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Guide to using ATM machines

In this guide learn what ATM stands for, how to deposit money into an ATM, and how to avoid ATM fees in Canada, while cutting banking costs even when travelling.

Finding a cost-effective ATM near you isn’t always easy. There may be plenty of ATM machines, but not all of these automatic tellers will give you access to your bank account without tacking on some hefty fees. No one likes paying $3 or $5 just to get a bit of pocket cash or for the privilege of depositing cash into an ATM. To help, here are a few tips and tricks to maximize the ease of use of ATM machines while cutting unnecessary fees.

What is an ATM?

An ATM, or automated teller machine, is an electronic machine that allows you to perform a range of basic banking tasks. ATMs are designed to provide convenient access to banking services 24/7 and without the need to go into a branch. You can use an ATM to withdraw cash, check your account balance, and deposit cash and cheques.

Some banks and financial institutions use a slightly different term, ABM (automated banking machine), to refer to ATMs.

What does ATM stand for?

ATM is short for automated teller machine. Please note that this acronym of ATM is not to be confused with the urban dictionary ‘at the moment’ abbreviation, which is commonly shortened to ATM when used in text or messaging apps.

How to deposit money at an ATM

It’s easy to deposit cash or cheques into your account at an ATM. For instance, it takes seven easy steps to deposit a cheque at an ATM:

  1. Find an ATM in your bank’s network and insert your debit card.
  2. Enter your PIN.
  3. Choose “deposit” or “cheque deposit” from the available options.
  4. Place your cheque in the relevant slot on the ATM. (In some older ATMs, first place your cheque inside the provided envelope, before inserting it into the deposit slot in the ATM.)
  5. Check and verify the details of the cheque displayed on the ATM screen. (In older ATMs, you will be required to provide the amount shown on the cheque.)
  6. Take your receipt and remove your card from the ATM.
  7. It may take up to three business days for the cheque to clear and the funds to be available in your account for use.

How to deposit cash into an ATM

If you want to deposit cash at an ATM, the steps you’ll need to follow are largely the same as those outlined above. However, you’ll need to select a cash deposit from the on-screen menu and confirm the amount you’re depositing on-screen once the ATM has counted your money.

The cash you deposit at an ATM will be available in your account. Unlike depositing a cheque, the cash you deposit into your bank account using an ATM is available in your account immediately.

When depositing funds into your account, keep in mind that you will need to find an ATM machine operated by your bank or by a financial institution in your bank’s partner network. Non-partner ATMs will not accept cheques or cash deposits, as they cannot connect with your individual bank account.

How much can you deposit at an ATM?

The maximum amount you can deposit at an ATM varies depending on your bank. For example, you can deposit up to $500,000 at an RBC ATM, while TD Bank imposes a limit of up to 30 cheques or 50 bills per transaction.

To be sure, check with your bank for details on their ATM deposit limits.

What is the ATM withdrawal limit in Canada?

The ATM withdrawal limit in Canada also varies between banks. These limits are in place as a security measure, in order to stop thieves from withdrawing all your cash if they get their hands on your debit card. From a practical point of view, ATMs can only hold a limited amount of cash, so imposing limits also allows the bank to ensure there is enough money in the ATM for client withdrawals.

The maximum ABM withdrawal amount depends on both your bank’s standard limits, as well as the limits for the account you hold. In general, the maximum ATM withdrawal is between $500 and $3,000 per day. For example, the Scotiabank ATM withdrawal limit is $3,000. To learn exactly how much you can withdraw, on a daily basis, log into your bank account, online, or talk to a bank representative.

Do all ATMs charge a fee?

No. If you withdraw cash at an ATM operated by your bank or a member of their partner network, no ATM fees will apply.

However, you will be charged fees if your bank account does not have transactions as part of the package (either as a free account perk or as part of the monthly bank fee). You will also be charged ATM fees if you make an ATM withdrawal using a different bank’s ATM.

To help, here is a list of the most common ATM fees you may be charged in Canada:

  • Network access fee. This fee is charged when you use an ATM owned by another financial institution.
  • Account fees. Some chequing accounts place a limit on the number of free transactions you can perform each month. If you’ve exceeded this limit, you may be charged a fee for each subsequent ATM transaction until the end of the month.
  • Convenience fee. You may also be charged a convenience fee when you use a privately-owned ATM.
  • Foreign transaction fees. If you use your debit card to withdraw money from an overseas ATM, you may be charged a foreign transaction fee. Currency conversion costs will also apply, either in the form of a fee or an exchange rate markup.

How much do ATMs charge in Canada?

