How to use an ATM machine in 4 Easy Steps (Even Without a Card)

How to use an ATM machine?

It may sound like child’s play unless you never used one. Either way, these machines are straightforward: insert your card, withdraw cash, and leave.

Without ever using one, you can figure out how to do it on the spot. The problem is, this lack of experience can cost you money (all your account). Here’s what you need to know, whether it’s your local bank, a foreign branch, or a Bitcoin ATM.

How To Use An ATM Machine

How To Use An ATM Machine

As we move to a cashless world, there will be more people who don’t know about ATMs. Whether you want to get cash or get rid of it, ATMs are the easiest method.

You could ask the bank employees too if you’re willing to wait in long queues. And while the staff has opening hours, ATMs are 24h at your service.

If you never used one, you can either ask the employee or learn yourself. If you use it without knowing the steps, you could promise your bank account:

  • You may not recognize the ATM devices placed by scammers. Cameras to record PINs, card skimmers, and keypad recorders
  • Scammers use Bluetooth devices to transfer data. After you complete your transaction, they immediately have your PIN, card, and account access
  • Maybe you forget your card on the machine and someone takes it. Or you forget to close the session, so the next user can still access your account

While obvious, it’s easy to make dumb mistakes, especially your first time. Here are the five (foolproof) steps to use ATMs the right way:

#1 Choose the Right ATM

You can’t always walk into any ATM to exchange money. While the intent is to have them 24h available, that’s rarely the case:

  • Your local ATM might be under maintenance
  • The machine can’t process withdrawals because there is no cash left (e.g., Monday mornings)
  • The ATM is out of service because someone manipulated it recently

So how do you do it right?

  • Find the ATMs. If it shows on the bank’s mobile app, you can see all locations and which ones are out of service. Otherwise, find them with Google Maps. If you find the toll-free number, you can ask about it
  • Choose interiors over street ATMs. When the machine is in plain sight or inside a building (a mall), scammers have more risk of getting caught. So most won’t even try
  • Inspect the machine. Take a look for potential manipulation signals. Strange holes near the screen, loose keypads, tight card slots, or broken parts.
  • Pick your location. Once you find the right one for you, keep going to that location. Not only it works, but it reduces your exposure to scammers

You’re now in a safe environment to work with money.

#2 Insert Your Card & PIN

Depending on the ATM, you may need to do the following:

a. Insert the card completely

b. Insert half of the card (the reader)

c. Press a magnetic reader with the card

The last option is safer (preferable). Otherwise, you need to keep the card in the machine until you finish your operations.

The ATM screen will show you when to enter the card. Most machines have LEDs on their slots. They light up to show where to put the card (easy to confuse with the cash slot).

Once accepted, you need to enter your PIN code. It protects you against thieves who may know your card number.

Before you enter the digits, ALWAYS cover your hand. Imagine there’s a hidden camera recording the keypad. It doesn’t hurt to hide your code, even if you used the same machine for years.

Note: If you don’t remember the PIN, you’ll need to ask the stay to recover it. Bring the card and the ID document with the same credentials as in the account.

#3 Choose Your Operation

With the card in the slot, you’re ready to use the machine. Some of the options you’ll find are:

  • Withdraw money
  • Make a deposit
  • Set preferences (change PIN)
  • Balance inquiry (see your balance)

Other ATMs may have extra features such as Statements, Bill Payments, or Recurrent Payments. For simplicity, we’ll cover the Withdraw and Deposit features.

How to withdraw cash from an ATM?

After you click the withdraw option, you enter how much cash you want. You’ll typically find options such as $50, $100, $300, but you can always enter a custom amount.

Note: The biggest withdrawal option (typically $300-$500) may also be the daily limit of your ATM. With a premium bank account, some firms may allow to withdraw up to $5,000 per day. For higher withdrawals, talk to the bank employer instead (documentation may be required).

