“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”
– Jim Rohn
There are so many really delightful ways to spend money in foreign countries. It would be a shame to lose money on every transaction so that you get less bang for your buck – or Euro, Peso or Pound. Recommendations for best practices in using money internationally change from year to year. See the August issue of Consumer Reports for a good discussion of how best to be smart about money away from home. Or just read on as I summarize it here.
Do take a modest amount of the destination currency but not large quantities of any cash (which is risky to carry and expensive to exchange). Tipping porters and buying gelato on the street are situations where only cash will do. For all larger transactions, using credit or debit cards is smarter.
Choose the best cards for the trip. Credit and debit cards give you a better exchange rate than you would get from a bank or change bureau. There is a transaction fee for converting currency applied by most cards, but this is offset by the more attractive exchange rate according to Card Hub. The transaction fee varies from card to card so inquire of your card companies or bank what they charge. The US is behind the rest of the world in adopting cards with a chip embedded for additional security. Our archaic magnetic strip cards are still accepted but you might have to wait for an attendant to handle your transaction.
Research ATM availability before you go. Many cards can access any ATM in the Cirrus, Visa or MasterCard network, but you would be charged a fee for using an ATM if it is outside your own bank’s network. Some banks participate in the Global ATM Alliance. For example Bank of America accounts can be accessed for no additional fee at ATMs operated by Barclays, Scotiabank or Deutsche Bank among others, so that saves you a few dollars. Ask your bank about its international network. Be sure, too, that the card you plan to use has a PIN of at least four digits, and that zero is not the first digit. (If your PIN has more than four digits, you will do best to enter only the first four digits.)
Carry cards for multiple accounts. If one person’s wallet is stolen and you call American Express to stop charges, the spouse’s Amex on the same account will be frozen too. You are better off with access to two or more different financial sources. And of course you will keep a copy of your account numbers and the bank contact phone numbers in a separate, secure place so you can notify them. (Can’t read the number off the back of a card you don’t have, can you?)
Contact your card issuers before you travel. Let them know when and where you will be traveling so that they will not shut your card down when they see charges outside your usual life pattern.
Monitor your accounts by cell phone app or online to be sure that unauthorized transactions are not showing up.
Keep your receipts and match them against your account statement when you return home. It will be a challenge to decode the original amounts, the conversions, and fees but you will be able to see the logic in the statement with practice.
But in the end remember it is only money. You will very likely spend more than you planned but isn’t that what vacations are for?
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
17 July 2014