This article is from the Europe FAQ, by Yves Bellefeuille firstname.lastname@example.org with help from Martin Rich M.G.Rich@city.ac.uk.
It is necessary to distinguish several different kinds of bank cards.
Keep in mind that different countries have different banking cultures,
and that different terms may be used in different countries. A card can
fulfil more than one of the following functions:
* Bank machine card (ATM card): With a bank machine card, you can go to
a bank machine (ATM) and obtain cash. Examples: Plus, Cirrus, Interac,
Maestro, Carte bleue, EC-Card.
* Credit card: With a credit card, you can pay for purchases and you
receive an invoice later. Examples: Visa, MasterCard/EuroCard, American
* Debit card: With a debit card, you can pay for purchases and the
amount is immediately withdrawn from your account. Please note that
these cards are used to pay for purchases, not to obtain cash from a
machine. Examples: Maestro, Carte bleue, EC-Card, Electron, Delta,
Switch, Solo. Debit cards are often *not* accepted in a foreign
A card can fulfil more than one of these functions. The following
networks are related and a card may accept more than one of them:
- MasterCard/EuroCard, Cirrus, Maestro;
- Visa, Plus, Electron.
However, it's still important to note the differences between these
functions. For more information, see
Any of these cards will generally get the best exchange rate. Many banks
charge 1 % over the "Interbank" rate; ask your bank for details. Some
banks also charge an additional flat fee each time you use your card;
try to find a bank that doesn't charge such fees.
In "Eastern European" countries, cards are usually accepted in major
tourist destinations (Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and so on), but may not
be accepted in smaller cities or in countries with less tourism.
Here are some specific comments about these three kinds of cards.
* Bank machine cards: Plus, Cirrus and Maestro cards are widely accepted
in Europe. Bank machines will offer you a choice of languages, including
MasterCard/EuroCard/Cirrus/Maestro recommends that you use a 4-digit
identification (PIN) code when travelling abroad; if your code is longer
than this, you should change it to something shorter before leaving.
Visa/Plus recommends that you use a 4-digit to 6-digit code. Also,
European bank machines don't have letters on the numeric keypad; if you
use the letters to remember your code, you'll have to learn the numbers
Some banks now add a surcharge to foreign transactions; check with your
bank before leaving. In addition, the bank that owns the bank machine
may also add a surcharge. Apparently, there must be a notice on the bank
machine itself in Germany, but no notice is required in Hungary.
If you get money using a bank machine card and are charged a fee by the
machine's owner without a notice appearing on the machine itself, please
write to me at <email@example.com> so that I may prepare a list of bank
machines to avoid. However, please make sure that the fee really was
charged by the owner of the machine, not by your own bank.
* Credit cards: Both Visa and MasterCard/EuroCard are widely accepted in
Europe for purchases. American Express is much less useful, and Discover
is not usually accepted in Europe. You can also get a cash advance using
your credit card; in this case, your own bank will charge you interest
starting on the day you received the funds and may also add a surcharge
for foreign transactions. The bank giving you the money shouldn't ask
for any additional commission or fee; if it does, go elsewhere, and
again please write to me at <firstname.lastname@example.org> so that I may prepare a list
of banks to avoid.
Some credit card companies become suspicious if the card suddenly starts
being used in a different country or continent. Therefore, some users
suggest letting your credit card company know that you'll be going
* Debit cards: As stated previously, these cards often aren't accepted
in foreign countries. For example, foreign debit cards aren't accepted
in Germany and Denmark. However, a debit card might also be a bank
machine card or credit card and can be used as such abroad.
It's recommended that you bring both a bank machine card and a credit
card (two different cards) and, if you wish, a debit card. Use the bank
machine card to get money from bank machines and use the credit card or
debit card to pay for purchases. If you're stuck, you can also use the
credit card to get a cash advance, but you'll then have to pay interest.
If you wish to be prudent, you can bring more than one card of each kind
in case a card isn't accepted for some reason or you run into any
problems. Of course, you should store the cards separately in case
they're lost or stolen.
(Usage varies considerably by country; I've tried hard to make this
explanation as clear as possible both in Europe and elsewhere. If the
text isn't clear to you or if you have any suggestions, please write to