Whether it’s the lure of Everest or the beautiful ancient sites that have drawn you to Nepal, you’re surely in for a stunning trip. You’ll still need to be able to access your money, though, which isn’t always easy. Here’s a guide to using ATMs in Nepal and some tips on best practice.
If you’re in the tourism hotspots of Kathmandu or Pokhara, you’ll find plenty of ATMs around, especially in Thamel in Kathmandu, or Lakeside in Pokhara. Elsewhere, it’ll be a lot harder, especially with an international card, so plan carefully.
An ATM locator can be a great place to start. Here they are for some of the largest banks operating in Nepal:
- Nabil Bank ATM locator
- Nepal Investment Bank ATM list
- Himalayan Bank ATM locator
- Agriculture Development Bank ATM locator
- Nepal Bank ATM locator
- Standard Chartered Nepal ATM list
Whether your card works will depend on which network it’s on, as well as the ATM you’re trying to use it in. Here are ATM locators for each of the major card networks, so you can find an ATM that should work with cards of that type.
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
Discover cards aren’t currently accepted at ATMs in Nepal.
The number of digits in PINs can always be a headache when you travel abroad. Nepal is located between India (uses 4-digit pins) and China (uses 6 digit pins), but generally, its PINs have 4 digits.
If you have a 6-digit PIN, talk to your bank about using it in Nepal before you go. It might be worth changing your PIN to 4 digits, to make sure you can use it while travelling.
If you want to make a payment directly by card, not everywhere in Nepal accepts chip-and-PIN - they might even use the old-fashioned method and take an imprint of your card.
ATMs in Nepal do usually limit the amount of cash you can take out per day. The limit is often between around NPR 10,000 and NPR 30,000 - very approximately, between USD 100 and USD 340.
Take care, though, because your home bank might impose international withdrawal limits too, even if you don’t have a limit in your home country. You should check with your bank before you go.
Even if you don’t ask your bank about withdrawal limits, you should definitely get in touch with them to tell them you’re going to Nepal. Otherwise, they might assume your card’s been stolen or cloned, and block it.
Even though ATMs can often be among the most convenient ways to get at your money abroad, that doesn’t mean they’re always a good value. Here are the fees you might face when using an ATM in Nepal.
Once you’ve put your card into an ATM, you might be asked what currency you want to use for the transaction - your home currency, or the local one, Nepalese rupees. If you choose your home currency, the money will be converted by the local ATM, using a method called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). That isn’t good news for you: this local ATM doesn’t care about keeping you as a customer because you don’t bank there. So they'll probably charge you an unfair exchange rate - as much as 18% worse, according to some reports.
Therefore, you should always choose to be charged in the local currency, which means that your own bank will probably be responsible for making the conversion. It’s still unlikely you’ll be charged the mid-market exchange rate, which would be fairer, but it’ll be significantly better than the rate you’d get via DCC.
You’ll also want to check with your home bank to find out what you’ll be charged for each transaction you make abroad. You might have to pay a fixed fee for each transaction and also a percentage of the total amount that you withdraw.
There might also be a fee charged by the ATM owner, likely a bank. This is very common in Nepal, so be prepared to have to pay this too. The fees vary from ATM to ATM, so it might be worth trying several for comparison.
There’s a lot of choice among ATMs if you’re in one of the Nepalese locations frequented by tourists, so it’s certainly worth checking your options carefully. Totally free withdrawals, though? It’s very unlikely. Even if you manage to find an ATM that won’t charge you, and you’ve somehow got out of paying any fees to your home bank, there’s still the question of the exchange rate. Unless you’re charged at the mid-market rate, you’re not really getting good value for money.
It’s always a good idea to try and minimise the fees you have to pay at ATMs. Here are some ideas for how to do that in Nepal:
- Check with your bank to see if it has any agreements with banks operating in Nepal, which could mean cheaper, or even free, ATM withdrawals.
- Choose your card wisely. If you have several debit or cash cards, find out which one will cost you the least to use. Don’t use your credit card at foreign ATMs as this can become very costly. And it’s prudent to take cards on different networks, too - a Visa as well as a MasterCard, say - just in case one lets you down.
- Make fewer, larger withdrawals. That way, you’ll minimise the transaction fees you have to pay.
- Avoid ATMs around the airport or hotels: these often have the worst exchange rates.
- Always choose to pay in the local currency, Nepalese rupees. Don’t fall into the DCC trap.
Whenever you use your bank account abroad, the real kicker is the exchange rate. Even if you’ve got out of all the fees and surcharges, you’ll still lose out unless you’re charged the mid-market rate, the only exchange rate that it’s really fair to charge to consumers. But normally, banks charge you an exchange rate that works better for them, and worse for you.
TransferWise always uses the mid-market exchange rate, though, so if you need to transfer money into Nepal from abroad, TransferWise is likely to be a cheaper option than a bank. Even better, with a borderless multi-currency account from TransferWise you can hold money in Nepalese rupees - and dozens of other currencies - and send money directly to Nepal as well. There’s no monthly fee, and consumer debit cards are currently being rolled out as well, so you might not even have to use your ATM as much as you’d planned.
It’s always a little worrying to have to use ATMs abroad, but with a little planning and some decent backup options, you shouldn’t let this ruin your time in Nepal.
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Whether you’re going to see the majestic Himalayas or just to enjoy a new cultural experience (and a lot of momos), Nepal is high on many a traveller’s bucket...