Money Tips for International Travel

Katherine Belarmino, along with her husband Romeo, publish Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff who wants to travel and see as much as possible with limited vacation time.  Follow their travels on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a frequent international traveler, I get a lot of questions about money: when to get it, where to get it, how to get it internationally.  Money is a necessity when traveling internationally, so it’s important to know how obtain and use it in the most convenient and cost-effective way possible.  Here are some money tips for international travelers I’ve picked up from traveling for more than a decade.


Traveling Internationally with Cash

Gone are the days of traveler’s checks.  Millennials might not even know what those are.  Currency exchange windows charge fees and/or offer less than ideal exchange rates.  While you can have your bank order currency ahead of time, that can be time-consuming.  The best way to get cash in the needed currency for international travel is by using your ATM card at a cash machine in your destination country.

When traveling internationally, the first thing you might want to do after getting off the plane and picking up your luggage is to stop at an ATM on the way out of the airport.  That way, if you need cash for a taxi or public transportation, you already have some in hand.  ATMs connected to banks are another great option for withdrawing cash, as there are security cameras for safety and you can go inside the bank for help if there is an issue.  Beware of “independent” ATMs which do not belong to a bank, but are currency exchanges in disguise.  They usually have names like Travelex or Moneybox, are near ATMs (especially in airports); charging high fees and using lousy exchange rates.  Sometimes they are brightly colored to try to lure you in.

Try to pull out larger sums of money fewer times, rather than small sums of money many times during a trip.  Your bank will probably charge a transaction fee every time you withdraw money, so having fewer withdrawals means fewer fees.  Also keep in mind that your bank probably has a daily limit, so be sure to convert that daily limit into the local currency and withdraw that amount or less to avoid your transaction rejection.  We use the XE Currency App to easily make the currency conversion.


Using Credit Cards Internationally

We like to use credit cards whenever possible.  This saves our cash for when we really need it and we also earn airline miles.  Most importantly, we use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.  Some credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee, which can be as much as 3 percent of the entire purchase.  Those little fees can add up.  Many credit cards do not charge foreign transaction fees and are a much better choice for international travel.  Credit card companies tend to use a competitive exchange rate.

Don’t use your credit card to withdraw cash.  If you do so, you will be hit with a high cash advance fee just as you would at home.  Do let your credit card company know that you will be traveling to avoid the credit card company putting a hold on your card for potential fraud when it is used in a foreign country.  If asked if you want a charge to be made in the country’s currency or in dollars, choose the country’s currency.  It may seem easier to choose the currency conversion, but that usually comes with a conversion fee and/or a poor exchange rate.  Also, while this has rarely happened, it is a good idea to have both a Visa and a MasterCard, as a vendor may accept one but not the other.


Most European countries use the credit card chip rather than the credit card swipe strip.  Thankfully, the USA is finally getting on board with this trend and more credit cards are available with a chip.  It is also a good idea to set up and know your credit card’s four-digit PIN.  This may be needed if your credit card does not have a chip.  It will also be necessary if, in an emergency, you do need to withdraw money using your credit card.

Using a credit card for travel may have some additional benefits that you may not know about.  For example, in a medical emergency when traveling abroad, you may benefit if your credit card has trip cancellation insurance. Some credit cards also include trip delay insurance, travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, and protection for baggage delay and lost luggage.


Learning Country-Specific Tips

The above money tips for international travel are mostly universal, however, some destinations have very unique circumstances that are good to know ahead of time. It is good to do some research before a trip.


For instance, Sweden rarely uses cash, so it is not a good idea to take much cash out at the ATM.  It is important to bring crisp, clean dollar bills to Myanmar for exchanging at banks and exchange counters.  In some cities in Mexico, especially near the United States border, most places will accept dollars.  In China, only certain bank ATMs, like those controlled by the Bank of China, accept foreign bank cards for cash withdrawals.  In Croatia, it can be difficult to break larger bills, so take advantage of chances to make smaller change.  In Denmark, our credit card without foreign transaction fees didn’t have a chip.  Most places were able to take our card by swiping it, but then they needed the four-digit PIN.

With these money tips for international travel, the currency portion of your next trip will be easy and stress-free.

Katherine Belarmino, along with her husband Romeo, publish Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff who wants to travel and see as much as possible with limited vacation time.  Follow their travels on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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