Pakistan is the proud home of the world’s highest ATM (at a height of 15,397ft), but you’ll be relieved to know that there are ATMs in the major cities as well. If you’re heading to Pakistan, take a look at these tips on how to get by with ATMs in Pakistan.
In 2015 there were around 8.7 ATMs per 100,000 adults - a low ratio by international standards. But if you’re in a city centre, you should be able to find one and get some cash out. If you’re heading out of the city, it’s definitely worth taking money out before you do so.
You can use an ATM locator to find the one that’s nearest to you. Here are ATM locators for some of the biggest banks operating in Pakistan.
- Habib Bank ATM locator
- MCB Bank ATM locator
- National Bank of Pakistan ATM locator
- United Bank ATM locator
- Allied Bank ATM information and list
- Standard Chartered Pakistan ATM locator
With most of the major networks, you should be OK using your card with at least some ATMs in the city. Don’t expect to be able to pay with a credit card everywhere you go, though it might not be accepted. Here are some ATM locators for the major networks in Pakistan.
Discover cards aren’t currently accepted in Pakistan, and right now there aren’t any American Express ATMs in the country.
In Pakistan, 4-digit PINs are the norm. If you have a PIN of more than 4 digits, you should check with your bank about whether you’re likely to be able to use it in Pakistan. If the answer’s a no or a maybe, it might be worth considering changing your PIN to 4 digits before your trip, if you can.
Chip-based cards are on offer in Pakistan, but some others are still signature-based. So ideally be prepared to use either method - chip-and-PIN or chip-and-signature - if you want to make any payments directly with your card.
Don’t expect to be able to take out unlimited cash when you travel abroad. Banks often set a maximum limit on how much cash you can withdraw when you’re in a foreign country, and that amount could be different from what it is domestically. You should, therefore, check your account details before you go. If you do have a withdrawal limit, it’s usually a daily one, so if you need more cash you can go back again the next day.
Many Pakistani banks do set ATM withdrawal limits, and they vary quite widely - PKR 20,000 with an NBP cash card, PKR 50,000 with an HBL debit card, and so on.
There’s a chance that ATMs will have their own withdrawal limits, regardless of your home bank’s limit. If you’re concerned about this it might be worth locating several different ATMs you can use.
If you suddenly start using your card abroad, your bank might get suspicious - it could look to them like you’re card’s been stolen or you’re a fraud victim. So it’s a good idea to tell your bank you’re going to Pakistan before your trip begins.
Using ATMs usually comes at a price when you’re travelling abroad, but you can make sure it doesn’t cost more than it has to. Here are the fees you’re likely to face and what you can do about them.
The first fee to watch out for isn’t unique to Pakistan. Whenever you use an ATM abroad, it might ask you which currency you want to use - your home currency, or the local currency - Pakistani rupees in this case.
But choosing to be charged in your home currency means using a service called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). With DCC, the machine calculates its own exchange rate, instead of using one set by your home bank. These exchange rates are notoriously bad because foreign banks don’t have to worry about keeping you as a customer as you don’t bank with them. Some ATMs reportedly take as much as 18% extra in the exchange rate markup.
What that means is that you should always say no to DCC, and choose to be charged in the local currency. You’ll be charged less for the same amount. The exchange rate you’ll get still won’t be perfect - the mid-market rate would still be better - but it’ll be far better than with DCC.
Avoiding DCC doesn’t mean avoiding all ATM fees, though. In fact, it’s your home bank that is most likely to charge you something for using an ATM abroad. Before you go, check very carefully what fees you’ll be charged for using foreign ATMs, with your cards. There might be both a flat fee and a percentage cut.
There might also be fees from the ATM owner. These are less predictable, so the best advice is to read the ATM’s on-screen instructions carefully - in English if that’s your first language - and stay on the lookout for any extra costs.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to escape any charges at all, but you should ask your home bank if there’s any way you can avoid ATM costs. There’s a small chance they’ll have a partner bank in Pakistan where you can make ATM withdrawals for free, or that they offer some card or account with which you can make free international cash withdrawals.
Don’t forget about the exchange rate, though. There’s effectively another cost to taking out cash abroad: the difference between the exchange rate you’re charged, and the mid-market rate, which is the only rate that’s really fair to use. So: totally free cash withdrawals abroad? Unfortunately not.
ATM fees are a pain wherever you go, and Pakistan is no better than many other countries. But here are a few pointers on minimizing the cost.
- Ask your bank if they have any partnerships with banks in Pakistan, to see if you can get usage fees reduced or waived by withdrawing money there.
- Choose your card wisely: don’t use a credit card, as it’s generally very costly and inefficient to do so, and if you have multiple debit or cash cards, find out which one is cheapest to use.
- Make fewer, larger withdrawals, to avoid paying more transaction fees than you have to.
- Avoid ATMs at the airport or your hotel, because there are often worse exchange rates there as you’re in a captive market, so the banks take advantage.
- And as discussed above, always pay in the local currency - don’t get caught out by DCC.
All that said, ATMs are still a relatively cheap way to get money out when you’re travelling abroad. But it’s still very tough to find a truly good exchange rate if you use a bank. TransferWise, on the other hand, always uses the mid-market rate - the one that it’s fair to use. So if you’re sending money into Pakistan, TransferWise usually works out a lot cheaper than a bank. Take a look now and see how much you could save.
Getting money out in Pakistan can be tricky, so it pays to know how ATMs work. But where you can, other options like TransferWise might be better still. Good luck handling your money during your time in Pakistan.
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