These are the top things to know before visiting Europe.
According to the World Tourism Organization Europe has the 6 most visited countries in the top 10 visited countries in the world. Everyone wants to visit Europe and for good reason.
I was pleasantly surprised when I finally relented from avoiding Europe and toured the continent.
I always wanted to visit places that most people stayed away from; Somalia, South Sudan, the Guiana’s (in South America), etc.
Apologies for the super vertical pic… but it is quite epic.
But there is nothing quite like Europe.
In 2015, I was able to do an extensive tour that started in Portugal, followed by Paris, Barcelona, and Milan. This was continued by the exotic cities of Venice, Santorini, Tropea, Istanbul, and the entire Western coast of Italy.
From the southern tip of the country in Tropea all the way to the Amalfi Coast, the backside of Amalfi Coast, and of course the chaotic city of Rome.
You are going to want to know the top things to know before visiting Europe before you go. When I Googled this I found common sense information like “pack light” and “call your credit card company“.
There are however, many more things that you should know before visiting Europe.
We will start with what I consider the most blatant scam on the continent, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood bank.
#1. Charge Your Credit Card In Your Local Currency Scam
If there was anything you wanted to know before visiting Europe, this would be the #1. It doesn’t matter if you are visiting Europe from United States, England, Australia, India, or Mars.
Processing merchants (the people that put the charge through your credit card) give you a choice of charging you in the local currency (in this case charging you in Euros if you are visiting Europe) or in currency of your card (where you are from).
The key here is that the merchant has to give you the choice.
Most of us are pretty naive when it comes to financial matters so we normally choose our local currency. This often times will entail a 2.5% processing fee and on top of that getting raped by the exchange rate.
Assuming your spending let’s say $500 on your entire trip that would be an extra fee of roughly $12.50 and probably anywhere between $20 to $50 on the currency exchange rate.
This could end up costing you hundreds of dollars if you are traveling in a family or decide to stay in Europe for a long time.
Always decide to be charged in the local currency not the currency of your credit card or debit card. If they decide to charge you in your credit card currency (your home country’s currency) mandate them to refund the money and then charge you in the local currency.
In this example Euros.
#2: Exchanging Money
The second most important thing to know before visiting Europe has to do with the most important action after you arrive… exchanging money.
Even if you are dying and need immediately medical attention NEVER exchange money at the airport. EVER.
Most of the travelers I’ve spoken to are afraid of fees their banks charge. A foreign conversion fee ranging from 1% to 5% and a standardized fee to withdraw money at an international ATM.
Sometimes has high as $5.
Looking at the numbers however it is actually cheaper to take money out from an ATM (and pay those fees) rather than exchanging money at the airport. Often times applies to the exchange locations inside the cities as well.
Don’t be fooled by the “no commission” and “no extra charges” signs.
You will be raped on the exchange rate.
Using your debit card or credit card is better because there is a fixed exchange rate provided by Visa and/or MasterCard. Often times depending on the direction of the exchange rate you will be better off because the rates are a bit delayed.
One may actually make money rather than being taken to the cleaners.
Read our post on avoided bank fees while traveling overseas to find out about credit cards and bank accounts that don’t charge fees while you travel. Popular options are the Schwab no fee checking account and my personal favorite credit card, the Chase Sapphire Rewards card.
With Chase a a live person answers immediately not an endless automated system. This person is always American, no offense to my Filipino and my Indian brothers out there.
They also have zero foreign conversion fees.
What is most brilliant is travel advisories don’t even need to be reported.
Imagine that they have the capacity to see that your traveling when you buy a $5 paper cup of milk from Starbucks, with a pinch of coffee of course.
The best coffee in the world is Ethiopian. Just throwing that out there.
#3 Not everyone accepts Credit Cards
The taxes are quite high in Europe. Especially sales tax often times reaching an epic 20% or even 22%.
Those savvy Italians and Spanish love to accept cash to hide the revenue from the government.
Be prepared to pay cash a lot of times and realize that not everyone accepts credit cards in Europe. This doesn’t apply to every country but it has happened to me most times in Spain and Italy.
#4 Using Your Phone in Europe
Open borders doesn’t mean open roaming.
One of the top things to know before visiting Europe in the digital age is obviously how to go from one country to the other and still have the ability to use your phone.
Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere.
If Instagraming those awesome memories is a must one thing to realize is that Europe still charges roaming.
Quite a bit of roaming in fact.
If you get a SIM Card in one country you will be charged roaming in another. This often time can equate to €2 or more Euros per day. Pre paid accounts are easy to find and it only takes a moment to signup for new service (I mostly use Virgin Mobile since Richard Branson is my home boy).
Just remember to bring your passport.
Your cell phone does need to be unlocked in order to use the phone with another carrier. The practice of phone locking is notorious among US cell phone companies. Unlock codes can be found easily on Ebay and unlocked phones can also be purchased on Amazon.com.
One secret is that even though the upfront price of cell phones are higher when they are unlocked they are actually cheaper compared to paying for phones with 2 year service plans.
Curse you Canadian phone companies for offering 3 year phone contracts.
If only Canadian consumers actually didn’t sign up for them.
#5 Adapters & Power Converters
Another key thing to know before visiting Europe.
Without the right plugs we can’t enjoy our trip since we all are smart phone babies. What exactly did our parents do without Google Maps and Instagram? They actually had to talk to people.
First and foremost, Europe and United States use two different types of voltage, 110 and 220. Back in the old days when Oprah was thin, we needed big block looking things in order to convert one type of electricity to the other or else our electronics would blow up.
It was called a voltage converter.
This is no longer needed as most electronics have the capacity to accept both types of voltage. This means that most electronics such as cell phones, laptops, cameras, and even tablets, don’t need voltage converters. Only an adapter for the different plugs.
The only difference comes in with more energy intensive items like hair dryers. It goes without saying that this is the reason that most hotels offer hair dryers as standard amenities in hotel rooms.
The standard two circle style plug is the standard one that you will need for most of Europe. Whether you are traveling around the world or just around Europe, a universal adapter is a great buy.
There you have the best things to know before visiting Europe ladies and gents.
I do plan on providing general tips like packing where the general rule is you need a lot less than you think. For the most part the above 5 items listed above are the most important things to know before visiting Europe.
On a side note, right now is one of the best times to visit Europe as I mentioned in a recent post referring to the best time to visit Paris. While I won’t get too technical since I day trade in the financial markets for a living, the short story is that the European currency is getting much weaker and should continue to do so as 2016 begins.