As a follow up to my last post and the mistakes I made; read this and don’t make the same ones.
The ATM fee issue differs from country to country. After hours of research, I found most countries have some pretty good options to avoid or reduce ATM fee’s; USA has the least, but “one” of the best.
Avoid International ATM Fee’s: The number one way to avoid international ATM’s fees is opening up a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account account BEFORE** you leave the USA. It’s easy and their card offers fee rebates from any ATM worldwide. This is the only card in the USA to do this with no stipulations. For example, CapitalOne’s Debit Card “Does this” except you need to maintain a $5000 balance. So, if you have an extra $5000 laying around to float your balance above this threshold, by all means go for it.
Do make this a priority as $hit He@ds at Sovereign Bank charge; a $6 International ATM Fee + a 4% fee of the total withdrawn overseas + a 3% currency conversion fee, then you pay the local ATM’s fee ($0-$5). Whats this mean? Take out $200, Sovereign Bank gladly take $20 for themselves, this is not including the local ATM fee charge… multiply that by the total savings for your trip and all your withdrawals… it add’s up quickly.
**(See footnote at bottom if you’re already traveling and want the Schwab Card anyway).
Credit Cards: Quick note; get a card that touts “travel benefit” stuff. My CapitalOne Ventura Credit Card’s points count for double on travel related stuff. I was able to “erase” a $137 flight with points I’ve accrued on travel related transactions. They also claim no foreign transaction fees which are common with other Credit Cards, however I’m unsure how they handle currency conversions (Some Banks, ATM’s, Cards, will skim a little off the top when converting currency’s. It’s usually a 1% or 2% but watch out for it). I would shop around for some options, but I’ve been happy with this one.
Free Call’s and Text World Wide: Bring your smart phone! Wifi is everywhere. There’s a joke in Ukraine, “Wifi is a right, not a privilege”. I was on my laptop in a Taxi connected to the “Free Wifi Kiev” network while driving around looking for my hostel.
With service like Viber, Whatsapp, talkatone* and a million others, you can make free calls and text anywhere there’s a wifi network, which is everywhere. So, while in 2009 you were looking like a dork in an internet cafe with a giant headset and mouth piece talking to Mom and Dad at 40 cents a minute, you can now look like every other dork back home sitting around a bar table with your friends staring at your smart phones and chat for free.
Bringing your computer? I personally hate having the responsibility, but LOVE having it. The best trick with a computer is Google Voice. You can use any phone number to set it up (I use my parents landline) and it won’t effect that number. You can then make free ‘computer to phone’ calls and text from Gmail (to the USA). The rates to other countries are reasonable and can be found on the Google Voice’s website.
*Update: You can use google voice on your phone over any wifi networks and make free calls to, or within the US by downloading the free app “Talkatone“.
This whole trip I’ve spent hours on the phone calling the USA and it has cost me $0 so far.
PS. I get paid nothing if you click or take any of this advice, which I think makes me more stupid than benevolent, but I hope it helps.
**Applying for a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account while overseas? I tried this a wanted to punch the Charles Schwab’s president in the face when the process was done. I filled out forms, spoke to agents, linked accounts, transferred money, and even faxed special document’s so they’d mail the card to Ukraine. They mailed the card and 5 days before it arrived the fraud department called and said, “they’d be happy to activate the card, just please fly back to the US and go to the nearest Charles Schwab Bank to confirm your identity……”.
Not getting Ukraine’s US ambassador to confirm my identify, granting my family a power of attorney, or flying to their Hong Kong office was enough… I needed to fly home or have a “Durable Power of Attorney”, in other words kill myself, then they would activate my account.
The way around this; The application process is online. The fraud department flagged my IP Address (my computer’s location) as coming from Ukraine which is why they put a hold on my account. To get around this; get on the phone with Mom or Dad have them fill out the online form from within the USA. Use your google voice number to talk to the representative when they call to confirm the information (It’ll show as a USA Phone number. The representatives are unbelievably awesome, it’s the fraud policies that are not). Then have the card mailed to you… this parts on you, but I’d say have it mailed to your US address on record and then have a friend or family member send it to you. Boom, done.