What You Should Know About Spending Abroad

When it comes to spending money abroad, ignorance can be bliss. Unfortunately, it can also be expensive. That’s why you should be up on how much your trip will actually cost you, when it comes to financial fees and exchange rates.

As you budget your overseas vacation, keep the following in mind:

The exchange rate: Of course – as per Foreign Travel 101 – you know that other countries have their own currencies. But will you remember to factor them in when you budget your vacation?

Start by going to an online currency converter and get the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the currency of the country you’re visiting. Then find out how much things cost at your destination (you can ask someone at your hotel or at the tourism bureau, or you can just do some research on the Web). If an average restaurant meal there costs 40 euros per person, you’re actually spending roughly $52 a head (based on the exchange rates when we went to press). In the United Kingdom, that same meal would translate to almost $65 based on an exchange rate of $1.62 dollars per British pound.

The transaction fee: Many credit cards will add a transaction fee (typically around 3 percent) to all your overseas purchases. So remember that the 100 euro sweater you want to buy will actually cost you 103 euros. Check to see if your credit card charges that fee. If it does, consider applying for a card that doesn’t.

The currency at which you’re billed: When paying by credit, always ask merchants to bill you at the local currency, advises Yahoo! Finance. If the merchant chooses to bill you in dollars instead, he could conceivably choose any exchange rate he wants. Your credit card issuer, on the other hand, will stick with the official exchange rate.

The cost of withdrawal: It’s smart to have local currency on hand when visiting other countries, since not all merchants accept credit cards or American dollars. Keep in mind, though, that when you withdraw cash from ATMs overseas, you’ll most likely have to pay withdrawal fees. According to MSNBC, you’ll typically have to pay an additional 3 to 8 percent when you withdraw overseas. Ally, though, only charges a fee of up to 1 percent of the transaction amount for the currency conversion and/or cross border transactions.

The wild cards: Depending on where you’re going, you may be faced with unexpected costs. For instance: In some countries, restaurants won’t serve you tap water, but will charge you a premium for bottled water. Again, contact your hotel or the tourism bureau and attempt to uncover such surprise costs.

Do foreign transaction fees influence you when you’re choosing vacation destinations? What’s your strategy for spending cash overseas?

External Link Image Label Links to non-Ally websites

We provide links to third-party websites for your convenience. Although we provide a link, Ally Financial is not responsible, nor can we guarantee their products, services, or information. We suggest you review their online policy and security practices to learn about this third party and how they handle consumer information.


  1. 1
    Sharon S

    No need to go overseas to see great beaches right here in the US we have some of the most beautiful beaches. Hawaii – my favorite is the North Shore on Oahu, Haleiwa, or the Bkack Sand on the Big Island.

  2. 3

    @Sharon – There are beautiful beaches on every continent. The world is huge and full of exciting adventures, I certainly hope you DO go overseas every once in a while. The United States is great, but there is much more out there. Much, much more.

  3. 5

    My Ally accounts were my main financial source on a six-month trip around Europe — I appreciated the low transaction fees and never worrying about any ATM fees! I got blocked a few times due to tripping fraud alerts while in Russia, but having two accounts gave me a backup, and it was always a quick phone call to unblock.

    • 6

      Thanks for sharing, Stephen. We hope you had a great 6-month trip. If you don’t mind sharing, we’d love to hear more about how your Ally accounts helped pay for your trip across Europe.

    • 8

      Excellent tip, Matt! How often do you travel overseas? And thank you for your feedback, just wanted to clarify that the charge for using an ATM in a foreign country is due to the currency conversion and/or cross border transaction , not an Ally Bank fee. The charge can be up to 1% of the transaction. In addition, the Terms of Service page has been fixed and should now be working just fine.

  4. 9

    Doesn’t Mastercard charge a 1% fee? Does the charge of “up to 1%” from Ally represent the Mastercard foreign transaction fee or is it in addition to that fee?

