Accessing Your Money While Traveling Abroad

I love to travel. Seeing the world is one of my strongest passions. I’ve lived in two foreign countries for an extended period (Turkey and Germany) and visited several others. Stepping off a train into an unknown environment is both challenging and exciting for me.

I don’t get to do it much anymore because I’m in the “real world” now, where you don’t get to do such things often. My full-time job pretty much claims most of my time. But I can dream, right?

Traveling to a foreign country, especially if it’s one you haven’t been to before, presents many challenges. Two of the most common questions I hear are “When should I book my plane ticket?” and “How do I access my money while there?” I want to focus on the second question today by giving you the best ways to access your money abroad and things to think about before you leave.

First, get an idea of what the exchange rate is between your home currency and the currency of your destination country. The exchange rate is how much foreign currency your home currency can buy. I’ve always used for exchange rates, but there are several others out there.

Once you know the exchange rate, you can begin thinking in terms of the foreign currency so you don’t overbuy on your trip. When I was traveling in the UK, I was surprised by how cheap everything seemed to be. But it was deceiving – the pound is worth much more than the US dollar, so everything just seemed cheaper. In reality the UK is a very expensive place to travel!

One thing you never, ever want to do is to exchange currency at one of those airport exchange counters. While convenient, they include a hefty fee on top of the normal exchange rate. In fact, it’s best to avoid exchanging or accessing any money until you arrive at your destination.

The single best way to access your money while abroad is to use your debit card at an ATM in your destination country. Before you leave your home country though, call your bank and ask them what they charge to access an ATM abroad. Find out if there are any ATM networks you can use for free. If your bank charges a big fee, this may not be the best method for you.

Another good way to access your funds while abroad is to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee. Capital One, for example, doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee on any of their cards as far as I know. Again, call your credit card company to verify what they charge for foreign transactions.

Whether you use a debit card or credit card, the amount of your purchase or withdrawal is converted to your home currency using the daily exchange rate, then posted to your account.

One other thing to be aware of is that most developed countries outside the US use a more secure form of payment known as Chip and PIN. To make a purchase at some places using a credit or debit card, you have to enter your secret PIN. The card also has a small chip inside that makes counterfeit nearly impossible. This means that you may not be able to use your card in some places unless it has a PIN associated with it.

Finally, let your credit card company and bank know where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. This prevents them from placing a temporary hold on your account due to suspected fraud.

Accessing your money in these ways while abroad reduces your hassle and lets you keep more of it in your pocket.

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14 thoughts on “Accessing Your Money While Traveling Abroad

  1. Sound advice, thanks.

    It is also useful to ask your bank if they have any specific recommendation regarding the countries you are to visit.

    In a previous life I travelled extensively for business. Having had my credit card cancelled twice following trips to Malaysia, I found that my bank had a policy of doing just that! The risk of fraudulent use of credit card details was very high, so they protected you, and themselves, by just canceling the card. Great, except if you were continuing travelling to other countries after Malaysia.!!

    • Yes, it’s never convenient when your card is cancelled while you’re traveling. Your bank can be a good resource for credit card policies and fraud prevention in foreign countries.

  2. When traveling abroad I just try to use my credit card everywhere. Provided that they don’t have a foreign transaction fee, it is usually the best exchange rate that you can get. It also helps to get some foreign currency from your local bank before you leave on your trip. That can help cover some of the smaller expenses where credit card is not accepted.

    • I wasn’t aware that you can get currency from banks here. I wonder if they charge for this service and if so, how much.

      Using your credit card while traveling is a good way to pay for things abroad. However, as you say, only IF there’s no transaction fee.

      • Yes the definitely charge for this service. I’m not sure how those rates compare to the currency exchange companies. Depending on the currency you need, the bank may need to order it in.

  3. I have never traveled outside the US, although I would definitely like to in the near future. I think I would probably just use a credit card I might get to confused about the exchange rates if I did otherwise. 🙂

    • Yes, thinking in terms of exchange rates can be very confusing. Especially if you’ve been dealing with one currency all your life. If your card doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee this is one of the best options. Which country or countries do you want to visit?

    • Thanks, Jessica! It’s nice that you had your parents with you to take care of the financial issues. The first few times I went abroad my dad was with me, so I didn’t have to worry about anything except enjoying myself and trying not to get homesick! Going abroad early in life gave me confidence to do it on my own as an adult.

  4. Good advice; I know because I travel out of the country often. The other thing to do is call your credit and/or debit card issuer before your departure to let them know the dates and countries of travel, else they may stop payment thinking that your card was stolen and is being misused.

    • Thanks, dad! Good point. I didn’t think to do this when I went to Germany, so after the first transaction I got an email from my issuer saying to give them a call so they could verify the transaction. It’s nice that they do this as a courtesy. But it also protects their liability too!

  5. Pingback: No need to be a “road warrior” to use these tips | The Unhindered Traveler

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