As a general guide, here’s how much you can expect to pay in ATM fees in Canada:

  • Network access fee: $1 to $5 per transaction
  • Account fees: $1 to $1.50 for each transaction above your monthly limit
  • Convenience fee: $1 to $5 per transaction

Comparison of ATM fees in Canada

Who owns the ATM?Per transaction feeOut-of-network ATM feeConvenience or service chargeTotal ATM fee
ATM with bank or in bank network$0 to $2n/an/a$0 to $2 per ATM transaction
ATM outside of current bank network$0 to $2$0 to $2$1 to $5$1 to $9 per ATM transaction
Private ATM or cash machine$0 to $2$0 to $2$1.50 to $5$1.50 to $9 per ATM transaction

How to avoid ATM fees?

Sick of fees eating into your account balance? There are several simple things you can do to avoid ATM fees in Canada and while travelling overseas.

Free ATM withdrawals using a bank ATM network

If you know you’ll use ATMs frequently, then pick a bank account or banking provider with a large network of ATMs. A large network means it will be easier to find a machine that doesn’t charge ATM fees.

How many ATM machines does your bank have?

To help, here is the breakdown of ATM networks from Canada’s big five banks (plus National Bank, since they now round out the big six banks list):

  • TD Canada Trust: Over 2,800 ATMs in Canada and a total of over 4,000 ATMs across North America.
  • RBC: Over 4,600 ATMs across Canada.
  • CIBC: Over 3,800 ATMs across Canada.
  • Scotiabank: Around 3,600 ATMs across Canada and more than 44,000 worldwide through the Global ATM Alliance.
  • BMO: 4,680 ABMs across Canada and the USA.
  • National Bank: Access a network of over 3,000 ABMs across Canada and around the world.

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Free ATM access at online banks and other financial institutions

  • Tangerine: Use any one of Scotiabank’s more than 3,500 ATMs across Canada without paying a fee.
  • EQ Bank: The EQ Bank Card offers free withdrawals at every ATM in Canada. If you’re charged a fee by an ATM operator, EQ Bank will reimburse it within 10 business days.
  • Neo Financial: You can use your Neo Money Account card at any ATM that accepts Mastercard. However, the ATM operator may charge fees.
  • Simplii: Free access to over 3,400 CIBC ATMs across Canada.

Reduce ATM withdrawal fees using a partner network

Most banks now belong to one or more ATM networks — connected automated teller machines that allow different banks to communicate safely and efficiently. Quite often, banks and financial institutions belonging to the same network will charge lower (or no) fees.

However, fees can really start to climb if you end up using an out-of-network ATM. For instance, make a withdrawal at a different bank’s ATM and you’ll probably be charged a network access fee. You could also be charged a convenience fee or non-customer surcharge. If you end up using a private ATM — not affiliated with a bank or ATM network — these fees can add between $4 to $10 per transaction!

To determine if your bank account is in a network, look for network logos on your debit, credit or prepaid card.

Where to find the ATM network logo?

Check to see if a network logo is somewhere on the front or back of your card to find out if you have access to an ATM network with your account.

Widely-used ATM networks in Canada include: Global ATM Alliance, THE EXCHANGE, Allpoint, Accel, Interac, PLUS, Maestro, Interlink and Cirrus.

Use ‘ATM near me’ maps

An easy way to find an ATM near you is to use a smartphone and the Google Maps app to simply search using the term “ATM near me.”

Another option is to use your bank’s ATM locator tool. Most banks and financial institutions have tools on their sites and mobile banking apps that you can use to find the nearest ATM or branch to a specified location (usually a postal code).

To find your nearest ATM, both Mastercard and Visa offer global ATM locator tools on their respective websites. To find a Visa ATM or Mastercard ATM, search online for “ATM locator” or “ATM near me.” To find a Visa ATM, search for “Global ATM locator” or “Global ATM alliance.” To find a Mastercard ATM, search for “Mastercard Cirrus network,” or “Mastercard ATM locator.”

How important is ATM accessibility when opening a bank account?

According to survey responses in the Finder: Consumer Sentiment Survey Q1 and Finder: Consumer Sentiment Survey Q2 reports, the accessibility of ATMs is a relatively small factor when Canadians choose to open a bank account.

Get cash back when paying for your purchases

Most major grocery stores, drugstores and gas stations will let you get cash back if you make a purchase. Some stores offer this for free, while others have a surcharge, which is usually lower than ATM fees charged in Canada.

Use your credit card to get a cash advance

You can use your credit card to withdraw cash from your available credit limit at an ATM. This is known as a cash advance, and you’ll need to pay a cash advance fee which could be:

  • A fixed fee of around $10; or
  • A percentage of the transaction amount, such as 5%.

You’ll also be charged interest at your card’s cash advance rate, which is typically higher than the standard purchase rate.

ATM fees when travelling overseas

When travelling overseas and using your debit card at international ATM machines you could be charged a variety of fees. In order to avoid these additional costs, it’s best to understand when and where these fees are charged.

