Accessing Money Abroad

How will I access money abroad?

While you are welcome to maintain your existing account, students have recommended Charles Schwab as a great bank to consider opening ahead of time. Based on the experience of students currently abroad, they allow a $1000 daily withdrawal limit, which makes paying rent very easy.

Also, it has been reported that because Charles Schwab does not have many ATMs they reimburse all fees from other ATMs all over the world and have great online banking and international customer support. *While we are wary of pushing any one financial institution, we would recommend students at least consider setting up something like this before arriving in Spain.*

Some additional tips:

You can change dollars at the airport when you arrive but the exchange rates are notoriously bad. To avoid the bad exchange rates many travelers prefer to withdraw money when they arrive abroad from an ATM machine at the airport. You might have to pay withdrawal fees, but with ATMs you’ll get a much better rate of exchange because your bank itself sets the rate. You can find up-to-date currency conversion rate information at

Avoid opening a local bank account. Given that you’ll be abroad for a relatively short period of time, it’s hard to justify spending long hours dealing with complicated government policies.

Instead, we recommend that you maintain your bank account in the U.S. and use ATMs to retrieve local currency from your U.S.-based account. ATMs also allow you to receive the most up-to-date exchange rates—and they can be found almost everywhere!

If you take our advice and plan to use your ATM card abroad, here are a few things you should do ahead of time:

  • Find out if your bank charges a fee for international withdrawals and check to see if they have partner banks abroad – that will help ensure that your ATM withdrawals are as inexpensive as possible.
  • Inform your bank of your change in residence and the length of your stay abroad to prevent them from blocking your purchases or placing a “hold” on your account.
  • Set up online banking – you’re unlikely to find a branch of your bank abroad and will want to keep track of your spending and ensure that all your purchases are legitimate (unfortunately, fraud can happen anywhere).
  • Make sure your debit/credit card has a 4-digit PIN number – other lengths of PINs often won’t work abroad.
  • Visa and Mastercard are accepted throughout Madrid and much of Europe; American Express less so.  Discover and HSBC cards are NOT accepted in Madrid.
  • Photocopy all your cards (front and back) in case your card is lost or stolen and you need to cancel it; leave a copy with a friend or relative both in the United States and abroad (not in your purse or wallet – they might get stolen as well).
  • Check your bank and credit card statements online regularly to help you identify any unusual activity.

Beware of pickpockets!