Money & Credit Cards in Europe

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Exchanging money in Europe

July 2014

We are going to Spain & Italy this August, and wondering if anyone who has vacationed there in the past few years coming from US could tell us the following:

1. Is it easy (all over locations, or only few and not in every city) to exchange cash currency - US $$ to Euros? We had easy time with this in Russia and all over Northern Europe but France was a complete nightmare with currency exchange availabilty.

2. Are US Visa & MasterCards accepted readily everywhere? Again, we had easy time with this all over Northern Europe, but France was difficult, and Russia accepted only Visa & MasterCards issued in Europe but not the ones issued in US.

If anyone can share some tips, please share with us.

Thank you for your help Maria

I'm not sure about exchanging money, but why would you? You can use your US ATM card just about anywhere in the world and withdraw the local currency directly!

As for credit cards, the problem is that most Europeans use chip-and-pin cards, while Americans tend to use chip-and-sign cards, or no-chip-at-all cards. Merchants can usually accommodate American-style cards (though you'll get some befuddled looks now and then), but a few places just can't - train ticket vending machines and some gas stations come to mind. It's annoying, but until the credit card companies start offering chip-and-pin cards to American customers, there isn't much you can do about it.

One last, unsolicited piece of advice: Get a Capital One credit card if you don't already have one. Unlike most credit card companies, they don't charge foreign transaction fees and their exchange rate is totally fair. (I don't work for them, I just travel a lot and learned this valuable lesson while on the road!) Buen Viaje!

[Mechanics Bank has the same policy.]

Not sure why you had problems in France (I've gone from Paris to VERY small towns across the country for years with absolutely no problems) but maybe you're not using the easiest and most convenient way to exchange currency all over Europe which is using your U.S. ATM card (needs to be major bank - a credit union card is unlikely to work - and you should change your password to a 4-digit number). Also Visa and MC need to be major banks and/or call and make sure that the card is accepted abroad. Good idea in general to let your bank and credit card company know the time frame that you will be abroad. That way they know that it is YOU not an identity thief and they know when to start being suspicious. Karen H.

I also wanted to add to the other posters, before you leave for your trip some banks will let you request foreign currency and withdraw it directly from your bank account. The foreign currency will ship directly to your house. The rates are usually better than the exchange rates you get at the airport and you will have the local currency on hand ready to go.

Every time I have ordered it (through Wells Fargo, I don't know about other banks) I have gotten bills in an assortment of denominations. For the larger bills, you can usually walk into any local bank and get it broken into smaller bills no problem.

When I went to Spain a few months ago I only once had trouble with my credit card but it was a tiny restaurant and I think the waitress wasn't sure how to work their machine so we paid in cash. Every other shop and restaurant was no problem. I don't recall having any issues in Italy.

Otherwise, yes yes yes get a Capital One credit card. Having no foreign transaction fees really add up. Have a ATM card with you in case you need to withdraw additional money. If you are uncomfortable withdrawing money from a street ATM, you can usually find an ATM inside a bank vestibules as well. I would only carry enough US currency to get you through the US airports if you need snacks or magazines, otherwise it's just extra stuff to worry about. Love European travel

Just saw your question. I recently returned from Italy. Wow! Used my Cap One as it does not charge that extra fee. Also, watch who takes your card. We returned home to a $1500.00 restaurant bill that never took place. Cap One investigated and reversed the charges. Enjoy. Dana