Updated: April 10, 2024 | Has affiliate links

17 Best Questions & Answers About Using Debit Cards in Europe

Over the years I have received so many questions about using debit cards in Europe. In this article, I am putting all these questions together with my best answers. I am hoping that you will be able to find answers to all your questions about using ATM cards in Europe. This way you can be prepared for your trip to Europe and you can also save quite a bit of money by avoiding most foreign transaction fees.

Using debit cards in Europe is not different from using it at home in the USA. However, there are some specific questions that come up while planning a trip to Europe and taking your ATM card with you.  Most questions have to do with minimizing the foreign transaction fees that typically come with your Debit Card.

1. Is My ATM Card a Debit Card?

Yes, an ATM Card is the same thing as a Debit Card.  The term ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine and it is mainly used in the USA.  In Europe people refer to an ATM card as a Debit Card because money gets debited directly from a checking account instead of being added to a credit card balance. So, using debit cards in Europe means the same things as using ATM cards in Europe.

2. Is My ATM Card a Credit Card?

No, your ATM Card is not a Credit Card.  This is a bit confusing though, because modern ATM cards work through large credit networks like VISA and Master Card.  However, when you make a purchase with your ATM card, the money gets debited straight from your checking account instead of being added to a credit card account balance.  In practice however, when you make a purchase with your Debit Card you might not have to enter your pin number which makes it feel just like using your credit card.

3. Can I use my Debit Card in Europe?

Yes. Using debit cards in Europe is just like using ATM cards at home in the USA.  The only thing you have to do is to inform your bank before going to Europe, so they don’t block your card.  Most of the questions however, have to do with minimizing foreign transaction fees that are usually associated with using debit cards in Europe.

4. Is Master Card accepted in Europe?

Yes, Master Card branded debit cards can be used both to withdraw cash in Europe from ATM machines and also for making purchases at stores in Europe.  Also, Master Card credit cards can be used for purchases in Europe without any problems.  Just make sure you inform your bank before traveling to Europe.

5. Is Visa accepted in Europe?

Yes, Visa branded debit cards can be used both to withdraw cash in Europe from ATM machines and also for making purchases at stores in Europe.  Also, Visa credit cards can be used for purchases in Europe without any problems.  Just make sure you inform your bank before traveling to Europe.

6. How do I insert my ATM card in an ATM machine abroad?

Just like you do it at home.  Usually there’s a picture above the slot for your card. This picture shows you to correct way to insert your Debit Card into the local ATM machine in Europe.

7. What is the best way for withdrawing cash abroad?

The best way to withdraw cash in Europe is using Debit Cards in Europe at a local ATM machine from a local bank. While abroad, find an ATM machine from a local bank (usually not in malls) and use your ATM card just like you would use it at home in the USA.  Just insert your debit card into the ATM machine, choose English as your language, enter your PIN number (make sure it’s 4 digits) and then enter the amount you want to withdraw in the local currency.  Next, make sure you say no to the offer to perform foreign currency conversion by that local bank.  When you say no (and please choose the no option), your home bank in the USA will perform the foreign currency transaction, which is much cheaper. Your local USA bank will charge you some international transaction fees which depend on your bank and type of account.  It’s best to call your bank beforehand and know these fees.

8. Can I use my credit card to withdraw cash abroad?

You can, but it will cost you a lot of money.  So, the better answer is to always use your Debit Card for withdrawing cash in Europe, and use your credit card only for purchases.  This is the same rule as at home in USA, you shouldn’t really use your credit card to withdraw cash unless it’s an emergency.

9. Should I use my credit card as a debit card?

The short answer is no.  Whether you travel abroad or not, you should not use your credit card as a debit card for withdrawing cash from an ATM machine, unless you have an emergency and your debit card is not working.  The fees for withdrawing foreign currency using your credit card are much higher than using your debit card.  So, do everything you can to avoid using your credit card as a debit card.

10. Should I use my debit card as a credit card?

The simple answer is you cannot use your debit card as a credit card.  If instead you are asking if you can make purchases with your ATM card, the answer is yes, you can.  However, the money for your purchases will come immediately out of your checking account instead of being added to a credit card balance. For all practical purposes, when making purchases with your debit card feels the same as making purchases with your credit card.  The only difference is that making purchases with your ATM card is limited by the amount of money you have in your checking account, while your credit card purchases are limited by your credit limit which is normally much higher.

11. What are all these symbols on ATM machines in Europe?

The symbols you see on ATM machines in Europe indicate all the cash networks accepted by that ATM machine.  When planning to use your Debit Card in Europe, it is good to look at your Debit card, both on the front and on the back and know what symbols you have.  These days however, modern Debit Cards only show Visa or Master Card on the front, so you can just look for these symbols on the ATM Machine you want to use in Europe.  On a more technical level, Visa debit cards work on the Plus cash network, while Master Card ATM cards work on the Maestro cash network.  You can read the first part of my in depth article about how to use your debit and credit cards in Europe.

