Comparison of Foreign ATM Fees Charged by Canadian Banks

ATM | Source: Modern Relics on FlickrPicture this – you’re on vacation, enjoying the sun and sand, or maybe the snow, in some foreign land. You brought some cash with you but you need more so you go to the ATM and withdraw some spending money. Everything seems to be in good order. Then you get home and realize your bank charged you $5.00 for the privilege of withdrawing that money! And since you were gone for a while, and had to make multiple withdrawals, these transactions really added up. I know I’ve been hurt by this before. When I went backpacking for three months in 2010, I spent over $100 on foreign ATM fees to withdraw money throughout my trip. The kicker – had I done some research, this could have been entirely avoidable! In today’s post, I’m going to compare the foreign ATM fees charged by all the big five Canadian banks, and highlight a few alternative options as well. With a little insight and planning, you can go abroad and spend your money the right way – enjoying your trip!

The Big Five

 

Bank Plan Foreign ATM Fee (per transaction) Currency Exchange Fee (%) Plan Costs Plan Fee Waived If Minimum Balance Maintained
TD Canada Trust All but Select Service $5.00 ($3.00 in US) 2.5 Variable Variable
TD Canada Trust Select Service Free 2.5 $29.95 $5,000
BMO All but Premium Plan $5.00 ($3.00 in US and free at BMO Harris ATMs in US) 2.5 Variable Variable
BMO Premium Plan First 5 monthly transactions free, then $5.00 ($3.00 in US and free at BMO Harris ATMs in US) 2.5 $25.00 $5,000
CIBC All Accounts $5.00 ($3.00 in US) 2.5 Variable Variable
Scotiabank All Accounts Free at all Global Alliance Banks; otherwise $5.00 ($3.00 in US) 2.5 Variable Variable
RBC All but VIP Banking $5.00 ($3.00 in US) 2.5 Variable Variable
RBC VIP Banking Free 2.5 $30.00 -

So, what does this mean for you? If you want to stick with one of the big five banks, the best option depends on whether or not you’re willing to maintain a minimum balance of $5,000. If you are, then the clear winner is TD Canada Trust – their Select Service Plan gives users unlimited free foreign ATM transactions and the $30 plan cost is waived if you maintain a minimum balance of $5,000. That said, I don’t personally like keeping a ton of money in my chequing account when I travel. I usually like to keep only a small amount of money in my chequing account, and then keep the balance in a second account that is not linked to my ATM card. Under this regime, I can go online and transfer money between the accounts as needed, and if my card ever gets lost or stolen, a potential thief can only access a limited amount of money. Unless you’re planning to make at least 6 transactions a month, that makes the Select Service Plan a bad value (unless you are taking advantage of its other benefits).

If you’re not willing to maintain a high monthly balance, depending on where you’re travelling, the best option becomes Scotiabank. Scotiabank belongs to the Global ATM Alliance which gives you free transactions at specific ATMs throughout the world. Click this link to open a PDF file listing all the banks that are part of the Global ATM Alliance.

If you’re not willing to maintain a high monthly balance and won’t be travelling somewhere within the Scotiabank network, but you really want to keep your account with one of the big five banks, then at that point, you should just stick with your current account and be prepared to pay the $5.00 fee with each transaction. NOTE that all the banks, regardless of account, charge a 2.5% fee on the currency exchange, and that some international ATMs may charge you their own transaction fees that are not related to the foreign ATM fees charged by your Canadian bank.

The Alternatives

Bank Plan Foreign ATM Fee (per transaction) Currency Exchange Fee (%) Plan Costs Plan Fee Waived If Minimum Balance Maintained
ING Direct THRiVE $2.00 Not Stated No-Fee -
PC Financial No-Fee Banking $3.00 2.5 No-Fee -
ICICI HiValue $1.50 Not Stated $5.00 $500
ICICI HiValue Plus Free Not Stated $9.95 -

Going beyond the big five Canadian banks could potentially save you a lot of money when it comes to foreign ATM fees. Obviously, in some cases, the big five banks are a better option, if for example, you don’t mind maintaining a balance of at least $5,000 or you’re going somewhere covered by Scotiabank’s Global ATM Alliance. But if you don’t fit these criteria, and were preparing to pay $5.00 per transaction, think twice. ING Direct’s THRiVE account has no monthly fee, and charges only $2.00 per transaction outside of Canada. The problem here is that they don’t provide any information on whether or not they ding you on the currency exchange. The only information I was able to find on their website is the following

ING DIRECT may, in its sole discretion, permit transactions in a foreign currency. The foreign currency will be converted to Canadian dollars at the exchange rate determined by ING DIRECT on a date determined by ING DIRECT, which may be different from the date of the transaction. ING DIRECT is not responsible for any losses you may incur due to changes in foreign currency exchange rates or the unavailability of funds due to foreign currency restrictions.

Doesn’t really tell you much does it? Basically, they can charge you any fee they want on the currency exchange. Or they could not charge any fee at all. PC Financial, on the other hand, charges only $3.00 per transaction, but at least they are transparent about the fact that they charge a 2.5% fee on the currency exchange.

The final option is ICICI, which could work out to be cheaper than both ING Direct and PC Financial. That said, I have heard a lot of less than stellar reviews about ICICI’s customer service, and when travelling, the last thing I want is to have problems accessing my money.

So Next Time You Travel, How Much Will You Be Paying to Access Your Money?

With a little bit of advance planning, you could save a significant amount of money by choosing an appropriate bank account prior to travelling. Depending on your willingness to switch banks or temporarily open an account at another bank, foreign ATM fees could be completely or partially avoided. For a short trip of only a week or two, it may amount to $5-$20, but on a long trip lasting several months or more, this could amount to savings in the hundreds of dollars. Don’t donate your money unnecessarily to the bank – keep it in your pocket and use it to enjoy your vacation!

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12 thoughts on “Comparison of Foreign ATM Fees Charged by Canadian Banks

  1. I guess one can also limit withdrawals by using a credit card for all of his purchases unless you are really in some third world country. Of course, pay the balance off before the due date!

    • Using credit cards can definitely help limit withdrawals although, even in some developed countries, credit cards can be difficult to use. I wouldn’t consider either Argentina or Chile to be a third world country, but I had a hard time using a credit card in both those places on a regular basis. I find that outside of the Western society, the world still operates primarily on a cash basis.

  2. Whatever happened to travelers cheques?? ;)
    When I travel now we always just use the bank machine to withdraw. It seems to be the easiest! And the cost would just be the cost of traveling!

  3. We use credit cards and take out cash before we leave. That way we only pay the conversion once. We find we track the rate and when we find a good one we go and withdraw a bunch. This saves us from having to deal with getting money out when we are away.

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