In today's LA Times, a consumer watch article warns that using ATMs abroad may incur nasty surprise fees, sometimes more than $5 per transaction. They write: "A sampling of banks in the Los Angeles area found that each had its own fee structure for foreign ATM withdrawals. Bank of America charges $5, plus 1% of the withdrawal. City National Bank charges $1.50, plus 3%. Wells Fargo charges a flat fee of $5. Washington Mutual charges 1%, with no flat fees."
The article neglected to point out that there are better alternatives than the big banks, such as credit unions. In our travels to Spain, Scotland, and England in the past year, we made many ATM withdrawals in those countries, and were not assessed any fees at all by our credit union. On top of that, we got a consistently better exchange rate on the ATM withdrawals than we paid on our credit card transactions. (In Spain last month, a euro averaged about $1.35 from ATMs, but $1.40 on my MasterCard.)
I continue to wonder why anybody keeps their checking accounts at the fee-heavy big banks when there are much more thrifty alternatives. We keep our checking account at the Western Federal Credit Union, where we have no monthly fee, free online bill-paying, and plenty of other services. Here at home, I have access to the Co-Op Network of ATMs fee free, which includes most credit unions, and is never far away.