USD to EUR/Spanish Debit Cards
September 9, 2009 5:51 AM   Subscribe

LivingAbroadFilter: What can I, in particular, do to avoid conversion fees from USD to EUR?

I am currently living in Spain. I will be returning to the states as of summer 2010. All my money is in American banks.

Is there something I can do to avoid fees? If not, what would be the best solution so as to keep them to a minimum?

Extra Questions

I have an online ING Direct account, with one of my banks attached to it. 1. Could I withdraw money from the ING location that is near where I am now?

2. Could I open a Spanish account, and use the online ING account to transfer funds between the two? I would like to get a Spanish Debit card.

posted by PaulingL to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I had similar problem and opened up an ivobank account. So far I have been quite satisfied.

Previously, I had to either do wire transfers between my Canadian and European bank accounts (you get charged both to send, AND to receive the wire transfer... ~15$ on each end) or simply withdraw straight from my Canadian bank at a Euro ATM (and get a 5$ charge for the international withdraw).

But to make matters worse, most banks charge about 4-5% on the current exchange rate (at least Canadian and German banks both do). So whether I get the Canadian bank to change into euros and send... or if I send CAD$ and then convert to euro, I am majorly ripped off.

Now I use Ivobank to make large transfers between Canada and Germany every now and then. Ivobank charges 1.7% on the current exchange rate, and currently charges me 30 euro to do a wire transfer. When you are over 1000$, the overall rate from ivobank is usually better than bank rate + fees. And transferring within Europe, with ivobank, all charges are included in the 1.7% fee.

I have an ING Direct account, but can only associate it with a Canadian bank account. I don't think that your international charges will be much different whether you withdraw in Europe from your US ING Direct or US Bank account.

You should probably get the Spanish bank account.
posted by molecicco at 6:05 AM on September 9, 2009

When I moved to Spain, I transferred a large lump sum into Banco Santander so I only had to deal with one conversion fee as well as a wire transfer fee. You should be able to easily figure out your costs for the next year so just transfer that amount.
posted by JJ86 at 6:42 AM on September 9, 2009

Looks like Ivobank are not currently taking new customers. I use XE Trade to transfer my once-a-year student loan payment from the US to Europe -- you pay a fee for the service, but at least only once as compared to many credit or debit card transactions. I'd suggest you open a bank account in Spain (and get a Spanish debit card in the process) and then transfer a biggish chunk of money to this account.
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:01 AM on September 9, 2009

I'm just theorizing here, but you might consider doing something like moving your USD into something tangible, e.g. gold or something, that could be "transferred" as assets to your bank in Spain? Then you'd only be paying the difference between the prices from time A to time B.
posted by arimathea at 7:08 AM on September 9, 2009

Hey awkward pause, does XE Trade convert the currencty at the market rate? And what do they charge??
posted by molecicco at 7:17 AM on September 9, 2009

When my family visited England, we converted USD to GBP at an Arabic bank, who won't charge for many normal banking services, as outlawed by Islamic law. Between that and the unusual air booking (my dad worked for a airline reservation system), my family is probably on a permanent terrorist watch list now.
posted by pwnguin at 7:29 AM on September 9, 2009

I use my ATM from ETRADE bank when I travel, as they convert at market rate, only charge 1%, and there are no ATM fees.
posted by eas98 at 7:31 AM on September 9, 2009

I too use XE Trade, for US to UK transfers. Their conversion seems to be at the market rate and their fees are minimal.
posted by anadem at 7:33 AM on September 9, 2009

This is logistically a pain in the ass, but after you set it up, it RULES.

Here's the logic -

EU to EU wires are free and can generally be done online.

We opened a Citibank UK dollar account and euro account. We also had a citibank US dollar account.

You can send money to your citibank euro account for free, transfer from euros to dollars (decent exhange rate, no fee).

Then (the cool part), you can instantly move the usd from the EU account to the US account.

I don't know any other bank that offers that. No fees, no wire transfers, just like moving money from one account to the other.
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:37 AM on September 9, 2009

Actually, it should be pretty easy for you. Citibank has retail branches all over Spain. Open a Euro checking account there, which will give you a Spanish debit card. Open a dollar account in the US (which you can do online). Then you can link the two through the website. This will probably take a couple of days for verifications and whatnot, but once it's done, you can send money instantaneously from your Euro account to your Dollar account. As far as I know, they're the only bank (that exists in both locations) that will let you send money to your accounts internationally without having to wait the standard 4-5 days. Also, there's no fee for this and the exchange rate you get tends to be about 1-2 cents off what you see listed on

Unfortunately, they charge $10 to send money from the US to anywhere other than Mexico and India. I'm not sure why that is (perhaps something to do with different banking regulations in the different countries) but that's still WAY cheaper than wire or ATM fees. Those transfers are instantaneous as well.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 8:17 AM on September 9, 2009

I use Schwab. They are awesome. Here's what you need to do.

Open a Schwab checking account they offer full refunds on any and all atm fees, there are no currency conversion fees, and they even offer .75% interest on your checking account.

If you'd like to use a credit card, schwab wins again. They have the invest first credit card which again has no currency conversion fee and offers 2% cash back deposited into your account at the end of every month.

Do this, you won't regret. Also, they have the nicest customer service ever.
posted by jourman2 at 8:18 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I forgot to add - you will definitely want a debit card issued from an EU bank. They all use chip & pin. American debit cards will work just fine at ATMs and usually as credit cards, but you can't use them as debit cards at all.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2009

Ok, last post, I swear.

Anecdotally, while living in the UK, I tried to deposit a USD check into my USD Citibank account at a UK Citibank branch. They couldn't do it. Apparently the branches in foreign countries are treated as separate entities and can't be accessed. If ING uses the same kind of structure, you may not be able to access your account from there.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 9:26 AM on September 9, 2009

re: XE Trade - How it works, is you create a UK account with them. Bit of paperwork and they might call you, but that's a one-time hassle to setup. To trade, they quote you a rate, and then it's locked in. Their rates are better than a typical bank, but I assume they make a bit of profit. No other fees. You wire money into the account (typically around a $15 fee from the bank sending the wire). Once the money is in the account you can transfer it to another EU bank.
posted by kamelhoecker at 11:33 AM on September 9, 2009

We've been recently paying attention to exchange rates used in credit card transactions. Some cards offer reduced fees, then use exchange rates that are higher. It isn't always easy to judge such things. Just saying.
posted by Goofyy at 3:56 AM on September 10, 2009

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