As long as you travel in the euro zone, no worries, you won’t have to pay any fees when you withdraw money from ATMs (except with Euronet ATMs which charge 2€/withdrawal), it’s part of the advantages of the single currency.
As soon as you visit a country with another currency, it gets a little bit complicated. Here is a short summary of the different fees you may incur and how to avoid them.
Fees charged by your French bank
If you use a traditional bank card, you risk making it richer each time you make withdrawals outside the euro zone.
As an example, Société Générale charges €3 per withdrawal + 2.7% of the amount withdrawn in exchange fees. If during your vacations, you withdraw the equivalent of 2 times 500 euros, you’ll get 33 euros, nice!
If you rarely leave the euro zone, ask your banker which international option he can offer you, it might be more interesting.
Fees charged by the on-site vending machine
In addition to the fees charged by your bank in France, the local establishment may also be tempted to charge you a few euros.
These are usually fixed costs. After inserting your card, entering your code, indicating the amount you wish to withdraw, a small message will appear indicating that the withdrawal will cost you X. It’s up to you to accept or refuse.
For example, in Colombia, the distributor at the airport charged us 14,520 cops or just under 4 euros. In the United States, the distributors charged us between 3$ and 7$ depending on the bank.
In this example, the distributor informs me that the withdrawal will cost me 13,200 cop (€3.54). These are fees charged by the local bank and not your French bank. These are fixed fees, there is no way to avoid them except to compare the fees with other banks.
These fees charged by the distributor aren’t systematic. In some countries, it doesn’t exist at all. In others, some banks charge and some don’t. In some countries, there is no such fee at all.
Try to inquire or test by yourself several ATMs to try to identify banks with little or no fees.
If you can’t find a bank without fees, you should withdraw more money at once. If each withdrawal costs you 4 euros in fees, it is better to withdraw once 500 euros than 5 times 100 euros.
In countries such as Argentina or Chile where withdrawal fees are really very high (fixed fees when you cannot withdraw large sums of money, which can be as much as 10% of the amount withdrawn), Azimo can be a good alternative solution.
The exchange rate proposed by the distributor
This is the trap to avoid absolutely!
During the withdrawal process, the distributor will ask you a rather sneaky question: do you want to be “billed” in the local currency or in Euro.
As your bank account is in Euro, you may have the reflex to choose “Euro”. Serious mistake: this is like asking the distributor to make the exchange himself at a very unfavorable rate that can reach 10% (vs. the 2.7% of the Société Générale which is already very happy!).
Usually you get screwed once but not twice! It is absolutely necessary to refuse this proposition and ask to be invoiced in the local currency.
In this example in Colombia, I am about to withdraw 613,200 cops (including the 13,200 cops fee). This is the maximum possible in this bank. The distributor proposes me to do the conversion into euro himself. The total amount of the withdrawal will then cost me 178 €. The rate is very unfavorable, by refusing the conversion, the withdrawal cost me only 164 euros, 14 euros less!