12. What is the best place to exchange dollars for euros?

The short answer is that you should exchange dollars for euros at a local bank.  However, if you are in the USA and you want to purchase some Euros for your trip to Europe, just make a request from your bank and they will send you the currency in the mail. If you are already in Europe and you want to exchange cash dollars to cash euros, you should find a local bank.  However, it’s only worth doing it if you have at least a few hundred dollars in cash to exchange to Euros.  This is because there is usually a foreign transaction fee in addition to the normally unfavorable cash exchange rate. The cheapest way for exchanging dollars to euros is using debit cards in Europe at a local bank in Europe and withdraw Euros.

13. What are ATM fees in Europe?

European ATM fees are determined by your USA bank and the type of checking account you have.  Normally the fees for using debit cards in Europe vary between 0% and 5% which means for every $1000 you pay up to %50 in foreign transaction fees.  It also depends if your home bank has some special arrangements with local banks in Europe which will also reduce your fees. For example here is the list of European partners for Bank of America.  Just call your bank or read on their website to find out exactly what to expect.

14. What is the best ATM card for travel in Europe?

The best ATM card for travel in Europe is one with the cheapest foreign transaction fees.  Read my in depth review of best travel debit cards when I compare the foreign transaction fees for major USA banks.  You can save between 1% and 3% per transaction if you have a great travel debit card.  So, if you get a great travel debit card, you can save between $10 and $30 dollars for each $1000 spend on your debit card.

15. Should you open a new checking account just for saving money on your trip to Europe?

The answer really depends on how often you travel to Europe.  As you can see from the previous question, a great travel debit card can save you between $10 and $30 for each $1000 spend on that debit card while you travel in Europe.  For $10,000 spent in Europe you can save around $300.  My simple rule is that if you travel at least once a year to Europe, then it’s worth opening a new bank account with a US bank that has the lowest foreign transaction fees. If on the other hand you only travel to Europe once every few years, it might not worth the effort and the extra burden on your credit history.

16. What is the best way for using ATM cards abroad?

The best way for using ATM card abroad is for withdrawing cash from a local ATM machine in Europe.  My simple rule goes as follows: use my debit card for withdrawing cash and use my travel credit card for making purchases in Europe.  That’s it.

17. What is Dynamic Currency Conversion and should I Use It For My Debit Card in Europe?

This is a weird concept that sounds very good at first sight, but in the end will cost you quite a bit of money. Around 2019 there was new legislation passed in Europe which required European banks to provide options for foreign customers to make all transactions in their home country currency instead of the local currency.

For example, you travel to Italy and you want to get some cash out from a local ATM machine.  You go to ATM machine and take out your American debit card and insert it in the machine.  You choose English as your language and then you pick your amount.  The machine knows that this is a US issued Debit Card and will show you a screen which asks you to consent to converting Euro to US Dollars. It has a big button that says yes and another smaller button that says no.

Sounds pretty straight forward and innocent right?  The obvious answer is that you should press Yes right? After all you want to convert your US Dollars into Euro and get it out of the ATM machine.

If you choose yes however, what happens next is mysterious. The conversion from the Euro  to US Dollars is performed by a local company unknown to you, at a conversion rate including quite a few foreign conversion fees. At the end, a price in US Dollars will appear on your American debit card statement as a regular transaction that you would have at home, without any indication that it was converted from Euros.

If on the other hand, you answer no, the conversion of US Dollars to Euro will go to your US checking account as a transaction in Euro currency and it is up to your home bank to convert it instead of another company.  Usually, this saves you quite a bit of money.

European ATM machine display while using debit cards in Europe
European ATM machine showing dynamic currency conversion option
You want to choose the left option to allow your own bank to do the conversion, which is much cheaper.

In summary, please choose no at any foreign ATM machine which offers to make the currency conversion for you instead of your bank.  The messaging is very confusing and the buttons are very confusing as well, with most people choosing Yes instead of choosing No.

Always choose No, so that ATM transactions in foreign currency will be converted by your own home bank instead of a foreign company.

Do You Have Other Questions About Using Debit Cards in Europe?

I think I have answered all questions that come up about using debit cards in Europe.  However, if you have any specific questions that I might not have answered, please feel free to add your question in the comments and I will answer the question.  This way you can also help fellow travelers that might have similar questions.

  1. Use your Debit and Credit Cards in Europe
  2. Best travel credit cards
  3. Best travel debit cards
  4. Get the best foreign exchange rate
  5. Frequent Questions about Using Debit Cards in Europe
  6. Frequent Questions about Using Credit Cards in Europe

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