Tag Archives: banks

Just say NO to paying for overseas purchases in U.S. Dollars

My last post got me thinking about other financial issues faced by travelers overseas.  The option to be charged in U.S. Dollars is a popular one.

I am sure you have been asked at either restaurants or retailers (especially in tourist traps) whether you would like to pay in U.S. Dollars or Euros.  You may think paying in U.S. Dollars via your debit/credit card (if it works) is a great idea, but it is not.

If you opt for dynamic conversion into U.S. Dollars, you end up paying a larger exchange rate than you would normally pay and you will be charged a separate 3% plus currency conversion fee by the merchant on top of your bank’s usual transaction (read: conversion) fees.  You are basically paying to convert your purchase twice.

It is a benefit to the merchant, not to you!


What Do You Mean You Don’t Accept My Mastercard or Visa?!

There are many aspects of living overseas that are incredibly annoying. There is nothing more humiliating, however, than going to a store, shopping, and proceeding through check-out, only to find that your credit card is not accepted while angry Austrians are waiting to pay for their purchases right behind you.

Let me share my (Milena) personal humiliating experience at a local store (Merkur) so that you do not let this happen to you.  I  used my US bank card at this store previously and it worked without a problem. I had no reason to think it would not in this instance. I handed the cashier my card and she ran it several times (5 to be exact) and said it did not work.  Luckily, I had another Visa credit card from the States.  She ran it a few times and it also didn’t work.

Now I am annoyed and the people behind me are annoyed.  I decide to just go to the ATM to withdraw cash from that debit card I previously tried to use and I get “transaction failure.” I try with the Visa and get the same response. Now I am horrified and my blood pressure shot up to dizzying and headache inducing levels.

Thanks to smart phone technology, I logged on to my bank app to find that US$1,500 has been withdrawn from our account.  I noticed the same with the Visa app.  I showed the cashier my phone and she called the manager but they  were clueless because on their end their machine said that the transaction was denied.  So now both cards were locked because there were hefty sums on hold on each card.

The whole ordeal lasted an hour in addition to the hour spent shopping.  The store could not refund my money for transactions that did not exist.  Luckily, I had a Vonage app on my phone and I was able to call my U.S. bank as well as the Visa bank and they were able to unlock my cards.  My bank asked me to try to withdraw the money again from the ATM and this time it worked. I paid and left with some semblance of dignity.

The experience I illustrate above occurred at a Merkur, but I have had this happen to me at Interspar as well as a Hofer store (they do not accept any cards).

What You Need To Know About Chip and Pin

The United States is one of  the few countries whose credit cards do not have chip and pin also known as EMV technology.  This technology requires customers to enter a pin code in order to purchase anything with a credit or debit card. US issued cards only have a magnetic strip that may require a pin (debit cards) or not (credit cards). Even when you pay for items in States using one of those pin machines, you swipe, you don’t insert your card like they do overseas.  Cashiers at some establishments are bewildered when presented with a card that has a magnetic strip.  They really don’t know what to do with it.

For more information, click here for a great article about chip and pin.

If you travel or live anywhere outside the US, you should take at least two cards with you and plan to withdraw and have cash on hand to avoid the hassle that many of us have experienced.  It truly is hit or miss. You can go to one store and they accept it without question and then you go to another and the card is denied.  And it is not just in stores.  This has happened to us in train station ticket machines as well as when trying to pay tolls in Italy’s Autostrada. Always carry back up.   We have not experienced problems using U.S. ATM or credit cards in European ATMs.  

Most banks do limit your cash withdrawals.  But, if you are traveling, you can request that they switch your daily limit to whatever amount for the duration of your trip.  Our bank did this for the duration of our stay in Austria. Note: In Austria you can only take out 400 Euros at one time. To take out more than that you have to initiate two transactions or more, one right after the other.

As for me, I just gave up! I deposit money into the local Austrian bank and use their chip and pin card or I withdraw cash.  If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!