When my husband came to visit me in Guatemala City, he smartly wanted to acquire some local currency (quetzales) despite the fact that US dollars are often accepted. Unfortunately, he found out the hard way that his ATM card didn’t work in the airport ATMs and so he used his credit card for a cash advance at the currency exchange kiosk. $13.50 in transaction fees later (for a very small sum of quetzales), it appears that it’s time to set him up with a better solution. Travel is expensive enough as it is and avoiding bank fees can be one way to maximize the value of your spending.
ATM fees here in Guatemala average around $4 per withdrawal, an incredibly expensive amount considering you’re usually capped at withdrawing $300 on these machines. Since I get nervous carrying a lot of cash around, I’ve been heading to the ATM two or three times a week, adding up to a serious amount of cash. If you’re a member of bank with branches (or partner banks) at your destination, you may luck out and not be stuck paying those fees. As for me? I stick with a Charles Schwab ATM card.
The Benefits to a Charles Schwab ATM card:
- No minimum balance required
- No monthly maintenance or service fees
- All ATM fees (worldwide!) are refunded at the end of the month
- Exchange rates are automatically charged at (or very near) official market rates
- Card is a Visa and has worked every time I’ve used it, all over the world
- Funds are FDIC insured
I’ve been using my Schwab card since 2007 and have saved hundreds, if not thousands, in bank fees because of it. All those savings let me travel more often!
In order to qualify for an account with no fees and ATM refunds, you’ll need to sign up for both a brokerage account and the High Yield Investor Checking Account. Accounts can be set up 100% online. My brokerage account has been completely empty for the past 7 years. You don’t need to fund the brokerage account or make any investments, but you will need to take the few extra minutes to set one up initially.
Technically, my checking account at Schwab earns interest, though at low interest rates. Because of this, and also for convenience, I still do my primary banking elsewhere and simply transfer money in and out of my Schwab account as needed. I’ve found online transfers between banks to be simple and smooth, though it does take 1-3 business days. However, having my Schwab card for international withdrawals has been a huge money saver.
If there’s one downside to my Schwab card, it’s that it has proven to be a giant pain in the butt to change my legal name on the account. It took multiple phone calls and faxing in lots of paperwork to change my name after marriage. Other customer service has been helpful and efficient.
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Are you a Charles Schwab customer? Have you found other banks that refund ATM fees internationally?