ATM/Credit Card Comparison

US CMS collaborator Ben Kilminster recently assembled a compilation of results for comparison so people going to CERN would know with which banks/cards they might get the best deal.


After coming back from CERN, I went through my bank and credit card statements to see which ones were charging fees, and which ones were giving reasonable exchange rates. I thought I’d assemble a compilation of results for comparison so people going to CERN would know with which banks/cards they can get the best deal.

If you have any further reports or updates on this, please contact me (bjk AT fnal DOT gov), and I will assemble the information with identities held private. You can check for historic exchange rates to see if you were getting a fair rate. For example, this is the type of info I am thinking of:

Bank X : 2% transaction fee, $5 ATM fee, fair exchange rate, no monthly fee
Credit Card Y : 3% foreign transaction fee, fair exchange rate

If you have experience with Swiss banks, that would also be useful.

Executive Summary

Credit cards

Use Capital One Credit Cards since there are no fees overseas and the exchange rate is fair (halfway between international buying and selling rates).


I was surprised to learn that the best deal is the Capital One Checking account, which is not so much a brick and mortar bank as an internet bank company. This is a separate account than the credit card accounts. They have no ATM fees overseas, they use a fair exchange rate, AND they will reimburse you if you are charged an ATM fee from a foreign bank.

Other free ATMs (with no residency or affiliation requirements): Associated Credit Union, Marshall & Isley, First Republic, Schwab, United Bank, Webster Bank.

Bank of America: Recommended by many of us since there are ATMs in France, Italy, Germany, and UK which have no transaction fees because they are part of the Global ATM Alliance. However, it appears that they tuck a 1% exchange rate into the currency conversion, and also, there are no partner ATMs in Switzerland, as far as I can tell, so there are no free swiss francs. It is expensive to get swiss francs from an ATM with a Bank of America card. Seems like many old-style brick banks may be jacking up their fees soon, so internet banks like Capital One may be the way to go in the future.


More detail on credit cards

From everyone’s experience, and from the links above, Capital One is the best credit card in general. The currency exchange is correct (~midpoint between buy and sell rates), and there are no foreign transaction fees.

There are also Rewards cards, which give you 1-2% back in cash or airline flights.

Some others: American Express charges 2.7% foreign transaction fee. Chase charges 3%. American Express Platinum and Centurion cards have no foreign transaction fees if you qualify for their preferred cards. Chase has some preferred cards with no fees, such as the “Chase Saphhire Preferred card” and the “United Mileage Plus Club”. Citi has no transaction fees on its Prestige and Premier cards.

Credit Unions, like Argonne/Abri or university credit unions, tend to charge 1% which is better than most credit cards. Of course, your particular card may have 1-3% rewards for different types of purchases, but in general, these don’t seem to be enough to cancel with the typically 2-3% transaction fees.

More detail on ATM transactions

Capital One is the best ATM deal. It is free to have the bank account, there are no ATM fees, and no transaction fees. It is an internet bank, so it doesn’t have any physical banks or ATMs, which is why they can afford to not charge ATM fees. They reimburse ATM fees from other banks.

Bank of America is used by lots of people traveling to CERN.  If you use a bank in the Global ATM Alliance (BNP Paribas, BNL Italia, Barclays, Deutsche Bank), then there is only a 1% conversion fee. There are BNPs all over France. There do not appear to be any partner banks in Switzerland, though; so no free way to get francs. At the CERN onsite bank, a Bank of America ATM would therefore cost 5 CHF + $5 to use at the CERN bank.

There are some other banks which claim free ATMs and don’t require customers to be from a specific residency area or to work for a certain company: Associated Credit Union, Marshall & Isley, First Republic, Schwab, United Bank, Webster Bank. See the link below.

Credit unions tend to have good ATM fees. Some people report paying no ATM fees worldwide with their university credit unions or state credit unions, so you may want to check if you have access to one. See the link below. Foreign banks often charge monthly or yearly fees. In Europe, UBS charges 40 chf per year for Maestro card – Charges 1% for conversion to Euro. BNP in France charges about 11 Euro per month for 2 credit cards and check book. No charges on ATM transactions in Europe. Charges 1% in non Euro charges except in corresponding banks.

As mentioned above, there is a good twiki table of rates for credit and ATM on the web site: