Mar 142012

Those of you who travel overseas have no doubt noticed an increasingly common but incredibly annoying trend: ATM’s charging outrageous fees just to access your own money.

In some countries it can be as little as a buck or two, but in others – like Thailand – it’s $5 a pop. This is in addition to any fees your own bank may impose (usually a few more bucks) and usually a percentage as well (2-3%). So for a $20 withdrawal, you could be looking at as much as ~$28 ($20 + $5 ATM fee + $2 bank fee + 3% bank fee). So what’s the solution: carry a ton of cash? Unsafe. Traveler’s checks? Major hassle. Pay by credit? Not often accepted, and even those tack on 3% or more.

The answer, which I stumbled on by chance a couple years back, has already saved me hundreds – if not thousands. Charles Schwab Bank.

Many brokerage houses in the US offer debit cards that don’t impose fees, but this still won’t save you from local ATMs tacking on fees of their own. Except with Charles Schwab. Schwab actually reimburses you out of their own pocket for any fees charged. That means that if you want to withdraw $20, it costs exactly $20, always, no exceptions. If you use an ATM with a $5 convenience fee, at the end of the month you’ll see a deposit for that same $5.

All you have to do is open a Schwab Individual Brokerage Account (no minimum balance, no fee) and then an add-on Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account (no minimum balance, no fee). Order your card (free), deposit some funds, and you’re good to go.

Anyway, why mention this now? Because as soon as I landed in Sweden, I realized that I’d lost my coveted Schwab Card. I’m not sure if I left it in the last ATM I used in Kiev or if it simply fell out of my wallet, but one thing’s for sure: this is going to cost me… ๐Ÿ™

  13 Responses to “How To Avoid International ATM Fees”

  1. Awesome! (about the card) thanks for the info!
    Booo! on you losing it

  2. Yep, incredibly convenient. Yet as a seasoned traveler, I think I have more or less yet to pay a fee. The exception would be the cheeky ATMs in Vietnam that claimed to be free, but deducted a surcharge anyway…

  3. Ohhhhh! Good tip! I am opening one of these during my next visit to the US. How is their online banking?

    • No complaints so far! Their phone support is absolutely fantastic, too. Call Chase and you hold for 30 minutes only to get someone in Manila incapable of anything but reading from a script. Call Schwab and in under 30 seconds you’re speaking with a US-based agent with an actual background in finance, capable of answering questions from investment to how to fill out your taxes.

  4. Thanks for this post. I was waiting to comment, but now have this set up! This could have saved me lots of money in the past, and I am sure it will save lots of money in the future. Do you actively trade BTW?

  5. We are planning to go to Kiev. We do have the above mentioned card. Did you use specific ATMs in Kiev or any ATM accept it?
    Your reply is greatly appreciated.

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