Deciding whether to take credit cards or Euros along on your European vacation—and if so, how many—is a common dilemma travelers face. As a tour operator, I find it best to equip guests with a few facts so they can make informed decisions.
Here, 10 points to consider:
1) First of all, alert your bank to your travel plans in advance so that your debit and credit card spending will not be blocked overseas. It is advisable to take both a credit card and debit card for emergencies even if you do not plan to use one of them. It’s also a good idea to take more than one card in case there is a glitch and the card is not accepted at a certain vendor location or on a certain day.
2) Many vendors in Europe will take credit cards, but not all. For instance, if you’re spending less than €10 at one time in Italy—say for an espresso or a scarf at the market—credit cards are not accepted. Likewise, sometimes credit card machines or networks go down. In fact, it’s a common occurrence in some locations. It is advisable to have at least €200-300 per person on you in cash when you arrive in Europe because . . .
3) Currency exchange counters in airports and train stations tend to assess higher fees for converting currency. Local banks usually will not exchange foreign currency. Many taxis, shuttles, and, occasionally, airport-based train and subway stations take only cash.
4) ATMs are widely available for pulling Euros on an as-needed basis, but keep in mind that foreign transaction fees may apply and that there are daily limits for cash pulls (often imposed by your bank and always imposed per withdrawal/per ATM). Check with your bank beforehand about their transaction fees and be sure to read the details on the screen as you proceed through an ATM transaction. You will need a PIN for your credit card use at an ATM, so request one from your bank a few weeks in advance of your travel. The PIN may not be given to you over the phone, but mailed to you. Pulling a few hundred Euros every few days may be a better idea than carrying wads of cash.
5) Credit cards usually come with good fraud protection, but cash advances come at a higher rate of interest. Debit cards suffer no interest charges for cash pulls, but the fraud protection cap is higher (meaning not as beneficial to you). Both will incur extra foreign transaction fees and ATM usage fees, which may vary or be eliminated in some cases, depending upon your bank. Please inquire directly with your bank for details.
6) Travelers Cheques are not advised. They are not accepted in European shops and restaurants. Instead, you may have to cash them at a local bank that will add fees if they will cash them for you at all. Even if they are accepted at a shop, younger clerks may have never heard of them and may refuse to take them.
7) Check to be sure the country/countries you are traveling to actually use the Euro before filling your wallet with them. Hungary, the Czech Republic and the U.K., for instance, are not on the Euro. A few vendors in these countries may take Euros cash, however, and will generally post their policy if they do.
8) Preloaded Visa cards or Cash Passports have their pros and cons. I don’t use them, but they could be right for you. Do note that fees are still assessed when using them to pull cash, fees are assessed when purchasing or topping them up, and your bank already protects you against fraud and theft on your credit and debit cards (credit cards at generally a better rate than debit cards, as per #5 above).
9) US dollars are not generally accepted in Europe like they tend to be, for instance, in Mexico, so don’t plan on seeing a European vendor’s eyes light up when you flash a George Washington. Though the exchange rate has improved, the value of the dollar still comes up short against the Euro, and the vendor will get stuck with the exchange fees on top of that loss.
10) Many hotels offer in-room safes, but if you’re going to carry your cash or cards, keep them close and in front of you. A money belt under your clothes or a theft-resistant purse slung over one shoulder and across your chest can be a smart way to protect your resources. Wallets should never be stored in backpacks, in a purse loosely hitched onto a shoulder or slung behind you, or in back pockets.
Researching and planning ahead can help you enjoy your European adventure without succumbing to a few novice money mistakes. In the end, you’ll be a happier traveler.
Contact me today for great values on your European travel dreams.