What is it?
The Global ATM Alliance was founded in 2002 by UK’s Barclays, Australian Westpac, Canadian Scotiabank, German Deutsche Bank and American Bank of America. French BNP Paribas joined later on. The alliance combines their home market ATMs as well as those of their international subsidiaries. All in all they own roughly 50000 ATMs worldwide combined.
How does it work?
It basically get’s treated like an “in network” ATM transaction. Your participating bank will waive any foreign ATM fee they usually charge and the participating ATM will waive any surcharge fee it normally charges (if it does). That should work automatically, the ATM recognizes your card belongs to a participating bank. But you will still be on the hook for any currency conversion or foreign transaction fees your bank charges. That is how it’s supposed to work. If you are being erroneously charged you can usually ask for a refund from your bank.
How do I get access? How much does it cost?
Open a current account with a debit card at one of the above mentioned banks (directly or through a subsidiary). These are big banks and their accounts tend to be comparatively expensive. But you might also get access by opening an account at one of their online-only subsidiary banks like Tangerine in Canada, Hello in France or Norisbank in Germany. Their accounts tend to be cheaper or even free. You should definitely ask though, some of them don’t advertise the fact that their debit cards participate in the scheme – one example would be Consorsbank in Germany.
Online-only subsidiaries known to participate:
Tangerine (Canada, owned by Scotiabank)
Hello Bank France (owned by BNP Paribas)
Norisbank (Germany, only with their Mastercard-direkt. Owned by Deutsche Bank)
Consorsbank (Germany, owned by BNP Paribas)
Hello Bank Belgium (owned by BNP Paribas)
Hello Bank Italy (owned by BNP Paribas)
Hello Bank Czech Republic (owned by BNP Paribas)
RAMS (Australia, owned by Westpac)
The easiest way to find out if the bank can’t tell you, is to use a Bank of America ATM in the US. They always surcharge. If you don’t get hit with one, you’re in. Feedback welcome.
Is it a good deal?
As so often in life: it depends. If the currency/foreign transaction fee you’re still being charged with is high, and there are banks in your country that offer free withdrawals worldwide without any, it probably isn’t. If accounts like that aren’t available in your home country and this is the only way to get free withdrawals abroad it is. It might also be worth it if you mostly travel to Canada or the US where you will get hit with hefty surcharges otherwise.
Which countries are covered?
Exact participants are surprisingly hard to pin down, every banks’ list differs a bit as you can see from the links above. I would put that down to laziness and not keeping their lists/websites up to date (some are still mentioning sold off Westpac operations in the Pacific for example) rather than intention.
I’d also trust each bank knowing their own international operations best. Westpac knows they sold off Samoa and Tonga for example. BNP Paribas knows they have ATMs in Burkina Faso, which some of the others might miss, and so on.
Unless explicitly excluded, you can assume that all ATMs owned by any of the six banks worldwide are free because that is what the agreement entails. It doesn’t hurt to try even if your own bank isn’t aware, if you’re lucky it’s free, if not you’ll only get charged what you’d be charged at all other ATMs anyway.
There has been some fluctuation over the years as new subsidiaries are aquired and others are sold. Barclays for example in recent years sold off operations in Europe as well as Africa, UAE, Egypt and Pakistan. Westpac as already mentioned sold off a big chunk of their Pacific Islands operations in 2015, which are still erroneously listed by some of the other banks. And Deutsche Bank is also downsizing, selling operations in Portugal and Poland.
My methodology for assembling this list: Take each banks’ list, add them all up, check which have been sold off, delete those. Barclays does not include their own operations in their list, but plainly states that all of theirs worldwide are included, so I’ve looked them up and added them as well.
- Scotiabank ATMs in China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Haiti, Malaysia, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela are explicitly excluded from the alliance by Scotiabank. (There is also a question mark behind their affiliate Maduro & Curiel’s Bank, because they themselves exclude the Netherlands Antilles (a political entity which does no longer exist), but Deutsche Bank lists it. Reports by people who have tried are negative.)
- Deutsche Bank subsidiary Deutsche Postbank and their ATMs in Germany are not participating.
- Westpac, Barclays and BNP Paribas exclude none of their international ATMs.
- Bank of America does not have an international presence so far.
- Westpac & Bank of America have separate side deals with Asian banks (Westpac with DBS and CIMB; Bank of America with China Construction Bank) to ensure better coverage for their customers in Asia, these however are definately not part of the general alliance and cannot be used for free with a Scotiabank or BNP Paribas card for example.
- The alliance is limited to ATMs these six banking groups themselves own and operate. Local ATM agreements with competitors do not filter through to other members of the alliance. For example the deal with Cashgroup in Germany only applies to customers of Deutsche Bank Germany etc.
|Country/ Territory||Bank||Number of ATMs|
|Australia||Westpac (including St. George Bank, Bank of Melbourne & BankSA brands)||3850|
|Burkina Faso||BICIAB (BNP Paribas)||23|
|Canada||Scotiabank (including Tangerine brand)||3500|
|China||Bank of Nanjing (BNP Paribas)||500 (only in Shanghai and surrounds + Beijing)|
|Cote D'Ivoire||BICICI (BNP Paribas)||51|
|French Guyana||BNP Paribas||16|
|Gabon||BICIG (BNP Paribas)||53|
|Guinea||BICIGUI (BNP Paribas)||17|
|Isle of Man||Barclays||4|
|Italy||BNL (BNP Paribas)||1879|
|Luxembourg||BGL BNP Paribas||100|
|Mali||BICIM (BNP Paribas)||7|
|Morocco||BMCI (BNP Paribas)||417|
|New Caledonia||BNP Paribas||12|
|Poland||BGZ BNP Paribas||638|
|Senegal||BICIS (BNP Paribas)||49|
|Trinidad & Tobago||Scotiabank||43|
|Tunisia||UBCI (BNP Paribas)||123|
|Turkey||TEB (BNP Paribas)||1661|
|Turks & Caicos||Scotiabank||12|
|Ukraine||UkrSibbank (BNP Paribas)||1052|
|USA||Bank of America||17000|
|USA||Bank of the West (BNP Paribas - to be aquired by BMO of Canada)||626|
Sources for ATM numbers: Scotiabank, WGZ BNP Paribas, Westpac. Estimates from third party sources for the rest.
Are there any alternatives?
Nothing quite comparable in size and reach. HSBC and Citibank grant their customers free withdrawals at any of their ATMs worldwide respectively. Both networks have shrunk considerably in recent years as foreign retail operations were sold. UniCredit offers the same, but is limited to Europe, Santander usually offers this benefit only to Premium/VIP package customers. Then there is Allpoint for Americans, which has ATMs in 6 countries. That’s about it. HSBC and Citibank do offer much better coverage in Asia than the Global ATM Alliance, if that’s where you travel most, one of them might be a better fit.
HSBC: 20,000 ATMs in 28 countries, a list can be found here
Citibank: 20,000 ATMs in 21 countries worldwide. A partial list can be found here.
UniCredit: 19000 ATMs in 14 countries in Europe. A list can be found here.
Banco Santander: 33000 ATMs in 13 countries in Europe and the Americas, see here. (Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, UK, USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay)
Allpoint: 55000 ATMs in the US, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, UK and Australia (but around 48000 of those are in the US)