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Preparing For International Travel: Currency And Money Matters

Updated: May 1, 2023

Foreign currency for travelers colorful paper bills

You can pre-order currency from your bank or financial institution before you depart. Fees, in addition to the exchange rate, usually apply and can vary greatly.

To save on fees, you may wish to exchange a small amount in the US before departure and then use your debit or credit card to access additional funds while traveling. Avoid the currency exchanges at airports that charge very high fees.

ATMs can be an easy way to access cash from a debit card and some credit cards. Credit card issuers may require you to go into a bank for a cash advance, and fees may be higher. Some banks may decline to make a cash advance for non-customers. If your credit and debit cards require a PIN number for cash withdrawals or advances, ensure you know the number or set it before departing.

Traveler using automatic teller machine to withdraw cash
Be aware of your surroundings when withdrawing cash.

Check with your bank or credit card company to find out the cost of using your card abroad. Some issuers will charge a foreign transaction fee on top of a marked-up exchange rate. In some cases making fewer withdrawals of larger amounts may save some fee costs.

Advise your bank and credit card company of your travel dates and destination before you depart so they don’t decline your transactions.

Confirm your daily cash withdrawal limit with your bank so you can plan accordingly if you need to access larger amounts for special purchases or emergency expenses. Don’t forget to consider the exchange rate at your time of travel. For example, if your daily cash withdrawal limit is $300 US Dollars, the amount dispensed from the ATM in local currency could be less.

Always travel with more than one payment method. For example: take a debit card and a credit card or two. Never carry all your payment methods together in case your purse/wallet is lost or stolen.

Put the contact information for your credit and debit cards in your phone and keep an additional copy in an alternate location so you can notify the card issuer immediately in case of loss, theft, or fraud while traveling.

Consider adding your financial institutions’ smartphone app to your phone, so you can check balances, make payments, and report lost or stolen cards quickly from your phone. Note: some apps may not work or require a VPN outside the U.S.

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on your person, and don’t keep all your cash in one location. Most hotels have an in-room safe where you can store your valuables.

Contactless payment is common in many countries. If you have a credit or debit card with contactless payment, you can tap the card on the payment terminal to complete the transaction without handing over or swiping your card. If you carry contactless cards, you may consider keeping them in an RFID-blocking wallet or purse.

Virtual wallets such as ApplePay and GooglePay are also widely accepted and can be a great way to pay without getting your card in and out of your wallet or purse. Cards linked to virtual wallets can sometimes remain operational even if the physical card has been reported lost or stolen (varies by card issuer).

Traveler paying by credit card using contactless technology at a coffee shop
Check your cards for the contactless payment symbol.

Mastercard and Visa are accepted in many destinations. AMEX is less commonly accepted. Discover is generally not accepted abroad.

Some establishments may have a minimum purchase to accept a credit card as payment. Cash and small bills or exact change are sometimes necessary for smaller purchases at bakeries, markets, and grocery stores. Try to save coins from change for tipping.

Unfortunately, pickpocketing can be an issue in some destinations, especially in crowded tourist areas and on public transportation. Do not carry wallets or cell phones in your pockets. Keep purses, handbags, and backpacks close, within sight, and carry them in front of you. Consider using a money belt to keep cash and credit cards safe.

Pickpocket steals unsuspecting traveler's wallet from purse hanging on restaurant chair
Keep your purse and valuables in front of you and visible at all times.


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