Ben Groundwater is a columnist, blogger, feature writer, and host of Traveller’s podcast Flight of Fancy. He was named travel writer of the year by the Australian Society of Travel Writers in 2014 and 2015.
“Do you agree to this currency conversion?”
This is a new one. I’m standing in front of a Bankomat ATM on the shores of Lapad beach in Dubrovnik, trying to withdraw enough Croatian kuna to get me through the next few days.
I’ve done the standard thing, looked up the exchange rate online, guessed at how much cash I’ll need, calculated the rough exchange, and punched the amount into the ATM (using a debit card that doesn’t usually attract any foreign conversion or withdrawal fees).
But now something strange is happening. The ATM is displaying its conversion rate, asking if I’m OK with the calculation. And it is, clearly, a rip-off. The 400 kuna I’m taking out will cost me NZ$102 – it should be around $88. The ATM adds: “This exchange includes a 13% commission.”
What? That’s insane. Clearly. Still, this is the only ATM I can spot for miles (and all of the closest are also Bankomat), and it’s only $14 or $15 I’ll be wasting, so maybe I’m just going to have to cop this. My finger hovers over the “confirm” button. But then I think – nup. I can’t do it. It’s such a brazen rip-off.
So I move my finger and hit “cancel”, waiting for my card to pop out so I can go look elsewhere. Only, it doesn’t pop out. The ATM whirs for a few seconds, and then out comes my 400 kuna, plus my debit card. Weird.
I pull out my phone and open my internet banking app, to see how much that transaction took out of my account. And there it is: $86.30. Not $102 with a huge commission. I saved $16 with the press of a button, a button I had assumed would cancel the transaction, but instead just denied Bankomat the chance to take a massive commission.
This is a new trick to me while travelling. I’m used to the eftpos trick of “dynamic conversion”, the question you’re prompted with at point of sale when you’re overseas now: “Would you like to pay in NZD, or local currency?”
That’s a rip-off. The conversion is always dodgy, with a commission included. I haven’t travelled overseas in more than two years, but I can still remember that you always go with local currency.
This ATM thing, however, is a new one. Dynamic conversion, from an ATM.
Fortunately, it’s clearly law that you have to be prompted with a question to either accept or decline this conversion – though to the uninitiated, it can seem very much like your choices are, accept the commission, or cancel your transaction and go somewhere else. Not, accept the commission, or don’t accept the commission.
Two years out of the travelling game, and some things have apparently changed. There are new tricks to learn. Some things, however, have not changed: the classic rip-offs are still out there, and it can take some time to remember them all when you travel now, and to remember how to deal with them.
The eftpos dynamic conversion is a classic – it feels so much safer to pay in your own currency, even though it’s a total rip-off – but it’s one of many that can catch unwary travellers.
But wait, there’s more. Car hire is rife with rip-offs. Remember them? You need to take photos from every angle of the vehicle you’re hiring before you drive off in it. There are plenty of companies out there, companies that should be reputable, who will try to sting you with a fake damage report. Your photos are the only thing that will get you out of that.
Try to avoid accepting the offer to upgrade your vehicle when you’re picking it up, too. There’s every chance the hire car company doesn’t actually have the vehicle you paid for in its garage, and so will be giving you a larger car anyway, at the price you’ve already paid.
Don’t hire a GPS – you have one on your phone. And always fill the car up with fuel before you return it, otherwise you will be charged a huge amount by the company to do it.
Remember all the taxi scams too: the meters that magically don’t work; the tendency to give you a tiki tour of your new destination; the claims, even, that your hotel of choice doesn’t exist anymore. The internet is your friend here. Know where you’re going, how you should get there, and how much it should cost. Or use an app (Uber, Ola, Grab, Lyft etc) to bypass the taxi experience entirely.
Remember all of the cash conversion tricks, too: the short change because all the local notes look the same, and you’ve just been handed a giant wad of them; the terrible exchange rate that you should have checked beforehand; the outrageous commissions charged.
Don’t eat or drink from the hotel mini-bar. Check the data roaming charges on your mobile phone account. Use a credit or debit card with no foreign transaction fees.
And remember: you can always hit “cancel”.
Have you seen dynamic conversions on ATMS before? What are the rip-offs you always watch for when you’re travelling? Have you been caught out with any of these?
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