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 XE.com 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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