They tend to be pretty small charges so you probably don’t notice them much, but ATM fees can seriously add up, especially if you’re a long-term traveler.
For each foreign withdrawal, your home bank may charge about $5 per transaction. If you limit your withdrawal to once a week, you would spend $20-$25 a month on ATM fees. That’s at least $260 a year.
On top of the fees from your own bank, the ATM machine abroad may also charge you about $5. Assuming fees of $10 per transaction, you could easily end up paying $520 a year with weekly withdrawals.
That’s not even taking into account the currency conversion fee, which usually ranges between 1% and 3% of the transaction.
And because many ATMs have withdrawal limits, you could very well need to get cash more frequently than just once a week. After all, in some countries people use cash almost exclusively.
Think about all the things you could buy with $520 (or probably more). Do you really want to donate all that money to the bank?
No? You have a few options to avoid bank fees when you withdraw cash from ATMs abroad.
Option 1: Find a fee-free bank
There are three types of fees you need to watch out for. Some banks don’t charge any foreign withdrawal fees themselves, but you may still have to pay the withdrawal fees charged by the foreign ATMs and currency conversion fees.
Charles Schwab for American travelers
I’m seriously jealous of American travelers who could get Charles Schwab checking accounts. It’s the best bank account you could get if you frequently withdraw money abroad.
Charles Schwab doesn’t charge any fees for foreign withdrawals or currency conversions. It even refunds all ATM fees charged by other banks all over the world — none of the other bank accounts I know does this. And you don’t even have to pay a monthly fee to maintain the account!
Charles Schwab prefers not to do business with people who spend too much time outside the U.S., but a little birdie told me that you should be fine as long as you don’t advertise your nomadic status.
TD Canada Trust for Canadian travelers
There are no foreign withdrawal fees with TD Canada Trust All-Inclusive Banking Plan (previously Select Service Bank Account), but you have to maintain a balance of at least $5,000 to get this account (or pay a monthly fee of $29.95, which I personally think is ridiculous).
It’s not completely free of fees; you still have to pay whatever amount the foreign ATM charges and a currency conversion fee of 2.5%. For certain currencies, the 2.5% currency conversion fee is charged twice because the bank converts the foreign currency to U.S. dollars first before converting it to Canadian dollars. (Read more about this on TD’s website.)
Yes, I know it’s not a very good deal. Unfortunately, none of the other Canadian banks offer anything better, as far as I know.
Metro Bank or N&P for British travelers
Metro Bank Current Account doesn’t charge foreign withdrawal fees or currency conversion fees for customers traveling within Europe, but there may be fees charged by the foreign ATM. There’s no monthly fee for this account.
Traveling outside Europe? Look into the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society Gold Classic Account. There are no foreign withdrawal fees charged by N&P itself, but there may still be fees charged by the foreign ATM. To keep this account, you have to maintain a balance of £5,000, deposit £500 a month into the account or pay a £5 monthly fee.
Citibank for Australian travelers
For Australians, the Citibank Plus account would probably be the best choice for a debit card to use abroad. There are no foreign withdrawal fees as long as you stick to Citibank ATMs and there are no currency conversion fees.
Air New Zealand debit card for Kiwi travelers
The Air New Zealand OneSmart MasterCard is not a bank card, but you can use it to withdraw cash when you’re abroad. To use it, deposit some money into your account and pre-load the card with the currencies you need. There are no foreign withdrawal fees or currency conversion fees, but there may be fees charged by the foreign ATMs. Additionally, you have to pay each time you load funds into the card. Click here for more details on this card.
Option 2: Take Advantage of Bank Partnerships
Some banks have foreign partners whose ATM network you can use for free.
For example, RBC bank — which is Canadian — also operates in the U.S., but it doesn’t have ATM machines of its own outside Canada. RBC customers can instead use PNC Bank’s ATMs for free withdrawals when traveling south of the border.
That’s a pretty specific example and it may not be useful unless you’re a Canadian who visits the U.S. a lot. This is where the Global ATM Alliance comes to the rescue.
If you open an account with one of the Global ATM Alliance banks, you can take advantage of free withdrawals from all member banks’ ATMs. You may still be charged currency exchange fees, but you’ll be spared withdrawal fees from both your home bank and the foreign ATM.
Global ATM Alliance members:
- Bank of America (USA)
- Barclays (UK; France; Spain; Portugal; Pakistan; Gibraltar; Ghana; Kenya; and several other African countries)
- BNP Paribas (France)
- BNP Paribas Fortis (Belgium)
- BNL d’Italia (Italy)
- Deutcshe Bank (Germany; Poland; Belgium; India; Spain; Portugal)
- China Construction Bank (Mainland China)
- Scotiabank (Canada, Carribean, Peru, Chile, Mexico)
- Westpac (Australia; New Zealand; Fiji; Vanuatu; Cook Islands; Samoa; Tonga; Papua New Guinea; Solomon Islands)
- ABSA (South Africa)
- UkrSibbank (Ukraine)
Option 3: Open an Account With a Global Bank
If none of the above options suit your needs, your best bet would be to approach a multi-national bank.
Some banks have enough international presence to place their own ATMs in many countries. If you open an account with such a bank, you may be able to avoid ATM fees when you withdraw money from the bank’s ATMs overseas. However, the specifics depend on which bank you choose and also in which country you open your account.
Citibank’s ATM network covers more than 40 countries and HSBC has ATMs in more than 70 countries and territories. If either one of these banks operates in your country, speak to your local bank representative about foreign ATM withdrawals.
ATM Image: Modified from a photo taken by Marcin Wichary (CC BY 2.0 Licence).