“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” – Jim Rohn
People often ask, “What is the best way to deal with money when I am in another country?” Here is my Money Speech (with four-part harmony, and in more verses than I usually provide).
Tell your bank and credit card companies where you are going before you travel. This will make it less likely that your card will be declined for a transaction from an extraordinary place.
Carry more than one card. When a colleague’s husband had his wallet stolen, they had to cancel his credit card for the duration of the trip. The rest of the trip was charged on a card which only the wife carried. And speaking of theft, it is wise to keep a record of your account numbers in a separate, safe place so you can report stolen cards immediately. Note phone numbers for reporting loss also, remembering that toll-free 800 numbers will not work from outside the US.
Debit cards and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are the best way to get cash in a foreign country; they generally provide a more favorable rate of exchange than the airport exchanges. Quiz your bank before you travel to learn how you can avoid ATM fees. Your bank might well have international partner banks whose ATMs you can use with no fee. Keep track of the entire list of partners, too. You don’t have to be in Germany to find a branch of Deutsche Bank, for example; they are in large cities everywhere. If you are subject to “out of network” fees, limit the number of times you access ATMs. The fee will be the same whether you withdraw 40 Euros or 400, so make it count.
If your ATM password is more than four characters, try punching in just the first four on your first try; if you use the entire password, it will likely be rejected. Also, be prepared to enter the password without seeing the letters on the keypad. Many international ATMs display only the numbers typical of a phone keypad. (Even though I mentally spell my password as I enter it, I rely more on the position of each key than I do on seeing the letters.)
Quiz and compare your credit card companies for value. Credit cards are the best way to make larger purchases internationally. This saves you carrying large amounts of cash, and takes advantage of preferred exchange rates. Visa and MasterCard networks charge a one percent surcharge for processing an international transaction. But many of the issuing institutions (Citibank, Bank of America, etc.) charge an additional surcharge which starts to feel like lemon juice in the paper cut. My experience has been that Visas and MasterCards issued by credit unions do not charge this additional surcharge. You might have to choose between airline miles from the big bank and a lower exchange rate from the friendly credit union when you decide which card to present for that lovely Turkish rug.
Some sales kiosks in Europe, Asia and South America require “chip and PIN” cards for best functioning. US banks are behind the rest of the world in adopting this technology but some issuers offer it. Magnetic stripe cards can still be used if you can find someone to swipe your card for the purchase.
If you want to use travelers checks, buy them in the currency you will need. (I know they are available in Euros and British pounds.) That way you can spend them directly, no exchange needed.
Airport exchanges are useful for a first installment of cash. I usually change some money at my last US airport or first foreign airport just so I will have ready cash from the start. You cannot count on having access to your preferred ATM the first 24 hours, but there are always opportunities to spend money!
Spend down your foreign cash as you leave. Airport stores will take your local money as partial payment and charge the balance on a credit card. You can exchange paper money back to dollars at an airport exchange. Bring the coins home as mementos or donate them to the UNICEF collection some airlines offer on intercontinental flights.
And just remember, it’s only money. Hopefully the experiences it has purchased are worth every centavo.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
21 March 2013