One of the biggest worries that international travelers have is how to pay for things abroad. Different countries use different currencies, ATMs are not always available and some places don’t even accept bank cards *gasp!*
On top of that, being a tourist often pegs you as a target for scams involving your cash.
It all just adds up to one giant ball of stress. Luckily I’m here to help.
How to pay for things abroad
There are a couple ways you can exchange your cash. You can purchase currency before going abroad, but you will probably get a terrible exchange rate.
Large airports will offer exchange centers as well, but it’s best to generally avoid these, due to the bad exchange rate as well.
Money exchange facilities within your destination are hit or miss. It’s best to have a trusted local take you to a reputable money exchange to make sure you don’t get ripped off. Even still, know what your exchange rate should be and have them count it out slowly for you.
Lastly, local banks at your destination may be able to exchange cash for you. Again, just know what your rate should be and have them count slowly.
Get Cash at ATMs
Another method of accessing currency is to use an ATM once you get to your destination. These typically offer the best exchange rate, however there are some things to keep in mind.
Before leaving, you’ll want to double check your banks’ ATM fee policy. Some banks charge a fee to use ATMs that are outside of their network. Avoid paying these fees by joining a bank that will reimburse ATM fees.
Use the same cautionary steps abroad as you do at home. ATM scams DO happen, so be very alert. Check your surroundings for small cameras or people lurking around. Jiggle the card reader and keypad, to make sure they’re not fake. Cover the keypad when you type your PIN. Look for ATMs with security guards, or inside banks to avoid problems.
Also know that many times ATMs abroad aren’t continually kept stocked. It is not uncommon to find an ATM that has run out of cash to give. In this case, find another ATM or choose a different method of accessing money.
Credit & Debit Cards
Believe it or not, you can still use your credit and debit cards abroad. There are just a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:
Check with your bank to see if they charge Foreign Transaction Fees. These are fees that are added to your purchase total because you’re purchasing in a different currency.
The most widely accepted cards are Visa & Mastercard. Discover is rarely accepted, while American Express is hit or miss.
Keep a copy of BOTH sides of your cards. If the cards get stolen or misplaced, you will have the necessary information to alert your bank.
One great benefit to using your card is getting extra points to use on future trips! Check and see what offers your bank is advertising.
Pre-Paid Travel Cards
Pre-paid travel cards are a good way to access your cash if you are too nervous about bringing your bank cards abroad. These act just like debit cards, from a pre-paid account. Simply load, say, $100 on the card and once that cash is spent, it’s spent.
Many travelers like to use these because they aren’t a direct link to your personal bank accounts. If your bank card gets stolen, there can be a lot of hassle in getting all the funds returned to you. If your pre-paid travel card gets stolen, then you’re just out the balance of the card. (Although, some companies may reimburse you what you’ve lost).
Do keep in mind though, these cards are still susceptible to ATM fees and Foreign Transaction Fees.
Once upon a time there was a thing called Travelers Checks. Basically like using regular checks, only pre-paid. Nobody accepts these anymore. Nobody uses these anymore. Don’t get them.
It’s really important that you don’t rely on just one of these payment methods. Generally 2-3 will do the trick. It also helps to be familiar with the currency exchange rates, so you don’t end up getting ripped off or overpaying. Keep a good eye on your accounts and educate yourself on common money scams that take place in your area of travel.
Final note– Don’t stress about it. It’s not as complicated as it seems. Just make sure you’re able to access your funds in more than one way, and you’re good to go!