Roni Responds: ATM card for South America?

Roni Responds is a new feature on TORWB, consisting of questions asked to Roni about travel, politics or anything else the public wants to know.  All questions are anonymous, unless permission is given to use the petitioner’s name.  Please say if you want your first name, first and last name or user name used.

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Question: what is the most common bank in south america? I currently have bank of america, but im not sure if i should change to Chase or something due to access or lack thereof, in south america.

my other question is what do you think is the best way to get a phone? Should i keep verizon and pay the extra to have a working phone in south america, or should i get different pre paids from city to city?

Roni Responds: Can’t look at South America like it’s a country…  The banks and cell phone companies are all going to be different.  Even when you find the same bank internationally, it isn’t connected.  I have HSBC as one of my many ATM cards.  I cannot deposit money anywhere outside of the US with that account.  Not only that, with their fees, it is actually cheaper for me to use other ATM cards at an HSBC ATM abroad than to use my actual HSBC card.

My best advice…

is to look into a credit union.

I signed up for BECU in Washington state (which is the only place it exists, as credit unions are generally local endeavors). They have 1% international transaction fees and they don’t charge you for ATM usage.  I used to have WaMu, which also had 1%, but they got absorbed by Chase, so now it’s 3%.  Blargh.

That’s the key to it all, the international transaction fee. Also, of course, international ATM fees. I don’t have BofA, so I dunno theirs. Chase is 3% now, which sucks.

As for cell phones, it depends how long you’ll spend in a place.

I bought an unlocked quad-band phone that I liked (a Sony Walkman w800 or some such) and I just buy SIM cards wherever I go.

I would highly recommend a local SIM card over an international plan.

Note: People like to tell me that they don’t have ATM fees on their card.  Be careful!  Most of the time, they assume you’re just using it in the US.  There are two fees to look out for.

1)  International ATM fees:  Even if you have ‘free’ usage of your debit card, a lot of times that only is for in-US usage.  Make sure that applies abroad, as well.

2)  International transaction fees:  The bank will tell you: this isn’t their call.  This is levied by Visa, MasterCard, etc. and is generally between 1-3%.


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