How do you travel?
Credit / debit card or local currency?
Lots of people think it’s better to take cash out of local ATMs when you arrive at your destination, in order to save on exchange fees and credit card fees. Others prefer using a credit card while traveling because it can be more reliable and earn you points on your account.
Using ATMs are usually how people withdraw cash but ATM fees can be confusing to understand, especially when communicated by a machine in a foreign language.
To help you out, we have 5 simple tips for you to keep in mind and help you manage your currency transactions.
Tip 1: Choose the Local Currency (€) When Withdrawing From ATMs in Spain
This simple rule applies to any country you travel to: Always choose to pay in the local currency.
If you’ve traveled frequently enough, you’ll be familiar with paying at a store, restaurant, or ATM, and given the option to pay with two currencies: the local currency or your home currency. By “handing” merchants or ATMs your home currency, they will apply the (DCC*) exchange rate on your home currency. This percentage is almost always higher than the exchange rate that they would apply if you had “handed” in the local currency.
Merchants are often unaware of what a DCC even is, as the profit margin will go into the pockets of the ATM operator or your card company. Be aware that you don’t need to be travelling abroad to encounter DCC fees. You can often find them when shopping online or even when making PayPal payments.
If you are travelling abroad, a reliable option for avoiding currency conversion fees is to open a multi-currency account and get yourself a travel card. These services, which include Wise, Revolut, Monzo, and Monese, operate across most of the globe and each offers foreign spending services far better than those on offer at a bank.
*’Dynamic Currency Conversion’ Trap (DCC)
If you’ve ever traveled to a country that didn’t use your currency, you’ve probably been asked by ATMs and payment machines to pay in either the local currency or your home currency. By “giving” merchants or ATMs your home currency, they will apply the (DCC) exchange rate on your home currency. This percentage is almost always higher than the exchange rate that they would apply if you had “given” the local currency.
Tip 2: Don’t Use Currency Exchange Kiosks as an Alternative
Currency Exchange kiosks at airports or in city centers, will charge any or a combination of fixed fees, poor exchange rates, or commission.
If you want to have cash in hand prior to your arrival, then we recommend ordering currencies online before your trip. To find the best currency exchange provider in your home country, use a real-time comparison engine. That way, you’ll be able to compare banks and currency exchange providers and then select which service best fits your travel needs.
Tip 3: Don’t Use a Credit Card To Withdraw Cash Abroad
All of your credit and debit cards will work in Spain, but need to be designated as travel cards or come with international perks. If not, then you could be charged between 1.75% to 4.25% to withdraw cash. This is like a cash withdrawal fee that you’d experience at home except the percentage may be larger or the fee may not be waivable.
These fees can quickly add up. Let’s say that you bank with HSBC Canada and you, your significant other, and your child are traveling to Spain for a two-week mid-range holiday that costs €4200. If you withdraw €200 in cash four times and spend the rest with your card, you would pay a total of €115.50 in hidden currency exchange and ATM withdrawal fees.
Trust us on this one. It happened the first time we travelled to Europe.
Tip 4: Spanish ATM PINs
Bank cards issued in Spain – like most other countries in Europe – have 4 digit PINs. That means that longer 5 or 6 digit PINs issued elsewhere in the world don’t usually work in Spanish ATMs.
If you have a chip and PIN card with a 4 digit PIN, like those issued elsewhere in Europe, the UK or Australia, you shouldn’t have any problem. If you don’t usually use a PIN with your bank card, because you have an American-issued magnetic stripe card, you’ll need to request a 4 digit PIN for the card from your bank before you travel.
Tip 5: Give your bank a heads up before you travel to Spain
Due to concerns about fraud and theft, banks monitor spending patterns of all of their customers. If something out of the ordinary happens – like a sudden spike in spending overseas – they can block or limit the bank card to make sure there is no foul play.
To make sure you can use your credit or debit card while you travel it’s a good idea to let your bank know about your plans. If you don’t, you could find your card blocked and no access to your cash. Save yourself the headache and simply call into your local branch to make sure your travel plans are recorded in your account details before you go.