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Old 05-17-2003, 02:09 AM   #1
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currency conversion... travelers checks, atms, etc...

Which is the best way to ensure you'll have a good supply of cash overseas?

I plan on going to europe and have heard horror stories about ATMs eating cards as soon as you step off the plane, etc.

I plan on traveling to the larger cities, (country capitals) so I presume that ATMs are widely available. I've considered getting travelers checks from my local AAA office since they are fee-free, but then I get confused over whether to have them issued in US or Euro currency. Then, there's the issue of where to cash them in - banks, merchants, where? I thought AAA issued Amex TCs, which meant I could go to an Amex office in the foreign country and exchange the TCs there for no fee. But AAA has now started issuing Visa TCs.

Is it not even worth worrying about the TCs anymore, and should I just go armed with a few different ATM cards and hope none of them gets eaten? What do you all do for $ when traveling overseas? Any tips or caveats worth mentioning?

(Also, what kind of rates do you get when using your normal credit cards overseas? Amex told me they charge a 2% fee in addition to the "whole market exchange rate" - whatever that is - and visa charges a 1% rate. )

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Old 05-19-2003, 10:23 AM   #2
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Every time I've been in a position to use traveller's cheques it has turned out to be a horrible waste of energy and often unsucessful. The vast majority of merchants you'll encounter in Europe will have no idea what to do with a traveller's cheque, or if they do will feign the inability to speak english and negotiate the transaction in the face of traveller's cheques.

I usually just grab 90 euros or so out of an atm at the airport when I arrive (usually eating the first 35 or so on the taxi ride to my hotel). I try to use my AmEx (or alternate credit card when I have to, about 10% of the time) for all purchases. For most cities in Europe this will be no difficulty. I've never encountered an ATM that didn't happily take my Wells Fargo ATM card and provide me with however many Euros, Swiss Francs, or Pound notes that I wanted. In the event that an ATM did eat my card, I'd always have my Fidelity AmEx (which has a PIN on it) as a contingency.

I think you'll find travel through Europe to be not substantially different than travel in the US, except you'll have to push a little Union Jack flag button on the ATM to tell it you want English.

Wait staff at restaurants will even arrive at your table with the bill (twenty minutes later than you'll be expecting -- just be patient and absorb the alternate pace of life) with a little hand-held credit card swiper machine.

The main challenge of using cash overseas is the massive collection of coins you can expect to accumulate. It's tedious and slow to count out proper change with unfamiliar coins and you'll find yourself just breaking bills for most transactions to avoid looking like a dumb tourist or holding up a line.

My advice: skip the traveller's cheques, ignore the tales of horror, grab a little bit more cash than you might otherwise have in your wallet and ENJOY YOURSELF. You'll love it. Promise.
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