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Portugal is no longer the bargain basement of Europe that it was in the '60s and '70s. Prices more and more have moved into alignment with the other European Union countries, but it's cheaper than neighboring Spain and much less expensive than the countries of the north, especially Scandinavia.

There are no limits on foreign currency brought into Portugal, but visitors are advised to declare the amount carried. That proves to the Portuguese Customs Office that the currency came from outside the country, and it allows you to take out the same amount or less.

Euro Currency

The euro, the new single European currency, became the official currency of Portugal and 11 other countries on January 1, 1999, but not in the form of cash. On January 1, 2002, euro bank notes and coins were introduced. During a 2-month transition period, escudo notes, the old currency of Portugal, were withdrawn from circulation. The symbol of the euro is €; its official abbreviation is EUR.

It's a good idea to exchange at least some money -- just enough to cover airport incidentals and transportation to your hotel -- before you leave home (though don't expect the exchange rate to be ideal), so you can avoid lines at airport ATMs (automated teller machines).

Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.

ATMs

The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM, sometimes referred to as a "cash machine," or a "cashpoint." The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe. Go to your bank card's website to find ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your Personal Identification Number (PIN) and your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.

Note: Banks that are members of the Global ATM Alliance charge no transaction fees for cash withdrawals at other Alliance member ATMs; these include Bank of America, Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean, and Mexico), Barclays (U.K. and parts of Africa), Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy), and BNP Paribus (France).

ATM cards are plentiful in Portugal, even in small towns, but especially in Lisbon and Porto. There is a typical surcharge of $1 to $5 per withdrawal. Debit cards function almost like an ATM card. Throughout Portugal such a card can be used to withdraw money from associated banks or scattered ATMs.

It's always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, and traveler's checks. You should also exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel before you leave home, or withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM.

In many international destinations, ATMs offer the best exchange rates. Avoid exchanging money at commercial exchange bureaus and hotels, which often have the highest transaction fees.

Major Change in Credit Cards

Chip and PIN represent a change in the way that credit and debit cards are used. The program is designed to cut down on the fraudulent use of credit cards. More and more banks are issuing customers Chip and PIN versions of their debit or credit cards. In the future, more and more vendors will be asking for a four-digit personal identification number or PIN, which will be entered into a keypad near the cash register. In some cases, a waiter will bring a hand-held model to your table to verify your credit card.

Warning: Some establishments in Portugal might not accept your credit card unless you have a computer chip embedded in it. The reason? To cut down on credit card fraud. More and more places in Portugal are moving from the magnetic strip credit card to the new system of "Chip and PIN."

In the changeover in technology, some retailers have falsely concluded that they can no longer take swipe cards, or can't take signature cards that don't have PINs anymore.

For the time being both the new and old cards are used in shops, hotels, and restaurants regardless of whether they have the old credit and debit cards machines or the new Chip and PIN machines installed. Expect a lot of confusion before you arrive in Portugal or elsewhere.

In the interim between traditional swipe credit cards and those with an embedded computer chip, here's what you can do to protect yourself:

  • Get a four-digit PIN from your credit card's issuing bank before leaving home.
  • Call the number on the back of each card and ask for a four-digit PIN.
  • Keep an eye out for the right logo displayed in a retailer's window. You want Visa or MasterCard, not Maestro, Visa Electron, or Carte Bleue.
  • Know that your Amex card will work where an Amex logo is displayed, but the card is not as widely accepted as Visa and MasterCard.
  • As a last resort, make sure you have enough cash to cover your purchase.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.