Accessing Your Money

Once you’ve decided on a budget and have raised all the necessary funds, the question becomes, “How do I get my money to Europe?” You probably don’t want to be carrying a couple thousand dollars stuffed in your underwear, now do you? Luckily, you have a couple options.

The easiest and probably most common way these days is just to withdraw money in the local currency from ATMs. ATMs are abundant all across Europe, so finding them probably won’t be a problem, and their fees are generally comparable (if not better) than any other method.


Money Saving Tip’s Wiki has a great list of banks and the foreign ATM fees that they charge.

Switching to a bank with no ATM fees could save you some big $$$ during a trip.

ATMs are my preferred way of getting cash while abroad, they’re simple, easy to find, and pretty cheap. Depending on your bank, they may charge a flat fee or a percentage, but either way they’re generally compared to any other method.

Be sure to call your bank before you leave and let them know you’ll be traveling abroad for an extended period of time. That will reduce the chance that you’ll be locked out of your account. You will also want to make sure your PIN is 4 digits, many European ATMs don’t accept more than 4 digits.

If the bank you currently uses has high fees for international transaction and ATM withdrawals, definitely think about opening an account with a bank that has low/no international ATM fees. I try to always have an ATM card with no ATM fee, and a credit card with no foreign transaction fee.

Credit Cards

While it won’t replace cash, credit cards are another way to keep the amount of cash you need to carry low. However, credit cards in Europe are not as widely used as they are in the US, so don’t expect to be able to charge every dinner to your Visa card.

The prevalence of credit card usage in Europe is much less than it is in the US, and also varies a lot by city. Obviously, in cities that cater to large amount of tourists, you’re going to have an easier time using a credit card. Hostels and Hotels are the most likely place a backpacker is going to be able to reliably use his or her credit card (especially if booked & paid online).

While it depends on the place, Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted of brand of credit cards. American Express is seen sometimes, and other cards like Discover are extremely rare.

However, beware of international transaction and foreign currency fees. Call your credit card company to see what their fees are, and again, consider applying for a low/no-fee card to use on your trip.

What do I need to do before I travel?

To ensure that your credit card company doesn’t shut off your card off the first time you use it, call and let them know that you will be traveling abroad, to which countries and for how long. In addition, here are some steps you should take before starting your trip.

Steps to take:

  • Notify your issuing bank of the countries you’ll be traveling to and the dates you’ll be traveling on before you leave.
  • Check with your issuing bank regarding whether your card is subject to daily spending or withdrawal restrictions while abroad.
  • Be sure you know your PIN for your Visa cards so you can get local currency from ATMs worldwide. To ensure your PIN is always safe, you should memorize it and never write it down.
  • Make a record of your Visa card account and telephone numbers for reporting lost or stolen cards (including international Visa Global Customer Assistance Services numbers found here, by country) and keep it in a safe place away from your wallet or handbag.

Source: Visa

Local Currencies

So now you have a way to get your money out of the bank, but what about all these different currencies? Since you probably aren’t going to be able to use the dollar outside of airports, you’re going to need to get your money out in the local currency.

If you’re using an ATM card, you’re probably all set as ATMs will spit out the local currency for you at the going bank rates. Which means you won’t have to give a large slice of your cash in commissions at an exchange booth.

If you’re carrying cash, you’ll have to exchange it for whatever the local currency is. If you’re using an exchange booth (everywhere in places like Prague), be sure to shop around as many have very different rates and fees. Most will have a mix of a flat fee, and then a percentage commission (although some might hide this in the exchange rate they give you).

Do some basic calculations before you exchange it to pick the one that will cost you the least amount of money. If you’re converting a large sum of cash, try to find an exchange with a higher flat fee, but a cheaper rate. If you’re just trying to convert some left-over cash, look for one with a lower flat fee.

The Euro

The Euro. You'll be so used to these by the end of your trip that your home currency will look funny.

The Euro. You’ll be so used to these by the end of your trip that your home currency will look funny.

Also lucky for you is the Euro. Since 2002 the Euro has been the single currency for the Eurozone which now includes, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

That means when you’re in these countries, you only have to worry about one currency, which makes things a whole lot easier.

For other countries, especially in Eastern Europe, you’ll need to find out what the local currency is, and what it’s worth. To make your budgeting easier, convert your daily budget into the local currency. That way, if you’re in Poland and have a food budget of 60 zloty, you’ll know a meal costs 30 zloty is half your daily allowance.