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How our “big bank” and credit union both helped us overseas

Recently, we took a trip overseas to Germany for vacation. I was worried that we would get shafted on foreign transaction fees, currency exchange fees and ATM fees because we didn’t have the right mix of banks and credit cards.

However, after a few phone calls, I found out that we were in an excellent position for this trip because of the following:

Our “Big Bank”

I’ve been a Bank of America member for about a decade now, and while I was very close to killing my account recently from their attempt at a $5 fee for debit card transactions, I decided it wasn’t worth the bother. I’m glad I didn’t because one of the major banks in Germany, Deutsche Bank, is part of the “Global ATM Alliance“, and thus we didn’t have any ATM fees.

One thing when you’re dealing with foreign currency is to make sure you don’t withdraw too much because you might get stuck having to exchange it back to US dollars and paying another fee.

Your best bet is to use a credit card…

Our Credit Union

While we have a number of credit cards, they all had foreign transaction fees (FTF’s), which can range from 1%-3% (or more for some seedy credit companies).  But while calling through our credit card companies to find out the best option, I found out that recently our Pentagon Federal Platinum Rewards Card dropped the foreign transaction fee! Not only that, but I learned that the card also offers 5% cash back on gas all the time. When I first got the card, it was 3%, but I hadn’t checked up on it until I heard a radio ad for the card and heard 5%.

So with a combination of a big bank and a credit union, we were able to avoid a chunk of fees during our stay overseas. Capital One and AmEx used to be your only choices for cards with no foreign transaction fees, but now Pentagon Federal Credit Union has joined the mix 🙂

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Although I’ve been with BofA since 2006, I’m no longer going to keep using my debit/checking account with them. I’m only keeping the account open for when my mom and I need to transfer money between our accounts. But it does have its advantages.

  • There really is no difference between cards that have FTF and those that don’t. Cards that don’t charge a FTF simply have a slightly less favorable exchange rate in order to make up for it. I’ve travelled out of the country countless times and never had any issue with any credit card, debit card or even travellers checks (back in the old days) or cash. Depending on where you’re staying you may come out ahead if you can get travellers checks without a fee. In some areas of large cities there will be many currency exchanges on the same street. This allows you to walk by each of them comparing rates.

    BUT, unless you’re going to be spending big bucks overseas, the difference between various credit & debit cards is probably not even worth talking about.

  • Damian from Intuit here. I was recently on vacation in Santiago, Chile and was robbed in the bus station. The thieves got all my cash, my passport and my credit and debit cards. My cards were from a variety of banks – both credit unions and big banks. They were all wonderful. I called them immediately but the thieves had already spent hundreds of dollars. The banks and credit unions all credited my accounts immediately since I was not responsible for the charges the thieves made. For me, the safest and easiest way to travel is using my cards and the banks all proved this to remain true. It’s not often that I can sing the praises of banks, but in this case I can. This kind of customer service was well worth the minimal withdrawl fees I pay.

  • I ended up with some extra Euros after traveling for a couple of weeks in Europe, but I just decided to hang on to it, as I hope to go back soon. It will be much nicer to arrive in-country with spendable cash in my pocket. Last time, I couldn’t even buy a soda pop from the machines in the airport. No ATMs till I got past customs.

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