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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bank of America ATMs in Italy – Partnerships Do Not Apply

A large worry of many international travelers, including myself concerns the ability to get the foreign currency you need – when you need it. Should you bring cash in American Dollars to convert? Should you buy the foreign notes before you leave the United States? Should you go with the American Express Traveler Checks? Should you rely on your ATM/debit card or your credit card? Of course, each option carries its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

When I traveled to Europe in the 1990’s one of the more common ways to make sure you could have money available was to use those American Express Travelers Checks. The benefit was that you knew that many places took them and if they were lost or stolen, you could get your money back without taking a loss. However, while American Express has offices in most European cities, you had to comply with their business hours – and if your train was late – you could be stuck without money. And of course, American Express had their own exchange rate – which in addition to the initial fees you paid – could push the cost of the foreign exchange to 3-5%.

At the time it was one of the best options against trying to either plan you currency needs exactly or some of the heavy fees that could be levied against you for the use of ATM / cash machines that were not in the network of your bank.

More recently multi-national alliances and partnerships have started to ease the pain of accessing your own money when you are traveling internationally – especially in Europe. Bank of America, who I have banked with for some years – has been a leader in this forefront.

BNP ATM in Rome, Italy part of the Bank of America Partnership?

Some of the partnerships they have made for Worldwide fee free ATM cash access include:

Barclays (United Kingdom / England)
Deutsche Bank (Germany)
PNB (France)

In fact, on recent trips to Germany, England, and France we had been able to find and use these international ATMs to withdrawal the Euro currency. This enabled us to enjoying up-to-the-minute exchange rates – along with no fees to our account – the best possible scenario for the traveler in Europe. That means worry and fee free access to your money in European countries, all you needed to do was locate one of the many ATM outlets to obtain the foreign currency.

And now, with our current trip here in Italy, we did a little planning beforehand to locate banks of multi-nationals. We focused Deustche Bank so we could obtain the necessary Euros for spending.—based on a tip received from the Trip Advisor site (link here). In order to do this, we printed off ATM locations in Florence (Firenze), Venice (Venezia), and Rome (Roma) so we could locate them quickly if necessary.

When in Venice, Italy we needed to refresh our supply of Euros and ended up walking an extra half mile or so to find the Deutsch Bank ATM machine. We walked up to the familiar Deutsche Bank ATM machine and withdrew the necessary 250 euros. Happy first that we indeed found the ATM and second that we avoided feeds we walked away and continued on our way.

Deutsche Bank ATM in Italy, part of the Bank of America partnership?

A couple of days later, a surprise hit. I logged into my Bank of America account and saw two fees associated with the ATM withdrawal that was clearly marked in the description as “Deutsche Bank ATM Withdrawal” in the transaction log. First there was a $5.00 flat ATM access fee, followed by what appeared to be a 1% currency conversion fee for a total of almost $9.

Confused, I went ahead and submitted a customer service request to Bank of America asking about the fee and requesting that Bank of America reverse the two fees they charged for the Deutsche Bank fees. Within their 12 hour commitment to respond, I received a message response denying my request for reversal of fees. Rather, they reinforced that they only current partnerships they offer are with the following and that the countries denote not where the banks are based – but where you can withdrawal money fee free.

- Barclays - United Kingdom
- Deutsche Bank - Germany
- Scotiabank - Canada
- BNP Paribas - France
- Westpac - Australia and New Zealand
- Santander Serfin - Mexico
- China Construction Bank - China

Again – despite what anyone tells you, even if you find one of the banks mentioned above in Italy, you will be charged a fee – no matter what any other travel sites or message boards try to tell you. This is a complete misfire that Bank of America provides absolutely no solutions for their customers traveling in Italy to withdrawal their money fee free. If anyone can explain to me why it costs Bank of America anything additional (1%) to convert Euros from a Deutsche Bank withdrawal in Rome instead of Munich, I am all ears.

Since then, we have noticed a plethora of banks (Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and PNL – the Italian arm of PNB) under the partnership umbrella of Bank of America. However, be forewarned that any withdrawal that you make from these partnership banks while in Italy will be assessed at least two fees by Bank of America. First, the $5.00 flat rate International Access fee will hit your account. Then, a 1% currency rate conversion from dollars to euros will hit your account. For a 250 euro transaction (or about $390 in US Dollars at the time of this post), it will cost you roughly $9 – or about 2.3% to pull out that money.

In fact, there is absolutely no benefit to using a Bank of America partner (except maybe helping their profits) – I also withdrew euros from a non-Bank of America partner and had the identical fees.

