Question: I've been reading with interest and confusion about automated teller machine fees when traveling to Europe. So I went to
Answer: The branch manager is only partly correct. Some ATMs in Europe will not accept a PIN that's longer than four digits, but that doesn't mean all of them.
If you look at a couple of banks' websites, you can see why there's confusion:
Here's what BofA's website says: "Most international ATM operators support up to 12-digit PINs. However, some operators only support 4-digit PINs."
So the reports conflict, but at least these banks address the issue. Other banks don't make it so easy to discover their solution to the four-versus-more question.
This four-digit-limit "can be an issue with older ATMs," he said in an email, "and older ATMs are more prevalent in Europe than in the U.S. So a four-digit PIN is a great idea."
The nondisclosure of a four-digit PIN requirement is probably not a conspiracy. Given Papadimitriou's explanation, it might be a matter of not wishing to disclose that the technology isn't up to date, which is nothing I'd want to advertise.
If you want to change your PIN, BofA has these instructions on its website: "To change your PIN, insert your ATM or debit card into a Bank of America ATM, enter [the] current PIN, select 'More Options,' select 'Change PIN' and follow the screen prompts."
BofA also notes that you should "be sure to know your PIN by numbers, as some ATMs outside the United States don't have letters on the keyboards."
In other words, if you know your PIN as a four-letter word (oh, the possibilities!), you should know that the word DRAT (I'm sure that's what you were thinking of) translates into 3728.
And BofA notes that your PIN should not start with the number 0.
If you don't want to change your PIN, there's one other solution that I've used as backup: My checking and savings accounts are not at the same financial institution. My savings account has a four-digit PIN, and that's what I used in Latin America when I overshopped and ran out of folding money.
If you do get your ATM card to work, the next issue you must face is this: How much are you paying for using that card?
If you go outside your bank's network, you may be assessed a fee. You also may be assessed a foreign transaction fee of as much as 3%.
If you're traveling abroad, these fees probably won't bankrupt you. But they are among the hidden costs of traveling that can put a dent in your wallet (not quite as damaging as lodging taxes and rental car concession fees, but still part of the monetary mix).
On its checking account chart (bit.ly/1j9dwxZ; under "Advanced Options," click on "no foreign transaction fees"), WalletHub notes two that don't charge these fees:
Is it worth the hassle to change banks? Up to you. But maybe opening a vacation account may keep you, if not rolling in dough, at least out of serious credit card debt, which can take the fun out of being away.