Traveling this Summer? How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees (or try to)

Get Ahead of the Fee Game
OK, why the big, wallet wallop on foreign transaction fees? I understand there is a cost associated with exchange rate conversion, but does it really cost $2.50 or more to conduct transactions from a foreign ATM? I think not. Here we are, living in the age of increased access to global movement. Imagine all the business and leisure travelers dropping into ATM’s and sliding their cards across the globe constantly. The sheer amount of money that banks are racking up in foreign transaction fees is mind boggling..just cashing in on the low hanging fruit. Oodles of money.

I swear, becoming a flamingo with my head in the sand sounds better every day or I could open a bank and charge all kinds of evil, little fees that me and my financial co-conspirators hide in the small print.

Photo by Tony Reid on Unsplash Head in Sand

The more I learn about money and finance, the more I seek to skirt these dastardly fees. Fees are insidious creatures that creep up and take small nips from your stash. I began paying attention to fees and got annoyed. Not paying attention = money wasted. I’ve found that either people are ignorant of the fees or most likely; the case is that we don’t pay super attention because, “Oh, well, part of life. Blah.”

Screw that. Let’s nip this fee shit in the bud.

Steps to Take Before Your International Vacation
Before traveling internationally, do these things:

  1. Check with your bank about non-issuing bank ATM fees for foreign transactions.
  2. Check with your credit card issuer about foreign transaction fees.
  3. Check with your bank about debit card foreign transaction fees.

If anything, at least you will be aware of your spending costs.

Now that you have an idea what your spending costs will be, at what point do you decide; should I simply grab enough cash to get me through the entire foreign vacation? Or should I use my credit card or my debit card? It’s all so confusing.

The Average Foreign Transaction Fee
To offer a comparison, here is my personal lineup.

State Employees Credit Union Purchase Cost 1% Non SECU ATM Fee .75
Wells Fargo Purchase Cost 3% Non WF ATM Fee $5.00
Capital One Credit Card Transaction Fee 0%

The clear winner here is the Capital One credit card which, I will undoubtedly use for most things during my travel this summer as well as reap the buying rewards. For cash, the State Employees Credit Union card. The Wells Fargo card will sit, untouched, in my wallet.

Non sequitur hotel and transpo hack: I prepaid for my rail passes and hotels using the Ebates portal, so money back there and free hotel nights using Double score.

After a fair amount of research, I found the following:
Bank of America and Chase charge a 3% transaction fee and $2.50 to $5.00 for non-issuing bank ATM fees with these fees being the norm across the board with HSBC, Suntrust, Citibank and PNC Bank (with slight variation).

I also found that Capital One and Discover credit cards charge 0% on foreign transaction fees. Go, Cap One and Discover!

A Simple Example of a 14 Day Family Vacation Abroad
Assuming a Wells Fargo debit card is in use:
7 visits for cash at a non Wells Fargo ATM at $5.00 per withdrawal = $35.00
Food: An average of $150.00 a day at 3% per transaction = $63.00 (or thereabouts).

This spending cost is around $100.00 for this family and the above doesn’t include shopping, gifts, transportation etc. That’s ALOT of money wasted!

Truly, only a few simple steps need to be taken to get a feel for foreign spending costs. This is especially beneficial if you have a kid living abroad or travel often on your own dime.

For now, I feel about 3/4’s in control of my money. I certainly don’t feel completely in control, but this is what I do know. My money is not in control of me anymore.

Here’s to Summer! Clink.

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