Once you're in Europe, use the ATMs for the best exchange rate.
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I had a 6 digit # PIN for a Bank of America ATM. Did NOT work in Europe, so once back we had to change to a new 4 digit # PIN, acceptable in Europe. Haven't had a problem since, BUT...!!! Still with our ATM card, and also MasterCard (which is Citibank)we must notifly both banks in advance of travel we will be using cards, and for which country/countries, and planned dates of travel.
I lived in France off and on for some 10 years and found many of the automated gas stations (as in petrol) refused to take some credit cards such as Canadian and Hong Kong-issued Visa and Mastercard even when the pumps advertised those cards as acceptable. More than a few times, a bemused Frenchman would see the problem and tell that this disfunction was common knowledge in France and would offer to use their own cards for me in return for cash on the spot. Go figure.
When I was in europe, I had a PIN and it still didn't work in ATMs there. Especially France. Apparently with mastercard you have to get an international PIN in some cases
In response to panchosays: A few years ago, one of my PIN's was a word, NOT numbers. When I tried to use that card in Europe, I found no letters, only numbers. It took lots of guessing to come up with the correct numbers to use.
Now that YOU mention this, dear Fodor's, i'll have less difficulty convincing U.S. travelers to forget travelers checks and waiting in line in some foreign bank. WHY do they resist ATMs in foreign countries? And, it's rude in a foreign country to pay, or tip, with AmericanDollars with attitude they are more valuable. Also, please educate travelers that screen on foreign ATMs designate the currency used in THAT country, but with convenient option of viewing in English language.
May i inquire: aren't PINS for U.S. credit/debit cards the same worldwide?
saludos, Pancho Shiell / www.panchosays.com