  5. 10

    I have to disagree that getting your card turned back on after the fraud protection people shut it off only takes a “quick” phone call. I was on the phone for 20 minutes my second day in Scotland September 2012, and was transferred among three different people, to whom I had to re-explain everything, read off my account number, answer password questions, etc. I am still annoyed about the international roaming charges on my cell phone because of that (more than $30), and I can’t seem to find a way to alert Ally to my travel before I go so that my card is not deactivated or put on hold. My credit cards have easy links on the websites to alert them to the dates and countries where I will be travelling. Why is it not that easy with Ally?

    • 11

      Thank you for taking the time to share your comments and the details of your situation. This is not the experience we want our customers to have with Ally Bank. Please know that they have been passed on to the appropriate teams for review and feedback.

  6. 13

    I travel overseas often but I have planned for it and I know which debit/credit cards I will take with me and use. Although I am a customer at several banks/credit card companies I do not use them all because the Foreign transaction fess they have when travelling abroad. Sorry but I do not use my Ally debit bank card overseas because of the 1% fee you charge. I have other credit cards and debit cards that don’t charge these fees at all. For others, if you are paying fees then you need to look at other options, they are out there. A simple google search of “no foreign transaction credit/debit cards” will search up some options. Hope that helps. Also Ally bank should look in to removing these fees, if other similar banks can afford to not charge fees I am sure you can also.

  7. 14

    What ATM networks does ally subscribe too. This is important for overseas ATM access. PLUS, MAESTRO, CIRRUS are networks that would be needed. I travel abroad regularly, so this is very important. Please let me know. Thanks.

  8. 16

    How might I find out what Ally’s current exchange rates are? Ally’s fee is lower than my other bank’s, but if the exchange rate is poor, it could still cost me more.

    • 17

      We’re sorry for the inconvenience, Sally. We don’t currently offer a foreign exchange rate. We’ll keep the community updated of any changes.

    • 19

      Thanks for reaching out, Sally. Your card should not but cut off but it’s helpful to notify us when you may be traveling abroad. Please give our Ally Care team a call at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559) or chat with us online – we’re available 24/7 – and we can assist.

  9. 21

    Im an American living in South East Asia for a few years now. I have an Ally account (MasterCard) and another bank that uses Visa. You should always have both when traveling. You WILL encounter ATM’s that only accept one or the other. As for Ally; they do refund every month about $30-$40 in foreign ATM fees no matter what the website says. The only problem I’ve encountered is the variable discount to MC and or Ally’s conversion rate. Small transactions are hit EXTREMEMLY hard. My advice is find out the maximum ATM limit per transaction and use that. The charges are smaller on large single transactions…just pay cash after that. It’s funny though, when Ally refunds the ATM fees charged in foreign currency they use the highest most favorable rate for them…when I take money out I get the least favorable rate for me. Last travel tip…no RULE: Always have $500 cash in some usable currency hidden on your person at all times. Never spend it. It’s for emergency use only. That’s a minimum. I always carry (hidden of coarse) 15 – $100 bills. You never know when you may have to get out fast. I lived in Tacloban City on November 8, 2013. Super Typhoon Yolanda sent me running for high ground. After the storm there were no banks, ATMs, electricity or anything for about 45 days. My emergency fund got me to Manila and got me through the wait for DHL to deliver new cards to my hotel.

  10. 22

    At my previous bank, I was able to order some foreign currency that was delivered to my home before I traveled aborad. It was nice to have a starter supply of cash on hand when I first arrived. Does Ally have this service?

  11. 23

    To reiterate Will’s question, could you please tell us how Ally determines their foreign exchange rates? Other banks publish their rates so that customers can be aware of the amount their accounts will be debited. It is critical that Ally do this as well, if they intend to compete in the frequent-traveler market

  12. 27

    post #24, 25, 26 have gone unanswered for about a year. I read in an earlier post you don’t provide exchange rate information, ever. Perhaps ALLY has reconsidered this policy. Thanks for following up.

Leave a Comment