World Travel

Fight the fees: How to beat overseas ATM charges

David Wilson
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"The fun-tax fees may make you want to ring your bank and abuse whichever call centre worker in Krakow or KL fields the call. Instead, relax and learn how to dodge getting shafted in future. You do not need to be fleeced."
David Wilson
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Overseas ATM transaction fees can be murder. Unless you are lucky or canny, these days you may well get hit three times. For a start, you may be stung with a local ATM fee: about $5. Yes, as several sources helpfully say, you have the option of cancelling the transaction. Great.

Once you grimly authorise it, you may feel even more like a daylight robbery victim for two reasons. First, there's the currency conversion fee, which is (no joke) between about 2 and 3 percent. Then, when you have got over that hit, wham! Your bank whacks you with an inflated (roughly five bucks) "disloyalty fee": an accusation of treachery that may seem especially tough when the nearest branch of your bank lies 8000km away.

"Dear valued customer," your bank really seems to be saying, "you're overseas — you're presumably having a holiday while we slave away in the office. So stuff you. That'll be another five bucks. Enjoy your trip."

The fun-tax fees may make you want to ring your bank and abuse whichever call centre worker in Krakow or KL fields the call. Instead, relax and learn how to dodge getting shafted in future. You do not need to be fleeced.

But remember: whichever bank or credit card you use, alert your bank to where you will be, before you go. Avoid the threat of having your card spat back in your hand.

Just in case, by contrast, your card is swallowed up, always favour an ATM attached to a bank that is open. That way, should your card vanish down a black hole, you can go behind the scenes for help.

Here are six ways to curb overseas ATM fees.


1. Homely holes

Before you choose where you go on holiday, find out where your bank has branches or hole-in-the-wall ATMs. Pick your destination based around that information. It's a hard-nosed approach to a dream holiday, but it pays.

2. No-cost cashpoints

Run a keyword search on ATMs in the resort where you plan to stay that impose no local fee, as in "ATMs that don't charge fees Bali" or, simply, "best Bali ATM".

For more focus, explore expat forums. The likes of ThaiVisa.com are great resources offering up-to-date, pinpoint leads.

3. Magic wand

Get a Wizard Clear Advantage MasterCard . Unlike other credit cards, the Wizard Clear Advantage levies no international transaction fees. Widely recommended, a Wizard card may well be the best option on the market.

But securing one takes some doing. Wizard demands your driver's licence (if you have one), your employer's address and contact number, your agent or landlord's details (if renting or boarding) and details of your income, assets and liabilities. And you thought getting clearance to work for ASIO was hard.

4. Loaded

On paper, a money card is a convenient, simple and safe way to access your money when travelling. You just preload it with foreign currency at a good rate. On average they are 8 percent better than exchanging at airports, 4 percent better than traveller's cheques and 5 percent better than high street money changers, according to ComparePrepaid.co.uk.

One of the best-known pre-pay products, the Travelex Cash Passport, can be used at millions of Visa ATMs and retailers across the world, in theory. But some reviewers rip the Passport to shreds.

Alternatives include the Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card, and ANZ Travel Card.

With any money card, read the fine print closely because your "free" overseas transactions might come at a hidden cost. Expect an initial load fee of about $15 and small ATM withdrawal fees of about $4. Then there are "inactivity fees".

5. Act local

If you are staying in a country for a while or visiting repeatedly, consider opening an account there. That move might be easier to make than you think because other countries are less regulated than stringent Australia.

Run a regional keyword search including the phrase "easy to open". Even if you lack some formal credentials, you might be allowed to open an account in the country of your choice on a nod and a wink. Then you can just pump money into it via internet banking at a cost — 20 AUD or so. The figure depends on your bank's mood and level of greed.

6. Stash

The trick with this final pragmatic but risky tactic is to carry all the money you need over from Australia or wherever you live in a leg pouch, say. Or make withdrawals overseas on your holiday rarely but in bulk.

Like a miser, you should bury the cash in your room safe, if you have one, or some subtle hiding place. Extract what you need little by little. And just hope you stay lucky.

Your say: What are your tips for avoiding rip-off overseas ATM fees?

Looking for more tips on saving money while travelling? Check out The Scrimper's Guide to Travel and Surviving the world's most expensive cities.

User comments
It is very difficult to find a 'free of fees' ATM overseas and there is little to no chance of escaping your parent bank international transaction fees. A local bank account for frequent fliers to a particulr destination is very good.....especially the USA where some banks have partner branches in Canada, South America and the Caribbean. Unfortunately the only other practical wayto avoid fees I have found is to load up with foreign currency, break it up into a few bundles and stash in different area on oneself and luggage.
Recently, i was in the US for a few weeks and used a cash card. I found that the ATMs in McDonalds only charged 99c, whereas all the others we found were upwards of at least $2.50!
open account in the country and internet transfer its the least expensive way,if you have to change money in country do it at most banks just need a passport and you will get a better exchange rate by a few points but, hey in the end its your hard earned money, if you have to exchange at airport then wait till you get out side customs as again you get better exchange only a few points again though,
Open a gold visa debit card account with NAB, it is only $10 a month (waived if you deposit $2000 plus each month.) They charge you no fees to use your card overseas. I am an Australian citizen who is studying in America and I get money put into that account each month.
Westpac charges 20 AUD, then intermediary bank in New York charges U$ 25, then my Bank Of America account holding branch charges me U$ 12 wire transfer deposit fee! That's 60 bucks at todays exchange rates. Fees are set regardles of amount transfered! Regards

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