Here are a couple of commonly asked questions and the answers. Hopefully, this bit of information helps you determine the best route for your money.
How do I get money before hand?
You will need to make arrangements through a bank. Just ask your bank! The exchange rate changes daily. Just Google it! These rates could change substantially in the coming months!
I recommend ordering between 100-200 Euros each. It's good to have some money right away so you won't have to go searching for an ATM when we get there.
Why is this a good idea?
This will save you one trip to the ATM, so that the first thing you do when you get off the airplane is not look for an ATM, but maybe buy a beverage or souvenir.
Will I be able to use one of those prepaid Visa cards to withdraw money?
It really depends on the card and the ATM.
If you would like to test it out, however, prepaid Visa cards can be purchased around town and probably at your bank. You are responsible for finding out if the card can be used internationally. When in doubt, call the customer service number on the back of the card. Make sure you can use it internationally.
Would traveler's checks be the safest route to go?
It is recommended to completely avoid traveler's checks at all cost! First, you have to find a bank that is open. Second, you will have to find a bank that will accept traveler's checks. Third, the exchange rate using traveler's checks is not as good as an ATM. Even banks are VERY reluctant to cash checks.
If you would like to look into them as an option, here is a link to some more information. http://europeforvisitors.com/europe/articles/travelers_checks.htm
Will I even need cash (Euros)? Can't I just use my credit card?
You will need cash! Credit cards are not accepted everywhere. Europeans' perspective on credit cards is much different than Americans'. They prefer to use cash everywhere. If you plan on using a credit card, ask before you try to make a purchase and make sure that you have enough cash in case they won't accept your card (especially at a restaurant!). Some establishments require a minimum purchase or may charge an extra fee on top of the purchase price to offset the transaction fee. Visa and MasterCard are usually accepted where credit cards are accepted. Discover and American Express are generally NOT accepted anywhere. Avoid these two.
What about just taking American money with and exchanging it?
Bills larger than $20 are often not accepted for exchange because they are often counterfeited. Many times the fees for exchanging cash is very high and you lose a lot of money in the process. If you plan on doing this, it would be best to work as a group and exchange at once so that the fee is not so high per person. Never carry large amounts of cash, Euro or American! You do not want to be walking around with $500 in $20 bills. You may look suspicious through security and if you are robbed or lose the money, you don't have a way to replace it. You may want to take $20-$30 along for snacks while in American airports.
What about debit cards? It's the only thing left.
This is Frau Feole's recommendation. Get a debit card! If you don't have a checking account, start one. Include your parents on it so that they can check on it and deposit money if you need them too. Before just getting any checking account just to get a debit card, find one that is free, one that won't charge huge transaction fees abroad, one that is maybe online, and one that you can trust!
It depends on the bank in the US and the ATM in Germany, but transaction fees are either a set amount, 5 Euro or a percentage of the amount being withdrawn. The money is withdrawn at that day's exchange rate. Just follow these simple rules and you should be good to go.
Check with your own bank about the types of debit cards they may offer and how to use them in Europe.
TELL your bank that you are going abroad. Many times, if you don't your bank will assume your card was stolen and the machine will suck in your card and not give it back or it will be cancelled. Also, check your daily withdrawal limit. You may want to increase this because of the exchange rate. For example, you want to withdraw 200€. If the exchange rate is $1 USD to 0.90€ and your daily withdrawal limit is $200, you are unable to withdraw 200€. Your total would be $222.22 (not including fees).
Make sure your card does not expire while on the trip.
Keep track of your spending, if you can look online - do it at home, never on a public computer!
Keep the phone number on the back of your credit card somewhere else safe, so that in case you do have your card stolen, you can call and cancel it immediately.
Make a front and back copy of your card to leave at home with your parents. This way they can also call if something happens. (Shred when you get home, you do not need that to get stolen.)
Do I have to have a chip on my debit or credit card?
A few places do not accept the magnetic strip cards anymore. Most places will accept them. Read this article for a full explanation, Using Credit Cards in Europe
When in doubt, ask the bank.