Americans love ATMs; and they have loads of them - 173 per 100,000 adults at the last count. They’re a common sight even in places where you wouldn’t expect them.
If you’re travelling to the USA, you can rest assured that an ATM will never be too far.
Read on to find out where to find ATMs in the USA and how to use them.
There are over 400,000 ATMs in the USA. You’ll find them in bank lobbies, on street corners, at supermarkets, in shopping malls, at petrol stations and in bars and restaurants.
Over half of America’s ATMs are owned by independent operators. The rest are mostly owned by the big four banks:
Major credit unions also have an extensive shared ATM network.
Your local bank can confirm whether a U.S. ATM will accept your card. You should also advise them of the dates you’ll be away, or risk having your transactions flagged as suspicious and your card frozen.
Most ATMs in the USA accept Cirrus, Maestro and Plus cards. The ATM should display the logos of all card networks it accepts. You can also find the closest compatible ATM on MasterCard’s online locator (for Cirrus and Maestro cards) and on Visa’s online locator (for Plus cards).
American ATMs have some unique characteristics you should be aware of:
Most ATMs are not chip-and-pin enabled. If your card doesn’t have a magnetic stripe on the back, it might not work.
Some ATMs return your card before the transaction is complete. This is normal. Take it and wait for the machine to dispense your money.
Many U.S. ATMs accept PINs longer than 4 digits.
U.S. ATM keypads often include letters, making it possible to remember your PIN as a word.
While ATMs often offer the best exchange rates, they also attract fees.
U.S. banking regulations vary from state to state and so do ATM fees. Free ATMs are rare, unless you’re using an ATM of the same bank which issued your card. Normally, you’ll be charged a withdrawal fee (and a denial fee if you have insufficient funds or your request is otherwise denied). The ATM should warn you about this before you complete the transaction.
Fees average about $2-3 per transaction, but can be lower or much higher depending on the location.
Your home bank may also charge fees: usually an ATM withdrawal fee and a foreign currency exchange fee per transaction. These are in addition to any U.S. ATM fees, so keep this in mind.
Some ATMs may ask if you’d like to perform the transaction in your home currency. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a good idea. It’s an exchange rate rip-off.
Converting the transaction authorises the ATM to make up an exchange rate for you. Transactions made in Dollars, on the other hand, are calculated at the mid-market rate, the best exchange rate you can possibly get. Always choose to be charged in Dollars in the U.S.
Don’t let fees discourage you from using an ATM. If you’re careful, most fees can be kept to a minimum.
Bank of America is part of the Global ATM Alliance. If you’re an alliance member’s customer, you can use Bank of America ATMs without paying a withdrawal fee.
Citibank - a ‘big four’ US bank - has an extensive ATM network. If you’re a Citibank customer in another country, you can use its ATMs in the U.S. free of charge.
Allpoint has a network of fee-free ATMs in 55,000 locations across the U.S., Canada, UK, Mexico and Australia. You can check if your card is compatible by keying in its first six digits on this convenient online card checker.
Not a Global ATM Alliance, Citibank, Allpoint or The Exchange customer? Don’t worry. Your bank might still have a partnership with a US bank that would allow you to use its ATMs for free. Ask your home bank for more information.
Many petrol stations, supermarkets and stores around the US offer free cashback when you pay by card. This eliminates ATM fees from your transaction.
However, you’ll still be liable for the charges levied by your bank back home (normally a foreign transaction fee and a foreign exchange fee). You’ll also need to present some form of ID, usually your passport.
Credit cards are widely accepted in the US, but chip-and-pin cards are uncommon. Shop attendants may try to swipe your card rather than insert it. If the card machine is chip-and-pin enabled, you may need to walk the attendant through the procedure.
Some cards may have cheaper foreign transaction fees or no fees at all, making them better suited for use abroad.
Debit card fees are usually lower than credit card fees. Credit card companies also treat ATM withdrawals as cash advances, so your withdrawal will attract interest. Avoid making withdrawals with a credit card.
If you have a U.S. bank account , or know someone who does, use TransferWise to make the transfer ahead of time and save even more. Not only does TransferWise use the real mid-market exchange rates to convert your money (which almost always beats the banks), but since your currency is received and sent via local banking systems in both your home country and in the U.S, all those nasty international fees magically disappear. Give it a try.
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