A Travelers Check Misery Story

Apr 3rd, 2008, 07:21 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 7,137
But, rickmav, you had to take time out from sightseeing to find and get yourselves to the AMEX office. And you had to be sure to go during working hours. Now maybe in a 4-month trip, this inconvenience didn't matter so much. But few of us have that much time.

ATMs are so convenient and so ubiquitous. And our credit union makes no charge (except the standard 1%) for foreign withdrawals.
Mimar is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 07:28 AM
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I don't have a lot of money tied up in my travelers checks. And I know that it is an interest free gift to AE.

On the other hand, they sit in dresser drawer as a reserve fund.

The only time I ever used ALL of them was really funny. I did not cash any of them, but they served to calm an overheated waiter at Le Petit Lapin restaurant just off the intersection of Montparnasse and Raspail, southeast sector.

My primary credit card did not work for some unknown reason. (It had worked earlier in Paris and worked after that elsewhere.) My wife rose from the table to go get money from an ATM we had passed when walking to the restaurant, perhaps 75 meters distant. When she stood up, the waiter began making noises like a kettle with a jammed spout.

While he fumed, I was fumbling for my backup card and spied the AE checks first. Impulsively I threw them on the table and kept looking. Luckily, the sight of the checks turned off the flame under the tea kettle!

I found my backup card, it worked, and all was well. The kettle stopped spewing and the waiter was all smiles.

bob_brown is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 07:37 AM
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I'll tell one more story and then subside on this issue.

When I was a student, I spent an academic year in Europe. Several of us decided that we would in theory see how long it would take to eat up $50, which was worth a lot more in buying power way back then than it is today.

So we priced exchange rates and fees at a few banks for shifting dollars to marks, marks to French francs, and finally francs to Italian lira before going back to German marks. .
We were losing money fast on each hypothetical exchange. Once we estimated we were down to $5 we quit because no bank would have accepted that little bit. It did not take very long to beat the starting amount down to that tiny residual!

The best way to exchange is to find someone with euro just back from europe and arrange a private trade at wholesale bank rates. Both parties are happy.

bob_brown is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 07:41 AM
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mimar - I want to belong to your credit union! We did extensive research before we left (in Canada) and $5 was the best rate we found.

Re: standing in line. I honestly can say we never waited more than five minutes - at banks or AMEX offices. We were travelling Sept-Dec., so maybe that made a difference, I don't know. And my husband and I each had TCs in our names so we didn't both have to be there. I've waited longer at the ATM.

I'm not saying TCs are for everyone, in fact we had very specific needs. But they worked for us. I could follow the pack and say they didn't work for us - but, then, that would be a lie.
rickmav is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 07:43 AM
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It took a while to convince my 69yo mother that an ATM card was the way to go on our last trip. Now for our upcoming trip in three weeks she has already stated that she will be taking her ATM card, a credit card, and a little US cash. She learns well.

Hubby, on the otherhand, refuses to give up his roll of US cash. Go figure.
Dejais is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 08:30 AM
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I have to agree with some of the respondents to this thread. If a teacher is willing to put time (and their reputation) into organizing an educational experience anywhere, it behooves them to understand what they are doing. Many times, teachers are prodded into escorting groups by travel companies that minimize the teacher involvement ... only to find that the company has left them without proper preparation.

I think in Bob Brown's story the responsibility needs to be shared, but ultimately it is the teacher's job to anticipate what would happen.

It is too bad there is not a handbook available for teachers who organize trip. Hey, maybe I could write one and retire on the royalties.
teacherCanada is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 08:34 AM
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I can sort of understand why a teacher wants absolute concrete proof the students have money, which TC provide. The reason is that students might go to Europe saying they have a working ATM card, only to find, oops, it's for an account with no money or whatever. Then the student is stranded, and who is going to help out that student?
WillTravel is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 09:10 AM
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"After being turned down by just about every bank we approached to convert our US dollars into Pounds, we decided to try the ATM card. Eureka! It worked just as it does at home."

Patrick - my comment was in response to the above statement by BettyK. I was just trying to let people know that it is very easy to change dollars into pounds in Britain. I am always surprised at the difficulties that Americans have in obtaining foreign currency in the U.S. before travelling. If you are worried about ATM machines not working, etc, you can do a lot worse than have a couple of hundred dollars which you can easily exchange.

Personally, I use cash machines/Bancomats/ATMs when travelling, but like to have an amount in pounds before I leave home. I also usually have dollars or euro from a previous trip to use if I need to buy food or drinks or pay for a taxi before I can get some more money from a machine. I went to Mallorca last Autumn, and none of the cash machines worked for the first few hours that I was there. Not for me, or for any of the locals I met.
chartley is online now  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 10:08 AM
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There's always the prepaid ATM card you can load and give to a traveling "kid". My granddaughter had one on our last trip to Paris.
palette is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 01:25 PM
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yea, and most of those (including the ones you get from AAA) only start with a 7% fee for each withdrawal or purchase -- plus other fees.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 01:46 PM
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When I went to the UK the first time for work, I was advised to get some tcs, and so I did. It cost TEN DOLLARS PER HUNDRED DOLLARS in tcs. The next time, I just took my ATM card, that cost $1.50 w/d and no fee for using it like a credit card. No tcs for me.
dba31498 is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 02:09 PM
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This is getting like the section in WH Smiths called "Tragic Life Stories".
alanRow is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 02:15 PM
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What are Travelers Checks?

