If you find yourself short on cash while on vacation, it might seem easiest to hit up the nearest ATM. But if that handy machine is not in your bank’s network, you could get a double whammy of fees: The ATM owner will probably charge a few dollars for the convenience, and your own bank may tack on an extra $2.50 or so.
You can avoid paying ATM surcharges, however, with some prep work. Here are ways to get cash without the expense on your next trip.
1. Choose a bank account that offers ATM fee reimbursements. Some banks will credit customers’ accounts for any fees that are charged by ATM machine owners. Depending on the bank and account, refunds may be unlimited, or they could be capped at around $10 per statement cycle.
Even capped reimbursements would cover a few trips to the cash machine while on vacation, so if you think you’ll be hit with multiple ATM charges, consider opening an account at a bank that refunds fees. Note that if you’re traveling overseas and need funds, you may still incur foreign transaction fees.
2. Scope out retailers that offer free cash back. If you use a debit card for purchases while on your trip, look for merchants such as supermarkets or drugstores that offer free cash back with purchases. This is an easy way to skip the ATM, though it does mean you’ll have to make a purchase. But if you were planning on that anyway, it means no extra costs.
Two things to consider: It’s likely the merchant’s cash back limit is lower than an ATM’s — you may be able to withdraw up to $500 from a cash machine, but as little as $40 from a retailer — and some merchants charge a fee of a dollar or so for the convenience. Before you tap the “cash back” button in the checkout line, ask if there’s a fee.
3. Join a large ATM network. For customers who travel within the United States, a bank or credit union account that has access to thousands of domestic ATMs is another good option, since you have a good chance of finding surcharge-free machines at your destination.
You don’t need an account at a megabank with a branch on every corner to take advantage of a large ATM network. Many small credit unions and online banks are part of cooperative networks, such as Allpoint and Co-op, that provide access to 30,000 or more member ATMs within the United States.
In addition, some banks have relationships with convenience stores or other retailers that have ATMs on site. So a cash machine might be inside a gas station, even if no bank branch is nearby. Check your institution’s website or mobile app to locate nearby in-network ATMs.
4. If all else fails, decide whether cash is really necessary. You may not need to use cash much at all while on vacation. If you want a snack from a hotel vending machine or to pay for a parking spot, for example, you may be able to use a credit or debit card for those transactions.
If you want to split a restaurant check with a friend or family member, consider putting the total on your or your companion’s plastic and using Venmo or a similar peer-to-peer payment app to even up. It’s a way to pay your share without having to dig up dollar bills.
Going cashless also allows you to keep track of your spending online, which can be useful motivation: When you can log in to your bank account and see a list of all recent transactions, it can encourage you to be thoughtful about new purchases.
Don’t give in to pricey ATMs while on vacation for the sake of convenience. With a little planning, you can keep all your money yourself instead of giving a cut to an ATM owner.