Lesson learned: When in Italy, if you are going to withdrawal euros from an ATM machine there is no need to look for a Bank of America partner. Just withdraw from the closest source.

At least those traveling in China for the 2008 Olympics have an option free access to their money through ATMs in Europe.

Update:Deutsche Bank ATMs work in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain without ATM and higher currency exchange fees. Read more about it here:


Anonymous said...

Good info..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice. I am leaving for Spain in a few days and saw that there was a Deutsche Bank across from where we were staying and thought i would have easy (and cheap) access to money...BofA really needs to clarify that on their website...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, I assumed I would not be charged fees if I used Deutsche Bank in any country with my BofA ATM card. Thanks for clearing that up. I'll just use any ATM in Italy if I need cash rather than search for a DB ATM.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this is helpful info! We're flying to Rome tomorrow, with a stopover at CDG in Paris. I'll be sure to find a BNP Paribas ATM at CDG on our stopover to withdraw a bunch of euros for use in Italy!

Laura said...

The information you laid out is not entirely true. It has been so far in my international travels to Europe, but not so in Africa.

I lived in Cape Town, South Africa, for several months. There, Barclays owns a controlling stake in ABSA, one of South Africa s main banks. Money withdrawn from ABSA ATMs incurred no fee in my Bank of America account.

In Tanzania and Kenya, where Barclays operates branches, you also can withdraw cash from the ATMs and not incur Bank of America withdraw fees.

As a note, even these observations are not applicable everywhere in Africa: this has not been true with Barclays branches in Egypt, where BoA ATM fees still apply.

Ken Hanscom said...

Thanks Laura for the additional detail. My knowledge is based mainly on Europe. Great to know that the fees are avoidable in South Africa!


Katie Kohlstedt said...

In Mexico using Santander Serfin banks has worked very well for me, they've never charged me a fee and they are very easy to find throughout the country, in my experience. Thanks for the info about Italy, that's what I was looking for when I found this.
In general I have some issues with Bank of America's practices, especially their investing in coal mining and other sketchy things, and I think it's a good idea to mention this to them when you have contact with BOA if you can.

waywardtom said...

BofA got out of Italy back in the '80s. Italy is the most social country of Europe proper. It is the highest taxed society in Europe as well. Business here is not conducted American style, which is largely based upon disclosure of information. What you get and what it costs you can be a guessing game; finding out after you enter into a business arrangement is often the case if not the rule (there are exceptions).

Most recently (about May 2009) the local American Express office in Rome started charging fees (about 3%) to convert American Express travelers checks into euros. This as led too many irate American Express customers (just go into the office and you can hear for yourself). Although there is risk, most economical way to convert dollars to euros is to bring cash and take it into the American Express office, for which they give the going daily exchange rate and charge a flat 5 euro (about $7.05 as of 8/26/09) fee. This beats ATMs which limit w/drawls thus making one pay a higher % in fees; AmEx office does not have a limit that I am aware of and they are trustworthy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your feedback. I'm visiting Rome in December so it looks like the best way to avoid those fees is by carrying some Euros and minimizing withdrawals and purchases. Large withdrawals is the way to go in Rome. The other big problem? Roman pickpockets might get away with a lot more money.

Z said...

This is not entirely true. If you're a B of A customer accessing a Barclay's atm in the UK, you only pay the 1% exchange rate fee (or 3% on credit purchases). The $5 fee only applies if you use non-B of A partnered atms.

About the forex 1% charge--this is common among all banks--the forex market is pretty volatile, (pound versus dollar has changed 7 cents to the pound over the past week) and banks don't want to be trapped into a bad rate while forced to give you a good one. Think of it as a nice CYA fee, and get on with your life.

Anonymous said...

I had the fees reversed from Santander in Spain and Portugal in August 2009.

zbri said...

Thanks for the information! I am moving to Milano and am trying to figure out how I am going to get my paycheck. Open an account at a local bank or not?! This definitely helped!

Also, it sounds like some people are missing the point that your BofA + Partners information is specific to Italy--not S. Africa, not GB, not Portugal--ITALY.

Ken Hanscom said...

@zbri, yep some folks are missing the point. @Z actually confirms what I mention earlier, Barclays IS THE partner in the UK where you don't have to pay the fee.

But in Italy, it's nothing...although there are a couple of reports that Santander is reversing fees.

Anonymous said...

You may want to update or confirm this article. I am moving and just now called the travel department.BNP and and Barclays are currently supposed to waive all fees, both ATM and currency conversion. They are the only B of A affiliates which do so in Italy.

Anonymous said...

They do not charge a fee in Spain when you go to Barclays. At least in Malaga.