Non-network ATM fee charged by your bank

Many banks and financial institutions apply a fee when you use your debit card to withdraw money from an overseas ATM. This is typically called a non-bank usage fee since you’re using a bank different from your own. This charge tends to be a flat fee between $1 and $5, plus some may charge a percentage of the amount you withdraw (usually 2.5% to 3.5%). Some banks will waive the ATM fee if you withdraw from ATMs belonging to their global alliance.

Non-client ATM fee charged by the ATM operator

The local ATM operator may also charge a fee for the use of the ATM. While it varies depending on the country, you could pay a similar fee to that your bank charges: anywhere from $1 to $5, plus some may charge a percentage of the amount you withdraw (usually 2.5% to 3.5%). This fee will typically be shown on the screen before you make a transaction, or could be shown as a physical sticker on the ATM. You may also pay a conversion fee to the ATM operator, which covers the cost of converting the currency.

Currency conversion fees

You can easily avoid paying a currency conversion fee by always paying in the local currency. Some debit/credit machines will ask if you’d like to pay in the local currency or Canadian dollars. Always choose the local currency to avoid currency conversion fees and let your own bank do the conversion for you.

Foreign transaction fees

If you use your debit card to make a point-of-sale purchase — say a cashier terminal at a local store — you may be charged a foreign transaction fee. This fee is typically between 2% to 3% of the total transaction cost and is charged in addition to other fees, such as currency conversion fees.

Avoid ATM fees and other overseas debit card costs when travelling

To reduce or eliminate fees when using your debit card while travelling, you need to open a bank account that includes low or no ATM and debit card fees when overseas.

What to consider when using your debit card overseas

It’s important to keep the following factors in mind when using your debit card to withdraw funds overseas:

  • Daily withdrawal limits. You’ll likely have a daily withdrawal limit set on your debit card. Check with your provider for specific information on your withdrawal limits. If you need access to a higher withdrawal limit, contact your bank and request an increase.
  • International ATM alliance networks. Some banks, such as Tangerine and Scotiabank, belong to an international ATM alliance. This alliance extends to many countries around the world and allows you to get cash out overseas without paying an ATM withdrawal fee.
  • Where you’re travelling. You’ll want to make sure you can access ATMs on the global network in order to avoid paying any ATM fees. If you’re travelling to a country where your bank doesn’t have a partnership with any banks, you may be out of luck and have to pay the fees. If you do find that there are ATMs on the network in the country you’re visiting, you’ll need to use your card at specific branded ATMs to avoid the fee – you can’t just use any ATM you want.
  • Exchange rates. Remember that exchange rates will apply whenever you withdraw a foreign currency using your Canadian debit card. This rate fluctuates daily and could have a major impact on your account balance and the total cost of any fees applied. Check with your bank to find out when exchange rates are updated so that you can factor them into your budget before and during your trip. It always helps to know the exchange rate of Canadian to the local currency, whether you’re using cash or a credit or debit card.

Debit cards with low or no overseas ATM fees

Not only do you need to consider the network transaction fee at ABMs in Canada when you use a machine outside your bank’s network, but you also need to take overseas ATM fees into account.

Check your card to see which global ATM network it belongs to when you need to access your account overseas. For example, Mastercard operates the Cirrus and Maestro networks, while Visa runs the Plus network. These networks allow you to use millions of ATMs around the world with your Canadian debit card, but you’ll need to watch out for transaction fees charged by the ATM operator or your bank.

To help minimize fees when you use debit cards internationally, banks partner with other ATM operators around the world. Two of the largest ATM networks in Canada are Global ATM Alliance and THE EXCHANGE (known as Accel in the US). If you have a debit card from a member bank, you can use it at ATMs offered by other banks in the same network without paying any surcharges. Bear in mind that foreign conversion fees and other charges may still apply to your transaction.

Scotiabank and Tangerine belong to the Global ATM Alliance. This alliance features over 50,000 ATMs in over 40 different countries worldwide, including machines from the Bank of America, Barclay’s, Barclays Africa Group, BNP Paribas, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Deutsche Bank and Westpac. If you use your Tangerine or Scotiabank debit cards overseas at these brands of ATMs, you could avoid paying any ATM fees.

Some of the ‘Big Five’ banks (TD, RBC, BMO and Scotiabank) offer VIP or premium banking packages that offer free overseas ATM withdrawals (the fee is waived). While this can save you from paying an ATM fee, you’ll likely have to pay for this type of premium banking experience.

Bottom line

ATMs make it easy to manage your money on a day-to-day basis, with no need to waste time in a queue at your local bank branch. You can withdraw cash, deposit cash at an ATM and check your balance quickly and easily. But ATM fees can eat away at your hard-earned dollars, so make sure you know which fees apply to your account.

ATM Fees and ATM Machine FAQs

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