How To Avoid ATM Fees When Traveling

Best way to use ATM traveling

I was in Guadalajara back in February 2016 and ran into another American traveler.  Naturally, we chatted it up for a while and we got on the subject of money, ATM charges and how to always get the best rate of exchange when obtaining local currency.  The advice I received has been the best information I had heard in all my years of traveling!  Here’s what he told me.

Avoid ATM Fees World-Wide (No, I’m not kidding!)


If you open a free checking account with Charles Schwab, one of the key benefits is avoiding ANY and ALL ATM-related fees at any ATM that accepts Visa.  No, this is not a gimmick.  Here’s a link to Charles Schwab’s checking account website so you can see for yourself.

There is no maintenance fee to keep the account open.  Additionally, there is no minimum balance required either.

No more running to the bank before a big trip to make sure you have enough local currency with you!

Not Accepted Everywhere


As I mentioned, your Charles Schwab ATM card will work at most ATM’s.  Like most banks and ATM’s, there are such things as networks.  The ATM must show the VISA logo on the machine.

So far in Mexico, the card is accepted at any Santander ATM machine, which can be found almost anywhere, including Mexico City International Airport and in the town of Creel, Chihuahua, home to the world famous Copper Canyon.

Current Rate of Exchange 


With a few exceptions to countries like Argentina and Venezuela, where a black market exists to exchange American dollars, when you use your ATM card in another country, the bank associated with the ATM machine will give you the current rate of exchange.  For example, if you live in El Paso, TX and are traveling to Italy… When you use your ATM card in an Italian bank’s ATM machine, the bank will give you Euro’s pretty close to the current rate of exchange based on the global market.

How does the ‘No ATM Fee’ System Work?


Based on my experience using the card in Guatemala and Mexico, CS will refund you any ATM-related fees you incur by refunding your account by the end of each month.  This will show up as a credit on your checking account statement.

Too Good to be True?


The only reason I would recommend opening a checking account with CS, from a traveler’s perspective, is to utilize their fee-free ATM network.  I strictly keep funds in this account ONLY for when I need cash when traveling.  That’s it.

It’s super easy to transfer money electronically to your CS account.  At least 10 days before your trip, electronically transfer cash from your main checking account to your CS account.  This will take 2-5 business days to transfer, so it’s best to plan ahead.

 This account is entirely fee-free if you only use it to withdraw cash. 

Another note worth mentioning is when you open a free checking account with CS, they will automatically open a Brokerage Account for you.  This is nothing to worry about, for as long as you are not trading stocks or other types of investments, you will not be charged any hidden fees.

Lastly, on the CS website, it does say they have a right to end the ATM fee refund policy at any time.  This would upset a lot of customers, so I don’t believe they are going to suspend the policy any time soon.  Please do your due diligence and confirm the free ATM use worldwide policy is still in effect if you do open an account.  You can call customer service 7 days a week at 1- 888-403-9000

How Can I Open an Account?


If you’re interested in finding out more information, take a look at CS’s website by clicking here.

There is a basic application you will fill out, in addition to providing some basic information like your drivers license and employment information.  It’s very quick and hassle free. I was approved in 24 hours and my ATM card was received in under 5 business days.


Don’t forget to download the free Charles Schwab app for your smartphone!

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