If you click on Continue, the bank will check if your account has enough balance for the withdrawal. If it does, you can press the Confirm option to receive the cash. If it doesn’t, you’ll see the error on the screen.

Some ATMs have a “max withdrawal” option (the most cash you can convert):

E.g., If your balance is $240 and you click this feature, you’ll withdraw $240.

E.g., If your balance has $500 but the withdrawal limit is $300, it may appear $500 on the screen. But when confirming, you’ll see the $300-limit error.

If you don’t have that max feature, you can check your balance by clicking on Balance Inquiry.

Note: Further limits apply for weekly, monthly, and yearly withdrawals.

How to deposit cash to an ATM?

To deposit cash, you click on the Deposit option and enter your cash in a slot. Depending on the ATM, you may either:

a. Insert the dollar bills individually.

b. Insert an envelope with all the money

Note: Most ATMs don’t accept coins. You can ask bank employees for change or ask them for the coin deposit directly.

The fastest way is to deposit cash directly. It passes through a reader machine and you’ll immediately see your balance updated. However, ATMs may not recognize your dollar bills sometimes.

As for envelopes, you need to wait until the employees count the cash manually. You will get a receipt and see your transaction as pending. After a few hours (or the next business day), your money appears on the balance.

If you can only do envelope deposits, it’s faster to ask the employees to deposit instead.

Thankfully, there is no limit to how much cash you can deposit. If there is, it can be as high as $100K per day. But when you deposit more than $10,000 per day (or above ~$100K per year), your bank will report the transaction to the IRS.

If you cannot verify the origin of the money, expect penalties from the IRS (higher fees, frozen accounts).

#4 Confirm, Process, Retire

Whether you withdraw or deposit, mind that machines can cause errors sometimes. That’s why you should always keep the receipt. Immediately contact the employees if:

  • You don’t see your deposited cash
  • You withdraw less than what you set on the screen.

Assuming nothing went wrong, it’s good practice to verify the operation before leaving:

  • If you withdraw cash, count the money in case you got the wrong amount
  • If you deposited cash, click on Balance Inquiry to check your new balance (it may take hours to update sometimes)

You can then retire your card and press “Finish” on the screen. Before you leave, make sure the ATM no longer shows your session.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I operate without a card?

Maybe your card has expired at the worst moment, or it stops working for no reason. Or you left it at home. The good news is, you can still use ATMs without the card:

  • You could manually enter the card number and the PIN
  • You can operate with the employees directly, but you’ll need documents to verify that you own that account
  • Use QR codes. You can log into your bank mobile app and select the QR feature. When the ATM screen shows the code, you point at it with the QR reader from your phone. Automatically, the machine will load your bank account
  • Use NFC (Near Field Communication). If your device supports NFC, the ATM can load your account by just logging into your phone. You have to stay in front of the machine with your mobile app open and click on the NFC option. Then, enter your PIN, and you’re ready to operate

Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo support all these features. If you work with a different one, ask client support first (you might have those features and not know it).

Can I get cash from the bank without ATMs?

Let’s say your bank machine is out of service or has no cash at the moment. You could ask the employees for cash, but let’s assume banks are also closed today. What can you do?

  • You could exchange cash with a friend or local who accepts bank transfers (there are platforms for that)
  • You can send yourself money through a local Western Union (any money-transfer service)
  • You can mail cash to yourself (but is it safe?)
  • You can pay a money order with your bank account balance and cash it on the spot. They cost between $0.65 and $5. And while the common limit is $1000, you can buy unlimited orders.

What if I use my bank’s ATM from another country/city?

Your bank uses the same ATM network across the country, so the features shouldn’t change among cities. What you might find instead is:

  • Different deposit methods (cash VS envelopes)
  • Different withdrawal limits (depending on the local bank’s availability)
  • Higher/lower feature variety

If there’s a lot of demand for cash in one area, they may charge you withdrawal fees in that location. But you’ll always see what you’re paying before confirming (mostly $0).

