Using Money Abroad
Use Foreign CurrencyHaving the currency of the country you are visiting on arrival is very helpful. The only fees for this option are the commission and exchange rate. These fees vary depending on when and where you exchange your money. It is important to research in advance where you will find the best rate. Usually rates can be found online, and it is also cheaper to collect your money from the foreign exchange bureau than to have it delivered. Some banks will have the ability to order currency, but smaller banks may not. However, some people don’t like the idea of carrying large sums of cash, especially in a foreign country. For this reason, this option is best suited for short term trips.
Credit and Debit CardsTaking a credit/debit card can be a good choice if you don’t want to carry too much cash, or if you will be abroad for a longer time. However, it is important to choose the right card to use abroad, otherwise you could be charged expensive fees. Not all cards are accepted, so research your host city in advance or call your bank.
Most cards will charge a foreign exchange fee for overseas use. This is often around 2.75% to 3%, meaning that for every £100 you spend, you could be charged an additional £2.75 to £3.00. If you were to use your credit card to withdraw cash overseas, you could be charged another fee, plus interest, even if you pay off your balance in full that month. The interest is usually around 27% APR, so it would be wise to avoid withdrawing cash on a credit card if you can.
Withdrawing using a debit card is overall less expensive, but you will still run into the same transaction fees. The difference is there would be no interest because you don’t have to pay anything back, the money is coming directly out of your account. It is best to withdraw cash in larger sums less often to avoid reoccurring fees. If you are doing a semester program, you may aim to withdraw cash once a month and store it in a safe place at your housing.
If you want to take a credit/debit card with you, look for a card that specifically designed for overseas use. These cards lower some fees or have a lower APR on credit cards. It’s always important to tell your bank that you will be traveling abroad so that they do not flag your purchases as fraudulent activity. Make sure to give dates and locations so your card isn’t flagged on a weekend trip outside your main city!
Prepaid CardsAnother option is to use a prepaid debit card. With this card, you would pre-load it with a certain cash amount before leaving, and then you would use it the same way you would use a debit/credit card. During the activation of the card, you will set up a pin number to use when making transactions, just like with a debit card. The benefit of loading your card in advance is you can watch the exchange rates, and load your card at the most opportune exchange rate, and you don’t have to worry about it changing and possibly losing money during your trip. There still can be transaction and/or ATM fees, but prepaid cards are often cheaper to use than a standard credit or debit card. Prepaid cards are also good if you are on a budget, because you only have a specific amount of money available to you. That being said, you can reload the card while you are abroad if you need to.
Different RegionsEurope: ATMs are nearly everywhere, and shouldn’t be too difficult to find. It is better to use ATMs at banks, rather than in stores or ones on the street. It is more secure and you can avoid extra fees by using an ATM at a bank from the same banking company (or a registered partner) you use. Europe hasn’t completely adopted paperless payments, so it can be beneficial to have at least some cash in your wallet, this is especially relevant if you will be in an area with smaller towns or if you plan on shopping at local markets. Most market places use cash instead of cards. In restaurants you may have to ask to pay with a card and wait for a portable card reader to be brought to your table. Split bills at a group dinner must be done in cash. Note that not all parts of Europe use the euro.
Asia: Cash is still the main method of payment in many Asian countries, especially in Southeast Asia. ATM availability is highly dependent on what country you are in. Your best option is to bring and use cash and carry a card just in case.
Africa: ATMs are easy to find in big cities, but they will be much harder to find the further away from those cities you go. In some countries, U.S. dollars are accepted, but your change will be in the local currency, so you’re better off already having some of the local currency in your wallet.
South America: Credit cards may not be accepted in some South American countries, and you will need to use mostly cash. ATM are readily available in most areas. It is better to use an ATM at a bank than ones on the street or inside of a store. It is more secure and you can avoid extra fees by using an ATM at a bank from the same banking company you use.
Caribbean: U.S. dollars are the most widely accepted currency in the Caribbean, followed by the Euro, and then other local currencies. It’s a good idea to carry some cash, but credit cards are widely accepted throughout the region. ATMs are available and may offer the best exchange rate.