I will be spending 4 weeks in Spain, France, Italy and UK.
Currently I transfer money from savings to a debit card via the internet. This way the debit card has little money in case it is lost or stolen. No problem here as I have a computer in the home. While vacationing across the pond, I will have to make use of cyber cafes to transfer money as I won’t have a computer with me. Is this a scary thing to do? Is there a better way?
The only cc I have is an AMEX. Is it widely used there? However, I think most of my transactions will be in cash.
I will be spending 4 weeks in Spain, France, Italy and UK.
Have you considered traveller’s cheques? They’re a bit old-fashioned, but they certainly do the trick if you’re abroad and want to be safe.
Your debit card should work at cash machines there; I took money out of my account when I was in Paris. You have to pay a premium to your bank in fees, but you will get the best possible exchange rate.
Contact your bank. Also, make sure they know you’re out of the US: otherwise they might deny the transaction as suspicious.
You might spend days searching for someone who will accept a travelers check, and even then, only if you can show them the original purchase receipts, too.
This is what I’ve done the last three times I went to Japan. There, they have ATMs at the post offices, and I didn’t get charged any fees other than the foreign transaction fee from my own bank, which was $5 IIRC. So each time I made a withdrawal, I went for $500, which minimized the percentage that was transaction fee.
I would guess a similar situation applies in Europe, but you’ll want to check with your own bank.
I would not be passing sensitive financial information (account access passwords, for example) over an internet connection (wired or wireless) in a public place, foreign or domestic. IIWY, I would load my debit card account with a more-than-adequate balance before leaving home.
I consider it quite safe to carry as much as $1,000 in cash. In my whole life, I have never experienced the loss or theft of money from my person. Buy a ten-dollar money belt, and wear it all the time, even to bed. Don’t go out in the middle of the night drinking with strangers, and you’ll be as safe as at home.
It is reasonable to be concerned about online banking from a public terminal, but you could give someone back home your password, and have them transfer funds from your bank to your debit card – just email them in advance when you need to make a transaction.
What RealityChuck says.
Using ATM machines in Europe is just as easy as here in the US, and while you get charged a nominal fee by your own bank ($3 or so), you get the inter-bank exchange rate, which is far superior to that of the bureaux de change in airports and train stations.
Plus, you only have to have a nominal amount of cash on you at any time- say… $200 euros, instead of your whole wad. Keep your card & passport somewhere separate from your cash and if the cash gets stolen, you’re not totally fubar.
I’ve done the ATM machine thing on 4 trips to Europe spanning 10 years and 7 countries, and it’s worked out stellar.
You might have a bit of trouble finding an ATM that doesn’t require a chip-and-pin card, which you almost certainly don’t have. Last time I was in Rome I had visit three bank ATMs before one worked.
If you keep the balance low on your debit card for generally security, I’d consider relaxing that for the duration of this trip and moving over your expected cash budget. The odds of fraud in that two week window are minimal.
Or just go visit your bank and buy some pounds and Euros to cover your trip adn keep it in a security wallet inside your clothes. This is usually what I do so and I never worry about running out of cash or needing to find access in some little village or deal with an ATM interface in a language I don’t speak (though they do almost always have an English option). Yes, the exchange rate you get won’t be great but then you’re likely to pay horrible ATM and international transaction fees anyway (and to minimize the fees you’ll want to max the withdrawals anyway so you’ll still end up carrying a fair amount of cash anyway). Plus, I always feel like an international bigshot when I walk into a bank and say “I need to buy some Euros, Swiss Francs, and Turkish lira…”
ETA: For my last two week trip around Central Germany I started out with 2000 Euro and a 750 Swiss Francs in a money belt worn inside my pants. Never felt unsafe and after a day you kind of forget its there. If you buy money, be sure to get a mix of smaller bills and not all large bills, having the “do you have anything smaller” conversation via mime is stressful (I use major museums as my opportunity to break larger bills). As mentioned, depending on your bank, letting them know ahead of time that you’ll be traveling internationally will prevent fraud holds/stops (not all banks require this).
For the ATMs, make sure your PIN is 4 numbers. Many ATMs in Europe do not accept longer PINs, and I’ve never seen one with letters on the numbers so using a word as a mnemonic won’t work. AMEX is rarely used, they’re known but your best bet is a Visa (CC or electron).
Somewhat related. At some point I was looking into the Travelex Cash Passport as a preloaded card, but at the time I needed it it was not available for US customers for some obscure banking-related reason. It seems to be back now and may be a useful means of carrying money, that would have the chip-and-pin correct. Can anyone recommend/dis-commend it?
