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When you travel internationally, it can cost money to spend money. But we don't want that, do we? So here are 7 tips to help keep your hard-earned cash in your fanny pack while you're exploring a new country.
1. Get A No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card
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 up to 3% extra or 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, and chip and signature technology.
Some places in Europe, Canada, and Asia will only take a credit card that has smart chip technology. Even though chip and PIN has become the standard, most places will still accept a chip and signature card (other than some unattended kiosks).
Another reason to use a credit card? If you have a rewards card that receives points, miles, or cash back, you're not only saving on fees, but you're receiving rewards in the process!
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 back-up too.
2. Get a Debit Card w/ No Fees for International Withdrawals
Having a debit card is a good idea when traveling abroad, so that 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 fee & POS (foreign transaction) fee. The Foreign ATM fee is a flat fee, usually anywhere from $2 – $5 per withdrawal, and 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. Yuck!
So it's important to check with your bank to see what these fees are on your current debit card before using it abroad. And if you're looking for a great debit card option, the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account has NO fees for any ATM withdraws or purchases ANYWHERE.
3. Don't Convert Money at the Airport
One of the worst places you can convert your money is at the airport. You will get charged 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.
Now, the service charge. It depends on where you convert on the amount, but they'll usually tell you it's waived if you convert a higher amount. Don't do it! Because you're still getting a terrible exchange rate, even if you avoid the charge.
So what do you do? Try finding an ATM machine. If you can't, or they 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 they will try to catch you in your jet lag and talk you into converting more money. You'll walk away going, “What just happened?!”
4. Don't Let Merchants Do Transaction Conversions for You
Another technique 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 US dollars, just say no. You will get a much better exchange rate if you let your bank do it on their end. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion; avoid it!
5. Curb Your Spending
This can be hard when you're on vacation, but have a budget and stick to it. This will help you not spend impulsively and hemorrhage money like there's no tomorrow.
6. Get Lost
Wander off the beaten path while you're traveling. Many of the touristy spots are expensive, and the 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.
7. Use Rewards Miles and Points
Flights and hotels are expensive, especially when you're traveling overseas. But you can save on these purchases if you use rewards miles, points, or cash back.
My partner and I have used airline miles and points received from rewards credit cards to travel the world. Using miles and points has saved us A LOT of money and enabled us to travel more often, and in more style, than I ever thought possible (think First Class kind of style!).
It's easy to overspend while traveling, but if you keep 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, you can help keep the costs in check.
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