11 ATM Mistakes to Avoid Overseas


Thanks to ATMs being so widespread globally, you can travel to a foreign country with little more than a bank card and gain instant access to your cash. However, without an understanding of the differences between using an ATM at home and abroad, you could end up in serious trouble. Here are 11 common ATM mistakes to avoid while overseas.

1. Using your credit card for ATM withdrawals

Credit cards typically charge larger fees when you take out a cash advance at an overseas ATM. You’ll be charged a cash advance fee, probably an ATM fee, and possibly a foreign transaction fee (unless you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees). Plus you’ll instantly be charged interest on the cash advance at a higher rate than your purchase APR.

Do yourself a favor: Only take out money using your debit card and save your travel rewards card for direct purchases.

2. Not getting a checking account with no ATM fees

Even if you're using the ATM of the same institution that you bank with at home, you're still likely to get hit with ATM fees just for taking money out. Avoid this by signing up for an account that promises no international ATM fees. Several U.S. banks and financial institutions offer zero ATM fees, and even if the ATM applies one, you'll likely get reimbursed at the end of the month. (See also: 11 Ways to Avoid Bank Fees While Traveling)

3. Thinking ATMs can do the same transactions as in the U.S.

If you're hoping to pay bills, transfer money between accounts, or even see an accurate account balance when you’re abroad, think again. Many foreign ATMs are relatively one dimensional, particularly when it comes to using them with nonnative cards. Be prepared to only withdraw cash from ATMs and setup online banking or use your bank's app for anything else.

4. Not telling your bank about your trip

As part of their fight against fraudulent activity, banks will often take the precaution of freezing your account whenever anything unexpected happens. This includes you attempting to withdraw cash in another country if you haven't made them aware of your travel plans. All it takes is a quick visit, phone call, or online update to let your bank know where you're going and for how long, and you should have no issues.

5. Not counting your money upon withdrawal

Though no one wants to be standing around in an unfamiliar country flicking through wads of cash, you also don't want to be shortchanged by the ATM. Before you head off, always discreetly check that the amount you've received matches the amount you've requested so you can sort out any issues while you're still there. It's also better to withdraw cash during the day, and from an actual bank premises while it's open so you can simply pop in if a problem arises.

6. Not setting up bank app notifications

Most banks now have apps with systems to alert you when various activities are detected on your account. The most important of these to set up is receiving a notification whenever a withdrawal is made, even if it's one that the bank doesn't suspect as fraudulent. This way you can easily keep track of everything happening on your account while overseas and quickly recognize if something is amiss. (See also: 6 Big Ways ATMs Are Changing)

7. Not keeping a copy of your ATM card somewhere

If your card gets stolen, swallowed by an ATM, or simply lost, then it's important to have backup copies of it. These will allow you to cancel the card quickly as well as order a replacement for when you get home. Rather than having paper copies, it's a better idea to create a digital backup (a photo) and store it somewhere safe. (See also: The ATM Just Ate Your Deposit. Now What?)

8. Not changing the daily withdrawal limit

Many travelers choose to lower their daily withdrawal limit when they head overseas. This means that in the event of someone getting ahold of your card and attempting to withdraw cash fraudulently, they will only gain access to a certain amount.

It's also wise to use two accounts to manage your cash. Set up the one without a connected bank card to keep the majority of your travel cash in, and use online banking to transfer money to the other account with the bank card. Your money will then be doubly protected if your card goes missing.

9. Not checking ATMs for skimmers

This is something you should be doing regardless of where in the world you're using an ATM, even if it's at home. But having your card cloned in a foreign country can be even more traumatic, and sorting everything out in the aftermath an inconvenient process.

Always take a good look at the card slot before sticking your card in to make sure there's nothing suspicious about it, and if you're in any way concerned, move onto another one. (See also: 10 Tips to Save You from an ATM Skimmer)

10. Not having a small cash backup

Despite the fact that ATMs are now easy to find in virtually any corner of the world, it always pays to have a plan B in the event of something going wrong. The best way to do this is to always have a small cash backup that you keep somewhere safe separate from the rest of your cash, just for emergencies.

11. Not having your bank's phone number readily available

Unfortunately, sometimes the worst does happen and you can be stuck with a number of problems at the ATM. When it comes to banking, time can literally mean money in an emergency situation. That's why it's vital that you have your bank's phone number on hand so you can contact them quickly in a crisis. And remember to input the international dialing code if necessary.

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