Everyone has their own way of handling cash when they travel abroad and I will only outline a few hints and tips that I use:

  • ATM machines are widely available across the globe in larger cities and towns so it is no longer necessary to bring a large amount of cash with you. But if you are going to be off the beaten path you probably won’t find an ATM so plan accordingly.
  • Before you travel contact your bank and credit card companies and inform them of the countries you will be visiting and how long you expect to be overseas.
  • If you are going to be abroad for a number of months it would be wise to take a duplicate debit card along with you in case one of the machines decides to eat your card.
  • Find out the rates your bank and credit card companies charge for using an ATM machine that is not affiliated with their company. Most banks will charge you a fee for the transaction and another fee to convert the currency. (When you are using an ATM overseas you will be receiving your cash in the local currency – euros, rupee, rupiah, quetzal, franc, peso, dinah, baht – and your bank will charge you to convert between one currency and another). Most of the time it is better to take out sufficient cash to cover a week’s worth of expenses rather than using a debit or credit card as often as you would at home. The bank charges can add up at a pretty rapid clip.
  • Use credit cards sparingly if the above charges are high and only for large purchases.
  • Neck and waist money belts are easy targets for pickpockets and petty thieves, especially if they are conspicuous and bulging. It is best to keep a small amount of cash in your pocket or a small change purse and the rest in another safe place. There are now leg wallets on the market and they seem like a great idea if you are wearing pants.  I’ve yet to meet anyone who uses them so I can’t give you a recommendation either way.  Many young people are using cargo pants with their multiple pockets – they may work for you but it seems to me that bulging pockets up and down your legs are an invitation to creative pickpockets and thieves.  You guys who carry wallets in your back pocket – don’t.
  • It is really, really difficult to cash American Express Traveler’s Cheques. American Express offices in the major cities of the world and large international hotels are generally your only option.
  • Always retain some US$ or € (euros) particularly if there are airport departure taxes due when you leave or you have to pay for visas to cross into neighboring countries. When I was in northern Thailand trying to get into Laos the cost of a visa in Thai baht was twice the price of a visa purchased with $ or €. Even though local banks and money changers will gladly give you local currency, it is next to impossible to buy back $ or €.
  • Only change enough money at the airport on your arrival to pay for taxis, buses, food and drink until the banks, or in-town bureau de change open. The currency exchange rates at the airport never favor you.
  • Changing currency overseas is never as difficult as it is in the US. The rates of exchange are posted outside the banks and the bureau de change and you will generally find a difference between the two. In addition, you will notice the exchange rate can vary hourly and day to day depending upon the trade on world-wide currency markets. Only change the amount of money you need and try not to change foreign currency to foreign currency as you travel across borders – it can get very confusing,  unless you are a math wiz –
  • Do not carry around large denominations of the local currency because many small merchants and taxi drivers will not be able to change large bills and this will put you in an embarrassing situation. For example $10.00USD = 89,200IDR (Indonesian rupiah) so you should carry notes and coins at denominations of 1,000, 500 IDR and less (892 IDR is just a dime and you will be haggling and bargaining in markets over dimes, believe me).
  • Do not try and pay for goods and services in $ or €, even if the merchant will accept them. You will get a lousy exchange rate and end up paying too much for your purchase.  There is a reason those little calculators are everywhere!


Comments are closed.