I get a lot of questions about the best way to access cash abroad. As much as I love using credit cards and raking in the miles, the local Thai man with the pad thai cart is probably not going to accept my Visa.
Traveler’s checks are a thing of the past, but there are other ways to access your money abroad. I find these ways the cheapest, easiest, and safest options to keep my hard earned cash close to me. Here are our tips for the best ways to access money overseas.
The Best Ways to Access Money Overseas
1. Don’t exchange currency before you leave.
You are going to get the best bang for your buck in the destination country, so don’t exchange your money before you arrive. Wait until you get to your destination before picking up local currency.
2. Don’t exchange currency at airports.
Airports provide the worst rates, and most companies like Travelex will tack on a “service charge” or another fee to exchange your money. Don’t ever exchange at the airport unless you have to. But wait, you just said not to exchange money before I leave, and then don’t do it at the destination airport. How do I get cash?
My parents always told me to carry cash on me, just in case. They were right, it is a good idea to have cash on you. If you can find an ATM (not Travelex) at the airport use that. The ATM should give you the best and current exchange rate. If this is not an option, I recommend exchanging as little as possible at the exchange counters – just enough to keep you going until you can reach an ATM outside of the airport and into the city.
3. Get a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account
This is one of my musts and definitely one of the best ways to access money overseas (for For US Citizens) – this takes some legwork before your trip to set up. But this card has saved me from paying any ATM fees domestically and internationally for years.
It’s really quite simple. Use your debit card just like you would at any ATM, agree to the fees that bank charges to withdrawal money and Charles Schwab will reimburse you those fees at the end of each month.
4. Get your cash from ATM’s
This is how I get all my cash while abroad. ATM’s give you a great interbank exchange rate so you get the best and most up to date currency conversion. I also hate carrying around chunks of cash and potentially losing it, or become victim to theft. With the ease of ATM cash withdrawals, I never have to worry about having more cash on me than I need.
Throughout my travels, the only time I have been unable to access an ATM was in Koh Rong, Cambodia and I knew beforehand there would be no way to access an ATM on a remote Cambodian island. ATM’s are prevalent almost everywhere, and you should not have a problem finding one in urban cities.
5. Stay up to date with currency rates
Always know what rate you should be getting. I use the XE App to keep up to date with currency changes daily. I met a traveler who didn’t know the exchange rate and once paid $26 for a big mac meal in Dubai because he just assumed it couldn’t be that expensive. Don’t let that happen to you!
6. Don’t pay Foreign Transaction Fees
Credit cards are constantly competing, and it amazes me that some still charge a 3% Foreign Transaction Fee per charge. Most travel cards do not have one, and it will save you enormous amounts to get one. If you are just starting to gain credit, try Capital One, none of their cards charge foreign transaction fees. Here is why ALL travelers need a good travel credit card and you see our favorite travel credit cards here.
7. Always pay in the local currency
Many times when you use your credit card abroad you will be asked if you would like to be charged in your home currency or local. ALWAYS choose the local currency. The rate that they are giving you is always bad and inflated and converting to your own currency will cost you.
8. Use up your foreign currency before heading back home or traveling onwards.
Every time you exchange, you are going to be biting the bullet and losing at least a little money. Get rid of that Japanese Yen before you leave Japan! As your trip starts dwindling down, start resorting to your cash only so you don’t come back home with unusable currency.
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