ATMs are pretty universal all over the EU and beyond. Chip-and-pin can be a problem but it is not insurmountable. It is mostly the smaller places that have a problem. Virtually all restaurants, hotels and tourist places will take credit cards too.
Can you not buy a preloaded cash card like Visa prepaid http://www.visa.co.uk/products/visa-payments/visa-prepaid? They are becoming very popular over here.
A word of caution: Scammers abound in all major cities, and they love Americans with no chip on their cards. Take all the usual precautions when using an ATM. Oh! ATMs often sell the local currency at the best rate - avoid bureaus de change and hotels.
Pickpockets are also ubiquitous and while many are pretty unskilled, some of them could steal your underwear without you noticing. Cash in quantity is a bad idea. Muggers are also pretty keen on loaded tourists. If you have a lot of cash - leave it in your hotel safe. groping down your trousers for a bunch of Euros is a bit of a giveaway.
A last point, since someone mentioned museums - most of the state run entities offer discounts to senior citizens. In most cases the over 60’s. If you qualify, and have your passport to confirm it, it is always worth asking.
Edit - If you depend on a card, make sure you have another, from a different bank, in reserve. If you lose one you will not be penniless.
Students as well, although that sometimes needs some sort of Youth Card (student ID does not suffice).
AMEX is not as widely used as Mastercard or Visa.
I was just walking through a small town in Northern England and some shops even have signs in the window saying that they don’t accept AMEX.
I never had a problem with a debit card (stripe, 4 digit PIN) in europe. Of course, that was 5 or 6 years ago. Recently I went to Egypt, and funny - none of the ATM’s took my debit cards. The credit cards worked fine, mag stripe, but even the banks would not accept the debit cards.
May this was unique to the middle east (Jordan, I finally found a chip-and-pin ATM that took a debit card). However, nothing worked in Heathrow either. Whereas the magstripe Debit card worked fine even in Hong Kong and China in 2010 - even worked in Lhasa.
Mostly, I ended up using cash advances on my Visa card. Maybe that’s an option too, get a cash advance on Visa and pay it off right away from your internet access. Visa cash advance at ATM seemed to work when debit would not.
Check you bank plan. Here in Canada, there was a $5 charge for a cash withdrawal outside North America (on top of what he foreign ATM charges) and $2 for a US withdrawal; I switched from the $9.99/month Chequing Account to the $24/month one and the foreign withdrawals were free.
Scariest moment was trying to make a withdrawal at a rest stop on the French Autoroute. It took almost 5 minutes, the machine was totally unresponsive but wasn’t giving back my card. I didn’t want to abandon my card and possibly leave the machine for someone esle to come along and take my money. I think from the faint noises it was using a dial up modem to connect to the banking system! Finally got my card back and my money.
I traveled in Spain, Italy, and France just last August. I used my regular ATM card (mag strip only) and PIN with no problems whatsoever in all three countries.
(I haven’t been to the UK in a while, but used my ATM card there as well years ago.)
I used my credit card extensively, too. I applied for and got a card with no foreign transaction fees just for my trip. This was even cheaper (and safer) than getting cash. If I were you, I’d get a VISA or MasterCard from one of these banks that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (such as Capital One). I have an AMEX card as well, but I would never depend on it as my only card.
One year ago, no problem with my US-conventional magstripe (branded as one of the Big Two V/MC) bank debit card at ***bank ***ATMs in Paris and London. Notified my branch before leaving just in case (my PIN is 4 digits already). Chip-and-Pin OTOH is a must for POS terminals.
Also bear in mind that personal cheques are not accepted in many (most) places these days. If you travel in the EU, but out of the Euro area, you will find that the Euro is often accepted in tourist places, although at a bad exchange rate. This does NOT apply in the UK, where it would be rare to find anyone who will accept anything other than the Pound Sterling.
Note that Scotland has it’s own notes which have the same values and are fairly interchangeable with English ones. Some English places don’t like them though, and it’s best to get rid of them before returning to England.
This was my experience in Paris last year, too. My American card worked fine everywhere except for buying train tickets from a POS terminal. I’ve been told that as you get more rural, Chip-and-PIN starts to become more required even at human-operated POS, though.
I found it weird to be travlling in the USA last month (Feb) and found that NOBODY seemed to be set up for chip and pin. The stores had the same terminals as in Canada, but the chip slot had a plastic blockage closing it off, even though the symbol (to “insert card here”) was present.
Pretty soon the USA will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.
So long as I can write a personal check at the checkout at the supermarket.