I use Visa and American Express credit cards and a bank debit card. Which of these would make the best source of euros at cash machines during a trip to Italy? Phone calls to the customer service centers revealed that none was ideal.
Withdrawing cash with my Delta-branded platinum American Express card or my U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature card would cost me. I would pay a transaction fee (2.7 percent with American Express; 3 percent with Visa). Just as significant, such transactions would be treated as cash advances, subjected to annual percentage rates of around 25 percent that would begin accruing immediately. The possibility of getting dinged two ways surprised me, especially because both cards are targeted to travelers.
With my bank debit card, there would be no interest rate, of course, since I would be withdrawing cash from my account rather than borrowing it. But I would be charged a transaction fee of 3 percent on cash advances and purchases.
With this information in hand, I laid out my plan.
When I boarded my flight, I carried a stockpile of euros I had purchased from the bank, whose rate beat that of Travelex. (No one should carry so much currency that their palms sweat at the idea of its loss; I succeeded in that.)
Once in Italy, I would use my credit cards for purchases. Neither charges a foreign transaction fee for direct purchases.
Should I need more euros, I’d use my bank debit card.
I didn’t need to do that; everywhere I shopped, including the automated ticket booth at the train station, accepted credit cards. The one caveat: At automated kiosks, you must know your card’s PIN. If you don’t have one, call your credit card company several weeks before you travel. It will send one in the mail, but it can take up to 10 days.
Call even if you already have a PIN. Knowing what fees are charged will help you devise your own best plan.