AwardWallet receives compensation from advertising partners for links on the blog. Terms Apply to the offers listed on this page. The opinions expressed here are our own and have not been reviewed, provided, or approved by any bank advertiser. Here's our complete list of Advertisers.
When you travel internationally, exchange rates and foreign transaction fees can lead you to spend extra money on every purchase. But we don't want that, do we? Here are seven tips to help keep your hard-earned cash in your fanny pack while you're exploring a new country.
Get a Credit Card With No Foreign Transaction Fees
It is easy to find credit cards that don't charge foreign transaction fees. If your credit card doesn't waive foreign transaction fees, you're looking at paying 3% extra (or sometimes more) on all of your purchases. No thanks!
One of our favorite cards to travel with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because it has no foreign transaction fees plus chip and signature technology. Some other cards we love that offer no foreign transaction fees include:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- American Express® Gold Card
- United℠ Explorer Card
Some places in Europe, Canada, and Asia will only take credit cards that have smart chip technology. Even though chip and PIN have become the standard, most places will still accept a chip and signature card.
Tip: If you're traveling with credit cards, make sure that you write down their contact phone numbers in case they are misplaced or stolen. I always pack a backup card, too.
Get a Debit Card With No Fees for International Withdrawals
Having a debit card is a good idea when traveling abroad. This way, you can withdraw cash at an ATM for use at places that are cash-only or won't accept your credit card. But who wants to pay a fee to access their own money?
Most debit cards will charge you two kinds of international fees: ATM withdrawal fees & POS (“point of sale” foreign transaction) fees. The foreign ATM fee is a flat fee, usually anywhere from $2–$5 per withdrawal. The foreign transaction fee ranges from 1%–3% of the purchase, depending on the bank. Many debit cards will charge you both of these fees for using an ATM in another country. Yuck!
Checking account / ATM card options
Thankfully, there are quite a few options for debit cards that either don't charge fees or reimburse you for some, or all, of the charges. The following list is not exhaustive but includes some of the more popular and easily accessible options.
- Betterment: Betterment Checking members have their foreign transaction and ATM fees reimbursed.
- Capital One: 360 Checking members do not have to pay fees of any kind.
- Charles Schwab: Investor Checking customers pay no foreign transaction fees and get unlimited reimbursement on ATM fees.
- Sapphire Checking members do not incur any withdrawal or foreign transaction fees, including ones charged by ATMs issuers. If a charge occurs, Chase will refund the amount.
- Premier Plus Checking members will incur a 3% foreign transaction fee, but the flat $5 withdrawal fee will be refunded up to four times per statement period.
- Fidelity: Cash Management account holders will incur a 1% foreign transaction fee but receive unlimited ATM fee reimbursement.
- Wells Fargo:
- Prime Checking account members will be reimbursed once per period for ATM fees and will incur a 3% foreign transaction fee.
- Premier Checking account members will be reimbursed for an unlimited amount of ATM fees and will not pay any foreign transaction fees.
Don't Convert Money at the Airport
One of the worst places you can convert your money is at the airport. You will pay two kinds of fees: the currency exchange rate and a service charge. You'll almost always be charged a higher foreign exchange rate than the official inter-bank rate, because that's how these places make their money. In most cases, you'd be better off just paying a foreign transaction fee on your credit card than getting ripped off at one of these currency exchange shops. They're charging more than the 3% you might pay with your ATM card.
Now, the service charge. It depends on where you convert money, but shops should advise you if exchanging more than a certain amount of money leads to waived fees. Don't do it! You're still getting a terrible exchange rate, even if you avoid the charge.
So what do you do? Try finding an ATM. If you can't, or it won't accept your card for some reason, just exchange a small amount at the airport so you have enough cash on hand for a taxi or other expenses. Be careful, though, because these shops prey on your jet lag to talk you into poor exchange deals. You'll walk away thinking “What just happened?!”
Don't Let Merchants Do Currency Conversions for You
Another technique for saving money is to always pay in the local currency. For example, when you check out of your hotel and the clerk asks if you'd like to pay in U.S. Dollars, just say no. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion; avoid it! The exchange rate given in this case is terrible. Furthermore, you may end up paying foreign transaction fees on your credit card (even if you selected “pay in Dollars”) since some card issuers base their fees on where the transaction takes place, not what currency was used.
Instead, when given the options, choose to pay in the local currency. Your bank will do the conversion on its end. This gives you a much better conversion rate and avoids any fees associated with the transaction. If you want to see how much you'll be paying in your home currency, use an app like Xe Currency Converter to check the price.
This is another reason why having a credit card with no foreign transaction fees is important.
Curb Your Spending
This can be hard when you're on vacation, but make a budget and stick to it. This will help you not spend impulsively and hemorrhage money like there's no tomorrow. Using a budgeting app like TravelSpend can be very helpful in this situation. Set a trip budget and add expenses as you go. Additionally, this app lets you analyze your spending categories to help you stay on track. You also can share your trip budget with friends or family. This way, you can track all expenses in one place.
Wander off the beaten path while you're traveling. Many of the touristy spots are expensive, meaning the adjacent shops, restaurants, and hotels will all cost you more money. Plus, there's nothing like getting lost in a foreign city with friends or family and enjoying local spots rarely visited by tourists.
Use Rewards Points and Miles
Flights and hotels are expensive — especially when you're traveling overseas. Thankfully, you can save on these purchases if you use rewards miles, points, or cash back. Strategically opening credit cards and maximizing your spending on those cards, allows you to earn a lot of points. In turn, you can use those points to book heavily-discounted or free travel.
If you're new to award travel, we have a plethora of articles teaching you how to use points and miles.
Check these out:
- Start Here for Collecting Points and Miles for Free Travel
- Achieve Your Travel Goals With Points and Miles
- Beginner's Guide to Award Travel Planning – Award Flights
- Back to Basics: An Introduction to the Types of Reward Points
- How Does a Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Work?
- Beginner's Guide to Airline Alliances and Partnerships
- How Many Miles Do You Need for a Free Flight?
- A Beginner's Guide to Building a Credit Card Application Strategy
It's easy to overspend while traveling. However, there are ways to prevent it. Stick to your budget, have a credit card and/or ATM card with no foreign transaction fees, know where to exchange money, and use rewards points. These things allow you to keep your costs in check and fully enjoy your trip as you save money while traveling internationally.
The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.