The Dangers of Getting Cash Abroad

Michael Flaxman
Jun 23, 2017 · 2 min read

This cash machine at the airport in Prague is the sketchiest I’ve ever seen:

They push you heavily to do a “0% commission” option that has a 10% markup vs the market exchange rate. They use misleading copy to suggest that it’s a “better” rate, when it’s clearly far far worse.

If you decline, the next page warns that your “exchange rate will be determined later and is not guaranteed” and makes you click on a scary red text button to proceed:

It is technically correct that the rate is not guaranteed… it could be better!

After that, the last page discourages you from getting a receipt, making it harder for you to even notice/prove if you were overcharged:

Red text = don’t click here!

It’s one of the most aggressive UI anti-patterns I’ve ever seen. This is not accidental design, shame on them!

Of course, I just clicked the sketchy buttons to use the market rate and that’s the only thing that was deducted from my bank account. Unfortunately, I bet the vast majority of people fall for this trap. If you just landed in a foreign country, you likely don’t know what the exact exchange rate is (and you may not have internet on your phone to check).

Scam aside, getting cash in a foreign country is still amazingly useful!

If you’re wondering why it’s showing 40,000 CZK (nearly $1,700 USD!) above, it’s because that was actually the max default and I clicked on it out of curiosity:

Who withdraws ~$1,700 USD from the ATM? Something is very fishy here. Sorry for the blurry photo.

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