How to Save Money on ATM Fees While Traveling

Banking with Charles Schwab makes ATM withdrawals cheaper overseas.

I’m not a millionaire that needs slick investing advice; embarrassingly enough, I don’t know a 401K from an IRA from a box under the mattress at this point (I’m workin’ on it!) But I do know that when we travel (which is every day of our lives) the ATM fees are a killer. For example, in Bali, the local bank fees can be more than $5 USD; combine that with your bank’s typical fee of $5 and you’re spending more than $10 for a $100 withdrawal sometimes (oh yeah, don’t forget those withdrawal caps—now you have to make two or three withdrawals to get the amount you need and drop $30+ for the privilege of using your own money!)

Having local cash is a must in most of the places we travel across Asia. Most smaller shops don’t take credit cards, and even if they do, you’ll have to consider international credit card fees (and the extra, extra percentage that local shops charge to swipe a card is a whole ‘nother blog topic). Withdrawing from an ATM is usually a convenient way to acquire local currency, too, as opposed to money changers. So what are you supposed to do to avoid spending half your vacation budget on bank fees?

Get a Charles Schwab bank account.

Charles Schwab high yield checking accounts don’t charge any ATM fees, and they refund any local bank fees charged to your account! So, not only are they not jerks, but they absorb the jerkiness of other banks!

It’s simple: first you apply for a brokerage account. Don’t worry, you never have to do anything with this account again if you don’t want to—it can almost act like a savings account. Once you have a brokerage account, you then apply for a high yield checking account. It has all the bells and whistles of a standard checking account but with no fees and no minimum, and they refund alllll ATM fees.  In 2015 alone, we saved $870 in ATM fees.  Let that sink in.  Almost a thousand dollars saved simply by using Charles Schwab for our overseas ATM needs. Depending on where you’re traveling, that could buy you another month in your destination! 

As a bonus, their customer service is a dream. Chat is available for almost all your needs, but should you need or prefer it, the phone support is very pleasant. You can tell that Schwab employees feel empowered to actually solve problems, instead of simply reading a script like most bank customer service employees (and what a poorly written script it usually is, right?) Charles Schwab also has a sweet smartphone app, too.

Happy traveling…and make sure to set the travel notice on your account before you go!

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