Travelers find cash overseas is an ATM away


June 26, 1994|By SUSAN BONDY

Dear Susan: As an occasional international traveler, I appreciated your recent column of helpful suggestions about using credit cards overseas. I would like to add some comments on using Automated Teller Machines abroad:

* ATM access for travelers is growing rapidly, but it's not yet

available in all countries. So before leaving, check with your financial institution regarding the availability of ATMs at your destination. For locations of MasterCard and Cirrus ATMs in the United States, Canada and 58 other countries, call (800) 4CIRRUS ([800] 424-7787).

* The keypads on many foreign ATMs include numbers but not letters. If your personal identification number (PIN) contains letters, use the keypad on a standard U.S. touch-tone phone to convert them to the corresponding numbers before departure.

* Generally, ATMs abroad dispense local currency. When you use a foreign ATM, be sure you have some idea of the prevailing exchange rate so that you can request the amount of money you need.

* You will usually get a better exchange rate from ATMs than from currency exchanges, financial institutions or hotels because ATMs offer an advantageous rate similar to that reserved for transactions of $1 million or more. This does not apply, however, in countries where the exchange rate is set by the government, as in Japan.

* ATMs overseas are found in locations similar to those in the United States. To deter- mine if you can use a particular ATM in a foreign country, simply compare the logos on your card to the logos on the ATM. If any of them match, you can use that ATM.

* As in the United States, not all ATMs abroad are open 24 hours a day. To be on the safe side, plan to make your withdrawals during regular business hours.

* Foreign ATMs may refer to credit card cash advances as "withdrawals from a credit account." Don't let the difference in terminology keep you from getting the cash you need.

* ATMs abroad often do not allow cardholders to choose which account they access. Unless otherwise instructed by your financial institution, the machines automatically take funds from your checking account when you use your cash card. Transfer adequate funds into your checking account before departure.

* One last point: As a security feature, a PIN is required to use any ATM in the world. By taking two simple steps to protect the PIN, a cardholder can make it virtually impossible for anyone else to access the account. First, a cardholder should not write the PIN on or near his card. And second, a cardholder selecting his own PIN should not choose consecutive digits from his address, phone number, Social Security number or other information likely to be available to a thief.

Of course, travelers should still bring their financial institution's phone number just in case an ATM card is lost or stolen. This will make it easy to immediately report a missing card.

-- G. Henry Mundt III, president and CEO of Cirrus System Inc.

Dear Readers: If you're planning a trip abroad in the near future, it might be a good idea to clip this column and review it before leaving home.

One last note: Because some financial institutions do not limit your liability if your ATM card is used by an unauthorized person, I suggest that you ask about your institution's policy. Remember, forewarned is forearmed.

Susan Bondy founded her namesake financial services company 1980 to provide financial planning and asset management. She is a frequent guest on "Good Morning America," the "Today Show" and National Public Radio. She is the author of "How to Make Money Using Other People's Money." Write to Ms. Bondy in care of The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. All letters will be treated confidentially.

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