When you need to get money in Europe from a U.S. bank you pay a transaction fee.
When you use your ATM card, you pay about 3% on the amount that you are withdrawing and sometimes another flat fee on top of that – and possibly an ATM fee although it depends on your bank.
Most places in France (and I’m assuming all of Europe) will take your Visa or MasterCard, but we’ve found that AmEx is not accepted everywhere. If you are in Europe for a typical two week vacation and put $200 a day on your U.S. credit card, you will be charged about $84 total in transaction fees. This is just part of the cost of a vacation for most people – but we’re not on vacation!
Some banks waive the transaction fees, so it is worth asking before you go. Our bank, Wells Fargo, allows two “free” withdrawals per month.
The first month, Mark tried to estimate how much walking cash we would need and then split it into two withdrawals. We still used our visa for other things, but the transaction fees were getting to be substantial. Carrying a big wad of cash around wasn’t ideal, either. We needed to open a bank account.
So that’s what Mark did. To do this you only need an address and a passport. We now have a checking account with Societe Generale and it costs eight euros a month. With it we get a checkbook and a “smart card” (embedded with a computer chip). This allows you to do your credit card transactions like a European. Nobody signs anything here for their credit card – they just insert their “carte bleue” and type in their pin number.
Voila! No more transaction fees for us.