Regardless if you are a casual traveler or a full time digital nomad, you have probably been stung by ridiculous international ATM fees while traveling.
Most people think these ATM fees are unavoidable but the reality is that there are some really easy workarounds that you can use to never again pay an international ATM fee when you travel.
As you will see below, these tricks have literally saved us $500+ in ATM fees over the last few years as we circled around the world.
Charles Schwab Free Checking Account
If you are based in the US or have a US Social Security Number, Charles Schwab is hands down the best option to avoid ATM fees while traveling.
I have been using Charles Schwab's High Yield Investor Checking for over 5 years because Charles Schwab offers a 100% FREE checking account that has no ATM fees worldwide! With their FREE checking account, you can literally take money out from any ATM in the entire world for free. There are no ATM fees and even better there are no 3% foreign conversion fees that most banks charge.
While that in itself is amazing, the best part is that Schwab will actually refund you for any fee the ATM charges!
So when I went to Thailand in February and was charged 180 Baht ($6 USD) for every Thai ATM transaction I made, at the end of the month Schwab tallied up all the ATM fees I was charged and refunded me $37! Even if you don't travel often, this ATM fee rebate is amazing because it means you can take money out from an ATM at any of your local bars, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, etc and not have to worry if the ATM charges a fee because you know Schwab will refund you!
I also am a huge fan of Charles Schwab because they provide a ton of added benefits that most other banks have gotten rid of like:
- $0 Monthly Service Fees
- $0 Minimum Balance
- $0 Opening Balance
- Free Checks
- Free Bill Pay
- Free Debit Card
In the last 5 years I have been a Schwab customer, I literally have never once been charged a single fee to use this checking account. If you are based in the United States, I cannot recommend Schwab enough and strongly encourage you to get a Charles Schwab Free Checking Account!
Global ATM Alliance
If you are not based in the United States, don't worry there are still ways to avoid unnecessary ATM fees when traveling! Thankfully there is a Global ATM Alliance that allows you to withdraw from international partner banks without incurring an ATM fee. Although please note that your bank will still probably charge you an annoying 3% foreign currency conversion fee. From Wikipedia:
The Global ATM Alliance is a joint venture of several major international banks that allows customers of their banks to use their automated teller machine (ATM) card or debit card at another bank within the Global ATM Alliance with no international ATM access fees. Other fees, such as an international transaction or foreign currency fee, may still apply for some account holders. Participating banks cover Australasia, Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America.The following banks participate in the Global Alliance:
- Bank of America (United States)
- Barclays (England, Wales, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and certain countries in Africa)
- BNP Paribas (France, Ukraine)
- China Construction Bank (China: Bank of America customers only)
- Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal and Italy)
- Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (Italy)
- Santander Serfin (Mexico: Bank of America customers only)
- Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean, Peru, Chile and Mexico)
- Westpac (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands)
- ABSA (South Africa)
- UkrSibbank (Ukraine)
With the Global ATM Alliance, for example if you are a Barclays UK card holder and visit the US, you could take money out of any Bank of America ATM for free (3% foreign currency conversion fee).
While this option is obviously not as great as Charles Schwab due to the 3% foreign currency conversion fee the banks are still charging, thankfully the Global ATM Alliance allows you to avoid any ATM fees which will ultimately save you money in the long run.
If you can't sign up for Charles Schwab or there are no participating Global ATM Alliance banks in your home country, here are some additional options that readers have commented that they use. If you have a home bank that you use when traveling and you would recommend it to others, please comment below and we will add it! Germany:
- Deutsche Kreditbank - Similar to Charles Schwab and has no fees
- Air NZ Onesmart Card - Prepaid card but supposedly the best option for Kiwis traveling
- STA Travel Card - Free UK and overseas transactions and no fees when topping up
- Citibank Plus - No overseas ATM withdrawal fees & no currency exchange fees
While most people think ATM fees are unavoidable, if you do a little research and take the time to open a different bank account, you can easily avoid ATM fees when traveling. While a $2.50 ATM fee here and $5 ATM fee there doesn't sound like much, those fees certainly add up!
I went back through my Charles Schwab bank statements and over the last 5 years, Schwab has refunded me over $500 in ATM fees! That basically pays for another trip! If you have any questions about Charles Schwab or the Global ATM Alliance, feel free to comment below and I will answer any questions.