Friday, February 4, 2011

Banking Tips while traveling in Europe/ Germany

When I went on my extended stay to Europe one of the things I did went to my local bank about six weeks before hand and opened a Checking and Savings Account. You'll need some time to have your ATM Debit Card delivered to your home. The four PIN number ATM system works in all banks in Europe. At my bank this is the way you get an ATM Debit card. I deposited the money I had set aside for my trip into that account. While I was there I purchased money for the countries I'd be staying in. I started out with a couple thousand Euros. It seems like a lot of money to carry but I included the rent of our first apartment in the money that I carried as payment was due upon arrival and they didn't take cards or checks. We traveled first to England so I picked up some Pound notes also. I figured about $200 over what our hotel expenses would be. The additional money would be for transportation, tips, food and gifts. As we traveled to Germany after being in England it was a simple stop at the Currency Exchange Desk to turn in the excess money into Euros.
I got one of those pouches that go around your neck before we left so I put all my cash and Passport into that and wore it under my shirt. My best advice is to leave everything in your wallet that you don't need at home. I carried in my neck pouch, my passport, drivers license and my new ATM Card. I carried all the important documents in that pouch. Tickets, boarding passes and agenda. I took the additional step of saving all my files onto a thumb drive and I carried that in my pouch also. I had back-up everything on that card. Names, addresses, contact numbers, hotels and their contact info along with maps of where they were. I carried that jump drive always even when I left the pouch at the hotel.
Here is a bit of a tip. Pick pockets are around in Europe so beware. We traveled in winter so there were several layers of clothes that helped make a barrier between us and them. I kept much of my important stuff inside my jacket in a zippered pocket. You may notice that Europeans have lots of zippers.
Here is what I did for money. I used my Debit Card only to get the maximum cash from the ATM machines, for me that was 300 Euros a day. The reason I did this was because every time you use your card you'll be charged to use it and the conversion rate. It is simpler to get cash and pay with cash. The machines in Germany have a language preference so using them is quite simple. Most banks in Germany have their ATM machines in a lobby or foyer off of the main room. If the bank is closed your card will open the door, just insert it in a slot by the door. I located a bank in sort of a strip mall about a block from our hotel. In the evenings and weekends this place was almost totally deserted so I was able to get in and out of the bank inconspicuously. Just be smart about when you get money. The key pads are not covered so anyone can see what you are doing. The one disadvantage that I noticed was that I wasn't able to get an account balance.
I had the liberty of being able to bank when I chose and if I needed cash to buy some nice souvenirs I could go to the bank and get the money I needed and make my purchase. I also went to the bank on several days in a row to get money as needed for the rent of our room.
So using my Debit Card I didn't have a lot of cash on me most of the time. If I did I was going to spend it fairly soon. This also allowed me to not to have to look for someplace to 'cash' in any travelers checks. I was in Germany in 2001 and took cash and travelers checks with me. Since this was right after the Twin Towers I had to always find an American Express place to cash my checks and the banks wouldn't take my American $100 bills as there were too many counterfeit hundred dollar bills. I avoided all of this hassle by using the Debit Card and using the ATMs that are easily found even in small towns, anywhere there is a bank you can get to your money.
I also had the additional benefit of not having to exchange lots of money on my return because my 'cash' was in my bank.

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