Off to Europe? 5 reasons to pack an ATM card

3. Easy access to your money

Linking to your savings account in Europe isn't always possible. But if you also have an online account, you can shift money into your checking account quickly if you need more money, says Eric Perlmutter, ATM channel management executive at Bank of America. "In most cases, you'll always be able to access your checking account."

That's because it's usually easier to get cash from ATMs than using your credit card. "Many U.S. credit cards won't work in Europe," says Hasbrouck. "Automated kiosks for train tickets don't work with them, for example." The reason, he says, is that European credit cards have different chips in them. They're basically smart cards.

However, European ATMs work much like American ones, and they usually have English-language instruction. One caveat: Many European ATMs use four-number PINs. And some ATMs are equipped to take longer PINs; others aren't. "You may have to get a new PIN," says Perkins.

4. More cash expenses

Some places, such as French restaurants, only take cash. So Hasbrouck recommends withdrawing two or three days of expenses at a time. That means toting up your expenses, so that you don't rack up ATM charges needlessly.

5. Plentiful ATMs

Western Europe boasts a high degree of ATM density, says Deborah McWhinney, head of personal banking at Citibank. "Finding a machine isn't difficult," she says, adding that using an ATM is also easy "given the near universal acceptance of U.S. cards."

The trick is matching your ATM card to a bank network. That way transaction fees don't pile up. And they can run up to $5 for each withdrawal. For example, Citibank has 825 branded ATMs in Europe, though many are in Eastern Europe or Russia.

Conversely, Bank of America, through its Global Alliance partners, offers its customers access to more than 11,500 ATMs in Europe, mainly in the U.K., Germany, France and Italy. In Spain, you may be out of luck. However, many banks have online ATM locators you can use.

Before you go to Europe, don't forget to notify your bank first. It may reject charges from unusual places and freeze usage. "They could flag it as fraud," says Hasbrouck.

And always have a plan B; carry a credit card, too. "There's no one magic way that works everywhere," says Hasbrouck. "Europe is diverse. Be prepared for other possibilities and the unexpected."

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