Accessing Your Money While Traveling

Access to money is vitally important to all travelers. In addition to stocking your bank account as fully as possible before you go, you should consider how you will pay for your expenses while traveling and how you will get cash in the local currency when you need it. Most transactions carry a fee which can range from minimal to substantial depending on bank surcharges and exchange rates. You should check with your bank and credit card companies to see what the international transaction fees are well in advance of your trip, and if they are very steep, consider getting a credit or debit card with lower fees to use while you travel. You need to also inform your financial institutions where and when you will be traveling, so that they do not suspect fraud on your account. It is wise to have multiple ways to access your money:

Debit Card

One of the easiest and least expensive means of obtaining cash is at ATM machines, widely available in most countries. If you have a debit card, this money can come directly out of your bank account and you won’t have to pay interest, as you would with a credit card. Be sure that your debit card is on the Cirrus or Plus network and that your four-digit personal identification number (PIN) starts with a non-zero digit. Also, some foreign ATM machines will only withdraw money from the primary checking account, regardless if you choose savings or another account, so be aware of that possibility.  Contact your bank for information on obtaining a card and to find out if your card can be used internationally.

Credit Card

Credit cards are great resources for emergency situations and making large purchases. In Europe most businesses accept Visa or Master Card, and in most other countries, large businesses accept credit cards. Be sure to arrange monthly payments at home to avoid finance charges. Card Hub contains a list of credit cards that do not charge a foreign transaction fee.


American dollars or Euros can be exchanged at local banks nearly everywhere in the world, although a commission is usually charged. You may wish to carry some cash with you, in US dollars, Euros or the currency of your host country. To be safe, always brings two forms of payment with you when traveling.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks are fading quickly as ATM access becomes available almost everywhere in the world, but they can still be useful if you will need large sums of cash at a time (above the daily ATM withdrawal limit). They must be purchased at a bank in the US and can be exchanged at banks in most cities for a small fee. Traveler’s checks are almost like cash, but they are easily replaced if lost or stolen.

Money Transfers

In a pinch, you can have money sent to you from home through Western Union. There are Western Union branches all over the world, so the likelihood of finding one near your home and your current location is quite good. It is also possible to send money through Western Union on-line, although the fee is higher. Money wires are generally quick and easy but the fee can be substantial and the exchange rate is not always good. When doing Money Transfers, it is possible to get a foreign draft (bank check) payable in foreign currency. Another popular service is Xoom. Xoom supports on-line money transfers to and from the US, and about 30 other countries. Xoom is particularly useful for Latin America.