATM in a lump sum, rather than making several stops! (03/01/2008)
I hope you know that a $1.00 euro with cost you $1.50 in USA money. You can purchase prepaid cards that make paying easier. Have fun. Do you need a friend? (03/02/2008)
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