ATMs

Every country in this book has international ATMs that allow you to withdraw cash directly from your home account, and this is the most common way European travellers now access their money. However, you should always have a back-up option, as some readers have reported glitches with ATMs in individual countries, even when their card worked elsewhere across Europe. In some remote villages, ATMs might be scarce, too.

Much of Western Europe now uses a chip-and-pin system for added security. You will have problems if you don't have a four-digit PIN number and might have difficulties if your card doesn't have a metallic chip. Check with your bank. Sometimes, too, the network will not recognise your card if it's very early in the morning back in your home country, when banks sometimes back-up their systems. If your card is rejected, try again in a few hours' time. Make sure you bring your bank's phone number and if your card fails again, call them.

When you withdraw money from an ATM, the amounts are converted and dispensed in local currency. However, there will be fees (see opposite). If you're uncertain, ask your bank to explain.

Finally, always cover the keypad when entering your PIN and make sure there are no unusual devices attached to the machine, which can copy your card's details or cause it to stick in the machine. If your card dis-

MINIMISING ATM CHARGES

When you withdraw cash from an ATM overseas, there are several ways you can get hit. Firstly, most banks add a hidden 2.75% loading to what's called the 'Visa/Mastercard wholesale' or 'interbank' exchange rate. In short, they're giving you a worse exchange rate than strictly necessary and you won't be aware of it unless you ask. Additionally, some banks charge their customers a cash withdrawal fee (usually 2% with a minimum €2 or more). If you're really unlucky, the bank at the foreign end might charge you as well. Triple whammy. If you use a credit card in ATMs, you'll also pay interest - usually quite high interest - on the cash withdrawn.

It doesn't have to be this way, however. Get the right plastic, and money-saving expert Martin Lewis (www.moneysavingexpert.com) estimates it can cut your costs by more than 6%. The undisputed global winner, recommended by many pundits, is the Nationwide Flex Account Visa Debit card, available in the UK, which has no exchange-rate loading and charges no withdrawal fees anywhere overseas.

We asked financial advisory body Cannex (www.cannex.com.au) about the best option coming from Australia to Europe and they pointed out that the Wizard Clear Advantage card doesn't put a premium on exchange rates or charge withdrawal fees. It is a credit card, though, so you would need to put money on it before leaving home, to avoid paying interest on cash withdrawn.

Travellers from the USA suggest investigating First Republic Bank in San Francisco (although you have to keep a balance of US$2,500) or NetBank, an online bank.

Most crucially, banks can change their conditions at any time, so shop around a month before you leave. If you bank with HSBC, it's easy to open a local account in any country where you might be spending a good deal of time.

Most experts agree that having the right bankcard is still cheaper than exchanging cash directly. If your bank levies fees, larger, less frequent withdrawals are better.

appears and the screen goes blank before youve even entered your PIN, don't enter it -especially if a 'helpful' bystander tells you to do so. If you can't retrieve your card, call your bank's emergency number, if you can, before leaving the ATM.

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