When you’re traveling, the measures your bank puts in place to protect themselves (not you!) are significantly more drastic than those in place when you’re at home. In this article, I will narrate to you about an incident which occurred to me and how you can avoid the pitfalls of banking abroad.
By: Ira Allen
For US-based banks, capping ATM and teller withdrawals, as well as point-of-sale purchases, is standard practice regardless of where you are. But they take that practice to a whole new level as soon as you leave your home country.
When I’m in the States, I’m not actually sure what my daily withdrawal limit from an ATM is-though I’ve had to take out large chunks of cash once in a while, nearly wiping out my balance (to buy a car, for example). But I can tell you pretty definitively what my limit is when I’m not in the States, though. It’s USD 300 per day, and which is a fair bit of money.
But it’s not exactly all that much in certain circumstances. For instance, when my computer died the other day when I was in France, I went to a locally owned store instead of a massive electronics mart. In France, though, small businesses often take only a special kind of debit card: the Carte Bleue. If you haven’t got one, then cash is your only option. (They do this, by the way, to avoid being hit by the massive fees that credit card companies charge them per transaction, fees that allow those companies to offer you points and miles.)
So, off I went to the ATM, and then to the next, and the next. What was going on? Why couldn’t I take out my money? After taking out about 200 Euros (that is just shy of USD 300) from the first ATM, I wasn’t able to get anything more at that or any others. Imagine my frustration!
Now, if this were where the story ends, we’d really all have to agree that my unhappiness was pretty much my own fault. After all, everyone knows that banks put limits on ATM withdrawals. They have to, to protect themselves in the event that your card gets stolen and someone runs around taking out all the money (this wasn’t a credit card, mind you-just my normal ATM card). If they didn’t, since they’re responsible for that money, they’d go out of business in short order!
I called my bank and spoke for a while with a friendly representative who genuinely wanted to help but couldn’t. That is to say, she simply could not allow me access to more than 300 dollars of my money-not just from one ATM at a time, but from all ATM transactions combined throughout the course of a day. The fact that I was up against a deadline and in desperate need of a computer, at that point in the evening, I could only buy at a store that accepted cash? Well, it aroused her sympathy, but didn’t change anything. Eventually, I had the chance to speak with her supervisor. After a pleasant but frustrating discussion, in which I suggested that the bank’s policy of not changing this limit was absolutely ripe for a lawsuit, this representative softened a little.
Yes, she could raise my withdrawal limit-but only up to USD 500. It didn’t matter that it was my money and not credit. Nor did it matter that I had been on the phone for over half an hour (a fair portion of the time on my own dime, calling the US from a cell phone in France). And it didn’t matter that not being able to buy the computer that night would quite literally prevent me from practicing my livelihood, and could actually damage my earning power (because if you don’t accomplish certain freelance contracts on time, people stop wanting to hire you). The bank stuck to its policy, no matter what.
Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the various fees and limits, hidden or stated, when you are making financial transactions abroad. It is recommended that you visit your bank website and browse through the service charges and transaction limits before leaving the country.