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High ATM Fees Forcing Travelers To Go Cashless

When you have to budget for ATM withdrawals finding other options becomes a necessity.

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I couldn’t believe the numbers that were on the screen in front of me. The equivalent to of $9 in Czech koruna for nothing other than an ATM transaction. In Thailand, the price is nearly $7, in [insert place here] it’s …

Add on the fees that my bank charge on top of this and the simple act of getting cash has become an expense so significant that it deserves its own line in the travel budget ledger.

With the rise in global popularity of cashless transactions ATM Fees have become exorbitant. So exorbitant, in fact, that I’ve had to develop a new fiscal strategy:

Upon entering a country I take out a glut of cash at the airport and then try my hardest not to spend it. Wherever I can use my card, I use it. I only use my store of cash for transactions that don’t accept cards or I don’t want tracked. If I have a little cash left over on the way out I exchange it for dollars.

I don’t like doing this. I don’t like having to carry my cards around with me at all times and using them a multitude of times throughout the day. They can get lost, they can get damaged…

When in your home country a lost or damaged card is no big deal — you just call the bank and get a new one sent to you. But when you’re traveling abroad a lost or broken card can put you in some pretty compromising situations. It’s not just a call to the bank, as you need to wait for the card to be shipped overseas, which can take a week or two … and it may never show up at all, as I experienced this summer when an ATM ate one of my cards in Prague.

I actually just lost a card last night…

I’m down to one, and if I lose it before I swing through the USA a month from now I’m screwed.

The world doesn’t evolved in accordance to the needs of travelers …

Governments, corporations, and, apparently, many vendors want a cashless planet. India let loose a demonitization initiative at the end of 2016 that was essentially a war against cash. Other countries will follow suit. Transactions that can be tracked can be taxed. Law enforcement can more easily follow the money. There are no worries of employees dipping in the till.

The stores of the future won’t even have tills — or employees for that matter.

Cash will soon be criminal. We will only use it for illicit purchases and transactions we want to hide. Ten years from now if someone says they paid cash for something his friends will giggle: “What are you shopping for?” A clutch of bills in someone’s hand will make those around them nervous: “who is this guy? Why does he have so much … cash?”

Then it will just be gone. No more money. No more coins. No more working under the table. No more tax evasion. No more privacy. No more freedom.

Cashless transactions are not just about buying stuff. Each time you swipe or tap or insert you are logged as being in a certain place at a certain time. It is not only your purchases that are being logged and tracked, but you. As they say: we all have nothing to hide … until we do.



From my vantage point in a Bangkok cafe I just watch a guy pay for a boom boom girl with a card. He even got a receipt.


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Filed under: Money, Technology

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 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Lawrence December 18, 2018, 9:56 pm

    You didn’t even mention like health implications. The govt. has decided you only need two beers this week, so you can only purchase two and we can track that. Yikes. At least we had freedom….I would hate to be my age and just now be looking to explore

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    • Wade Shepard December 19, 2018, 3:56 pm

      I know, that’s very true! Both countries with corporate healthcare and especially with state health care could monitor purchases and penalize for people partaking in “unhealthy” activities. I’m sure it could also be spun in a way where most people would support it. Kind of like CCTV cameras everywhere.

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  • Trevor December 19, 2018, 7:37 pm

    Yup. i try to take out the maximum that i can. 250£ worth as this is the ‘most economical’ (joke) massive charges for UK banks as there is a % charge and the top limit is fixed…

    i wont use credit card as the foreign use fee is too high. )) im screwed every way.

    and i dt like being tracked… but even ur adsense (and every other website ad program) shows me what i have googled whilst window shopping on line. im tracked.

    we got cards with a monthly fee but these give u free withdrawals.

    i still carry cash. € $ CHF. my fav modus operandi .

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    • Wade Shepard December 20, 2018, 1:55 am

      I’ve been using a Paypal mastercard debit for day to day purchases. There’s no fee and gives 1% cash back. It was connected to my main bank account, so it would just draw from there without actually being from my bank. That way if it got lost I could just cancel it without impacting my bank account… which actually just happened.

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  • Jack December 29, 2018, 2:41 am

    In Mexico, it’s 63 pesos to use an ATM and still a better deal than changing at the money changer. I make sure that I keep my withdrawals as high as possible to keep the fee percentage as low as possible.

    I keep a Discover card, two credit cards, and three debit cards with me when. I travel. Two of the debit cards and one of the credit cards aren’t with me when I’m out so I don’t worry about losing them.

    One of my cards is from Simple Bank. It’s unique and worthwhile. It doesn’t charge any fees except a 1% foreign transaction fee from Visa. The card is easy to turn off and on. This means I just pay the ATM fees at whatever ATM I am using. You might be interested in it because like the PayPal debit card, it attaches to your bank account but it doesn’t automatically draw, you just transfer money into the account as you need it. It’s great for budgeting.

    My Discover card has no foreign transaction fees when making purchases and it’s taken internationally wherever UnionPay is accepted.

    I used to be a cash traveler but using cards has become a lot easier in Mexico than it was years ago. It’s also more convenient.

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    • Wade Shepard December 30, 2018, 11:33 am

      Good advice. I will look into these other cards. You’re right. I’ve been lazy with my card situation. You should never allow a situation where you could end up with only one.

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