Outside your home country, ATM features reduce to Bank Inquiries, Withdrawals, and maybe Deposits. Fees apply when using foreign ATMs unless you work with an internationally recognized bank. Or you buy a premium account to remove the fee.

  • If your bank uses five-digit PINs, ask them to convert to four-digits, as that’s the only format accepted abroad.
  • If you want to change PINs and preferences, you may need to return to the home country.
  • You pay a conversion fee if the country doesn’t support dollars. You can prevent this by adding a second currency to your account online.

Foreign ATMs are rarely free.

Can I use ATMs from different bank?

Can you use other ATMs? Yes. For free? Not that simple.

Imagine your bank is storing your money in its network (any of their offices). To use your balance outside this network, you’re essentially sending money between banks.

That service costs money.

It’s cheaper (and faster) to transfer it yourself. Most banks won’t even support cash deposits to your account.

Withdrawals, however, are widely accepted. If you have an account with this bank (even with no balance), you might withdraw for free. Sometimes, you don’t even need registration.

Conditions will change with every bank. For example:

  • Your account needs to be 90 days old or more
  • You cannot have a $0 balance. You must have some activity
  • Withdrawals are only free up to $300 per week
  • Free up to 2 withdrawals per week

Fees will change depending on both banks. And if you use foreign ATMs from other branches, it gets even pricier.

Ask your bank to know how fees apply for out-of-network ATMs. In general, banks charge per withdrawal (e.g., 3% of the transaction amount, $3 minimum, $20 maximum) and don’t support deposits.

How do Bitcoin ATMs work?

If you want to invest money and protect against inflation, you might want to use Bitcoin ATMs. As you’re reading this guide, there must be over 20,000 ATMs (18.000+ in the US alone) managed by Bitcoin Depot, Coinflip, Bitcoin Of America, and other operators.

How it works:

bitcoin atm 1
How to use an ATM machine?

After you open an account (create it on the operator’s website), you can trade small amounts. You will need to pass KYC verification (to prevent money laundering) to unlock the full service. Then, the process is simple:

  1. Find your ATM in Google Maps (or CoinATMRadar App). Check if the operation you want is available.
  2. Verify your identity (e.g., a 2FA code, a QR code scan, or a seed phrase)
  3. Choose your operation (send, receive, deposit, withdraw)
  4. Confirm and leave the transaction processing

Features:

Here’s how it would work when using it the first time:

  1. You confirm your identity
  2. You deposit cash in the slot to update your dollar balance
  3. You buy the Bitcoin amount you want (you can keep both BTC and fiat balances). Most operators already offer 10+ altcoins.

You can sell your Bitcoin later or send it to someone else (or your other accounts). You can also receive crypto: you copy/print the wallet address and give it to your sender.

You can send/receive any currency. If it’s crypto, it’s a mining network transaction. If it’s fiat, it would work as a wire transfer (except that it goes to another BTC-ATM account).

You cannot send fiat from crypto ATMs to bank accounts yet.

Note: Any Bitcoin operation can take 20-60 minutes to complete. You cannot cancel transactions, but if they don’t confirm, you get the amount refunded without the fees.

When withdrawing, you’ll need to wait for the transaction before getting the cash (as a measure against ATM double-spending).

But is your money safe? It depends on the crypto wallet the operators use. But compared to bank ATMs, it’s better. Thieves can’t steal Bitcoin by breaking the machine, and they can’t steal your account because the password is in the phone.

Limits & Fees:

If your country doesn’t support these ATMs yet, it’s probably because of fees. It may not be worth buying Bitcoin at a 7-10% markup (then another +5% for selling).

By contrast, transaction limits are far higher than with banks:

  • Withdrawal limits are $1K-$10K cash for verified accounts
  • $1-$5K per deposit, up to $20K per day
  • No limits for sending & receiving crypto

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