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Bank and ATM Fees for International Travel

New Bank and ATM Fees Imposed on International Withdrawals ATM fees were once a hassle that was only reserved for when I would visit my home country, the USA. I could once travel the world over and not worry about ever paying an ATM fee — those little machines just ate and then spat back [...]

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New Bank and ATM Fees Imposed on International Withdrawals

ATM fees were once a hassle that was only reserved for when I would visit my home country, the USA. I could once travel the world over and not worry about ever paying an ATM fee — those little machines just ate and then spat back out my card along with a wad of cash without ever taking any funds for themselves. My bank also once absorb all charges for each international transaction. In point, I once could take out money from just about any country and not expect to pay anything for the service.

ATM machines now take fees from international users

This lasted for about 7 years of travel. Then, around three or four years ago, I noticed something new when I looked at a bank statement: I was now being charged one dollar to three fifty per international ATM transaction — more or less 1%. What the f’ck, this is new?

So I called up my bank, these extra fees were taking out over $10 a month from my travel funds — and $10 was, more or less, one entire day of travel.

“We use to absorb the charges from Visa but we don’t do this anymore. It is Visa charging you, not us.”

Then so be it.

There was nothing I could do — one more little fee nibbling away at my lowly funds, this is the plight of the modern traveler.

Accept, pay, and move on.

I have not thought about these 1% international bank transaction fees until it grew to my attention that many banks throughout the world have begun charging fees to use their ATM machines.

This is new.

If I take out money at an ATM in Mexico, I pay between $1.75 and $5 for the transaction, depending on the bank or if the machine is in a private establishment. These Mexican ATMs work just as they do in the USA — the machine charges you for taking out money. This money goes directly to the bank that operates the ATM, and the 1% fee from Visa is added right on top of this. So when I take out money here — I generally pay nearly $5 in fees from making a standard $300 withdrawal.

These ATM fees are more or less a new phenomenon in world travel. Dave at TheLongestWayHome.com reports that banks in the Philippines just started charging for international withdrawals from their ATMs. Currently, the fee is around $4.50, with the maximum amount that you can withdraw for most banks in a single transaction being around $100. Craig from Travelvice.com reports that in 2009 banks in Thailand began charging $4.50 for an ATM withdrawal of any amount from an international user, and that this fee has now climbed to nearly $5.

Argentina now wages ATM fees on international users, half of Chile’s banks do as well, and I fear that this trend may spread all over the world: all banks, everywhere, are primed to begin charging international users fees to use their ATMs.

And why wouldn’t they?

But I stand in shock that the fees are starting out so high: in a world where $5 is enough for a day’s worth of food in most countries, it is a crazy price to pay for a single ATM transaction.

I can see the oncoming trend:

Hey, if these tourists pay $5 for an ATM transaction, then why wouldn’t they pay $10?

And what else would we do? Grimace, pay, and try to forget.

Or revitalize the shoebox. Archaic methods of money transport may soon be called upon once again. Free international banking transactions without ATM fees have perhaps been too good for too long for the modern traveler.

This article is part of a series of pieces assembled together under the title, The Extermination of the Backpacker. They are just reports on recent trends in world travel, and projections on how things could become for the long term traveler in the future. They are not meant to cry wolf, scare you, or discourage you from traveling, they are just the analysis of the changes that I have witnessed from over a decade of international travel.  Each year, more and more little fees, taxes, and tolls are either being levied or raised on the international traveler for items and services we once received for free or for drastically less money. This is just a series of articles that compile trends and changes from the past few years that affect the traveler and makes projections for the oncoming decade.

If things continue as they have been for the past couple of years, we are looking at a much more restrictive and expensive world for traveling. But I can’t despair, as I believe that when one door closes another will open. The Open Road is still, and always shall be, a great place to live.

Related articles: Debit cards for travel | No Visa ATMs in Iraq


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Filed under: Budget Travel, Economics, Money, Travel Economics, Travel Lifestyle, Travel Problems

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • Dave from The Longest Way Home October 1, 2010, 3:52 am

    Good series Wade.

    The ATM’s here started charging a way back. It was just recently that all of them started charging this fee.

    Likewise only a few big one’s in main cities allow a max withdraw of 10,000 pesos. I say this as there is probably some rich expat in Manila who thinks he has no problem taking money out. Once he leaves Manila, he’ll have problems

    Keep up the good work Wade.

    Link Reply
    • Richard Sykes October 1, 2010, 10:06 am

      In light of your desire to change locations only every 2-3 months have you looked into actually opening a local bank account and transfering money online? I have the same problem myself and have been thinking about this but have not done much research. Might work.

      Link Reply
      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 1, 2010, 10:45 am

        Opening up local bank accounts would be a great idea if I generated my income locally. But my money is sent to a US bank account, and changing this regularly is not really an option. If I did not somewhat earn my living from this website and instead worked local jobs more frequently, then an in country bank account would be a good way to subvert these international ATM fees.

    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 1, 2010, 10:19 am

      Good addition, Dave,

      That Philippines ATM fee in any place out of Manila is nearly 5% of the withdrawal AT BEST. That is a decent amount of money to pay. The world is changing, we need to make more money from our websites haha.

      Link Reply
  • Sam October 1, 2010, 5:27 pm

    Good post Wade. I thought about this a lot before I left the U.S. because I hate getting nickeled and dimed every time I turn around. The solution I found was to open a checking account with Charles Schwab. They do not charge you any ATM fees and if the bank you withdraw from charges you a fee they will reimburse you the fee at the end of the month. I noticed when I was in Mexico that the transaction fee that the bank I withdrew from may not be separated out when sending the total amount charged to Charles Schwab so they couldn’t necessarily see if a fee was charged. If you save your ATM receipt when this happens you can send it to them and they will reimburse you any fee charged. Also, I believe the international transaction fee is 0% because I haven’t noticed that fee either.

    Also, if you want a credit card Capital One doesn’t pass along the international transaction fee that Visa imposes on you.

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 1, 2010, 10:26 pm

      Good to hear from you. Great tip on Charles Schwab, will check it out on the next visit through the USA.



      Link Reply
      • Ryan Luckey October 2, 2010, 10:33 am

        Whats up beautiful family!
        Just wanted to chime in here… When we were planning our trip and project, I researched, and also opened a Schwab account, and they do reimburse all fees, international, other bank fees, etc.

        We are up in Morelia, headed to Morelos next week, won’t be moving south for a couple more months, will be helping out/participating in a massive consciousness festival Consejo de Visiones (www.consejodevisiones.org) in november.

        Hope you are staying in Mexico long enough that we cross paths…
        en paz, Ryan

      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 3, 2010, 11:44 am

        Those Schwab accounts seem pretty good for international travel. Will surely look into them when I go through the USA the next time.

        It is looking like we are moving towards each other. We should be staying in San Cristobal for another month, then moving on to Oaxaca, then we are just a jump from you.

        We are excited to meet back up with you, old buddy.

  • Dave October 19, 2010, 2:03 pm

    USAA bank also reimburses ATM fees up to $15 per month & they give you 10 free ATM withdrawals too. Anyone can join the bank, you do not have to be military. The checking account is free and you can open online or by calling them, you do not have to be in the US to open the account.

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 28, 2010, 7:40 pm

      Excellent information, will have to check this out.

      Link Reply