In Portugal, there are basic ATMs and there are also Multibancos. Multibancos in Portugal aren’t just used for withdrawing cash; you can also use them to pay utility bills, pay your VAT, pay your income tax, pay for concert tickets, and pay your social security contributions.
All of this is quite impressive until you’re stuck behind somebody who’s doing all of those things and, yes, sometimes people do spend 10 or 20 minutes doing all of those things.
Unfortunately, you will need to visit the ATM quite a bit when you visit Portugal. Although Portuguese card machines have gotten a lot better at reading non-Portuguese bank cards, it’s still a good idea to carry cash on you. Even if you do end up paying by card – for example, at a restaurant – it’s a good idea to have some cash on you for the tip.
Bank fees: it’s probably your bank
Most banks (everywhere in the world) charge you if you withdraw money when you’re abroad. Sometimes it’s a set fee (e.g. €2 per withdrawal), sometimes it’s a percentage (e.g. 5% of whatever you’re withdrawing), or sometimes it’s a combination of both.
Now, most countries have at least one bank that’s travel friendly. In the UK, Metro Bank is pretty good for travel within Europe. Revolt and N26, the app-based banks, are also very travel-friendly and available throughout Europe. Unfortunately, you’ll have to open those accounts in advance of your trip to Portugal: there’s not a lot that you can do once you’re here except work out which of your bank cards charges the lowest fees for use abroad.
Of course, there are exceptions like Euronet ATMs.
Warning: Euronet ATMs
When going to an ATM, it’s best to go to an official bank ATM like Santander, BPI, Crédito Agrícola, etc. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, if your bank card gets stuck in the ATM (it’s happened to me before) you can just go into the bank and get it back.
Secondly, and most importantly, their fees (if any) are going to be reasonable unlike say Euronet ATMs which have been popping up all over Portugal. The last time I used one of these was in Germany, and I was charged a €5 ATM fee and I shouldn’t have been charged anything. I think I only withdrew €20.
The worst part: it never said “this is going to charge you, do you wish to proceed?” I didn’t know until I was checking my bank statements a few days later.
These ATMs are now all over Portugal, but especially Lisbon, Porto, Madeira, and the Algarve. They’re usually blue and yellow (the logo is blue and white) and are usually placed somewhere that’s incredibly convenient.
Avoid them if at all costs. You’ll typically pay a fee of somewhere between 7.5% and 20% on whatever you withdraw.
Most ATMs have a withdrawal limit of €200 per day. That’s enough cash to last for a few days, but not for an entire week. The problem isn’t having to go to the Multibanco, but whether your bank back home will issue a fee every time you make a withdrawal.
Some banks charge a fee that’s a percentage of the total withdrawal, while others charge a fee for every withdrawal or both.
To avoid ATM fees, you should:
- Pay online, where possible: Hotels, train tickets, and car hire can all be booked online.
- Order currency before you go to Portugal: Visit your bank, Bureau de Change, or online currency shop and get Euros sent to you before you leave for Portugal. (Normally the latter is the cheapest option).
- Pay by card, where possible: While many banks charge for ATM withdrawals abroad, some credit cards can be used abroad without incurring any fee. If this is the case, save your cash and use your card when you can.
Should I accept the conversion?
If you are trying to use a non-Euro bank account at the ATM (for example: Sterling or Dollars) you will be asked whether you want to accept the ATM’s conversion rate or go with the as yet unknown conversion rate that your bank will give you.
You are always better off saying no and going with whatever conversion rate your bank offers you. It will almost always be better than the rate the ATM offers you.
When the ATM asks for your pin, you might see space for six digits e.g. – – – – – –
All you need to do is enter 4.
I’ve never actually met anyone who has a 6-digit ATM pin, but there must be some reasoning to it.