While most of the countries in this guide are in various stages of becoming members of the European Union, Slovenia is the only one that had replaced its local currency with the euro at publication time. Nonetheless, hotel, attraction, and restaurant prices in Eastern European countries have been quoted in both euros and local currency for years, a practice that sometimes confuses tourists. No matter how prices are listed, most establishments will accept payment in the local currency, and you'll get a more favorable conversion rate if you pay with local cash. In addition, countries such as Bulgaria and Romania still are a mostly cash economy, so carrying local currency there is a necessity. Note: Concessions in most Eastern European airports usually accept U.S. dollars and euros as well as local currency, but it's always useful to have the local currency on hand.
If prices in this guide are quoted in the local currency, we provide the conversion rate to U.S. dollars and British pounds; if prices are quoted euros, we provide the conversion rate in U.S. dollars only. For real-time exchange rates of any currency, check www.xe.com/ucc or www.oanda.com.
In Eastern European cities, the easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), commonly referred to as a "bancomat" in Eastern Europe. The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Remember that 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: In some rural areas, ATMs may not be available and/or reliable. This is especially true in Bulgaria and Romania.
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
Visa, MasterCard, and Diners Club are the cards commonly accepted in hotels and upscale restaurants in the larger cities of Eastern Europe. Establishments in smaller towns and villages usually require payment in cash, but even if they do accept credit cards, they will often offer a discount for cash payments.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks in the U.S. in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 5%. However, in most Eastern European countries where mom-and-pop businesses thrive, cash is king and traveler's checks aren't always accepted. Even when they are, a service fee is tacked on them, which makes them a very expensive payment option.
If you want to use traveler's checks despite the drawbacks, you can buy them at almost any bank. American Express offers U.S. dollar denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000 and tacks on service charges ranging from 1% to 4%. By phone, you can buy traveler's checks by calling tel. 800/807-6233. American Express cardholders should dial tel. 800/221-7282; this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee.
Visa offers traveler's checks at Citibank locations nationwide, as well as at several other banks. The service charge ranges between 1.5% and 2%; checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Call tel. 800/732-1322 for information. AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee (for checks up to $1,500) at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378.
MasterCard also offers traveler's checks. Call tel. 800/223-9920 for a location near you.
American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard also offer foreign currency traveler's checks, which are useful if you're traveling to one country, or to the euro zone; they're accepted at locations where dollar checks may not be.
If you do choose to carry traveler's checks, keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
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.