Just kidding!

off2CU is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 06:29 PM
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Well, I said I would subside. Lied again, I guess. But the comment on the credit union energized me to make this comment about my own experience.

Last spring before flying to Europe, I opened up an account with a local Federal credit union. Part of the deal was that I got a Master Card debit card to use to withdraw money from the "share draft" account that I had set up. This type of account is the equal to a checking account and I have yet blank checks I can use.

I thought having a debit card with the Master Card logo was a sure bet.
WRONG!! Very Wrong.

In Germany I went to a bank to see if the darn thing would work. It did and I withdrew a few euro notes for pocket money.

Then we arrived in Switzerland. Having no Swiss francs, I stopped at a roadside facility that had an ATM machine. I decided I would go ahead and withdraw a few hundred francs while we were stopped.

OOOPSIE. My card failed to get me any money. All I got was a message saying in effect that my card was no good in that machine.

My other source of currency was my Bank of American ATM card, but at $5.00 per swat. Being essentially broke, I went ahead, gritted my teeth, swore at B of A, and took out a wad of cash.

After I arrived in Interlaken I went to 4 different banks and at NONE of them was my Credit Union debit card valid.

After we got to Scotland, the Credit Union card would work at some banks and not at others; e.g. it could access my account from an ATM belonging to the Bank of Scotland but failed at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

I remember in the airport in Edinburgh I wandered around from ATM to ATM machine playing money roulette. Will this one work?

When I got home I called the credit union and asked them why my card would not work at all in Switzerland and at only two banks in Scotland.

Well, you know the old saying, brains cost money but dumb looks are free. I got about as much sense out of the credit union officers as I did money with the cu's debit card in Switzerland.

The moral to this story has three features. One, carry an ATM from a major bank even if it is potentially costly to use and your plan is to keep it in your pocket; second, don't assume that credit union debit cards will always work in Europe even if they have Visa or Master Card endorsement; and third, have a back-up source of money when out of the country.

bob_brown is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 07:37 PM
Join Date: Jan 2008
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Rickmav -

>>I want to belong to your credit union! We did extensive research before we left (in Canada) and $5 was the best rate we found. <<

BMO charges $3 per transac - the cheapest I found for a CAN bank.
alecksonajetplane is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 08:16 PM
Join Date: Feb 2008
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Royal Bank VIP account: no charge foreign ATM withdrawals. Fee with account waived if certain balance maintained.

T.D. Bank,,: also no fee foriegn withdrawels with the "Select Service" account. Account charges a 24.95$ month fee, BUT, this is waived if you carry a balance of over 5,000 dollars. You could open account month before you go, use it , and then tranfer funds to an another account after you return, I just keep it open.

I have both these ATM accounts, and they work, no fees. The bank tellers are NOT always aware of what services come with every type of account, my bank teller at the TD did not know and had to call over her supervisor. I had a similar encounter at Royal when I tried to reconfirm with teller, she too called a co-worker to confirm.

Both cards worked fine in Britian and FRance. And in Paris the machines charged me no fee either!
bozama is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 04:45 AM
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bob_brown - What a frustrating experience and then compounded by not getting answers.

Maybe the problem was specific to it being a debit card?

I have a regular ATM card (not a debit card) from our credit union and I have used it on many trips over a total period of about 6 months in at least 12 countries and have never had a problem with it. It has a little symbol on the back (cirrhus? plus? or something like that) that shows it is part of that network.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 07:12 AM
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With respect to the credit union debit card that failed in Switzerland, it has PLUS on one side and the well-known Master Card logo on the other.

I opened the credit union account and got the card because the fee for "off net" usage was 50 per event. I thought that was reasonable considering my option was a $5.00 charge.

For cash withdrawal purposes debit cards should work just like ATM cards.

Interestingly enough for our joint checking account with B of A, I have an ATM card because my debit card expired, and my wife has a debit card because B of A arbitrarily canceled her ATM card and sent her a debit card! When we questioned the decision, the response was a grunt -- that's how we do it.

When I asked at my local B of A branch for a debit card, I was told that the bank would first cancel my ATM card.

Even though B of A charges $5.00 per transaction for off net usage, I still carry my B of A ATM card with me "just in case." Well, "just in case" arrived in Switzerland. I growled as I used that card, but my options were 0 at that time.

B of A does have correspondent banks in some nations. Withdrawals at Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Paribus, and Scotia Bank are treated as "on net". Unfortunately there is no correspondent in Switzerland and I could not find Barclays outlets where I was in Scotland. Fortunately branches of the Scottish bank that would accept my credit union debit card were easy to find.

I have a new ploy for this year. I have an account at Fidelity Investments that offers two features: a debit card and rescinded ATM fees. I will find out in June if it really works as claimed in Europe.

I sort of follow the old adage that no [computer] system works until it has proven to work. At any rate I will leave home this year bristling with plastic.

I can see now why some people at times resort to expensive ways to obtain foreign currency.
bob_brown is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 08:23 AM
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Thanks alecksonajetplane and bozama for the info. We talked to all the banks - but unfortunately, just to whoever answered the phone or was at the counter. We are planning our next four month adventure and are going to check with the banks today - with supervisors! - to see what they have to offer. Cheers.
rickmav is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 10:23 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
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On my last solo trip to London, I went to the ATM machine in Heathrow, pulled out my wallet and discovered I'd left my ATM card at home! Yikes. I had some pounds with me, but not much. I eventually had to go to a bank and take a cash advance on a credit card. It killed me, but what else can you do?
travelgirl2 is offline  

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