What you need to know about money when Traveling
When my wife, Katie, and I started planning our round the world trip (RTW) in October of 2014, I had a ton of questions surrounding money and the best way to pay for things while we were traveling abroad. I think it is important that I start by telling you how much I HATE paying FEES! It doesn’t matter if it is an ATM fee, over-size bag fee, or late fee. I hate them all. Paying an over-size bag fee with US Airways led me to promising myself to never fly on that airline again. It almost ruined my trip to Seattle.
So, it was incredibly important to me that I avoided foreign transaction fees and hopefully ATM fees if possible. I knew that the small towns we would visit along the way would only take cash, so I started looking at what banks in the US were also world wide. Well, the answer is none of them. This led me to think that it might be worth opening an account in Europe that would hopefully work across different countries and I could wire money to that new bank account. This proved to be difficult and I knew it would take time. At this point, I figured I would have to suck it up and learn to accept the ATM fees. Then, it happened!
Breakthrough – How to avoid ATM fees while traveling abroad
One day on my commute to work, I was listening to a travel podcast like I always do and the host mentioned the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. He claimed that with this card you payed no ATM fees. I paused the podcast in disbelief, pulled over to the side of the road and searched for the card on my iPhone. This is what I learned…
With the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account, You Get:
- Unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide! – This means you are charged the ATM fee and then a few days later Charles Schwab refunds the fee to your account!
- No monthly or yearly service fees
- No account minimums. You have to start your account with a $50 dollar deposit, after that you don’t have to keep any money in the account.
- No foreign transaction fees! This one is also huge. I won’t be charged 1.5% for the conversion of my dollar into whatever countries currency I am visiting. Some banks even charge up to 3%. With this checking account, you pay nothing!
Needless to say, I signed up for this card right away and this is my main account for withdrawing cash while traveling. This leads me into something else that is important.
Don’t walk around with large amounts of cash.
With your new Charles Schwab debit card where you pay zero ATM fees or foreign transaction fees, there really is no reason to carry around large amounts of cash. Don’t risk losing it or being at risk for theft. I personally only take out about $100 at a time. In larger towns or cities, I rarely carry cash on me.
Don’t convert money before traveling
Again if you get the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account, it just doesn’t make sense to convert more before you’re traveling. (Especially since they will fee you like crazy.) You will also be tempted to carry around wads of cash and as you learned above, this is not a good idea.
Don’t convert money with money changers, especially at airports
I think this goes without saying, but I think it is worth mentioning. Just think FEES when you see these booths at the airport. With your new Charles Schwab checking account, there are no ATM fees or foreign transaction fees, so you are covered.
Try to only withdraw money from bank ATM’s.
I think it is important to mention that even with RFID technology and debit pins, there is still a lot of fraud that can happen while abroad. One way is by ATM skimming. Basically, a thief tampers with an ATM in order to pull your information. This is less likely to happen if you use bank ATM’s. This is also a main reason why I only keep small balances in accounts associated with my debit cards. It is simple to move money from savings accounts into checking accounts.
Make sure you have a secondary debit and credit card
You need to make sure that you have a way to get at cash if you are in a bind, especially if you lose or have your first card stolen. Unfortunately, there is no other card that I am aware of that reimburses you for ATM fees so I just use a debit card from one of the major banks in the states.
Regarding credit cards…it is important to have at least one back up card in case there are fraudulent charges on one. You don’t want to get stuck without access to funds while you wait for a replacement card.
Pay with credit cards whenever possible
Whenever possible, I always opt to paying with my credit card. There are many benefits by doing this:
1) You can receive rewards for everyday purchases.
2) It is easy to dispute fraudulent charges.
3) It is easier to track expenditures.
4) You don’t have to worry about pulling out cash.
5) Credit cards are needed with most car companies and hotel chains. For example, in Ireland they will place a $2000 hold on your credit card if you decline their comprehensive insurance.
Only use credit cards with with no foreign transaction fees
There are a lot of credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. A few are Capitol One Quicksilver Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred and several American Express cards. Credit cards that do charge foreign transaction fees typically charge 3%. Ouch! So, make sure you get a credit card listed above and avoid paying the transaction fees.
Always pay in the local currency
When you pay with a credit card, sometimes they will ask if you want to pay in USD or the local currency. If you say USD, then the processes will charge you up to a 5% conversion fee. That is why you must always remember to pay in the local currency. That way, you will not pay a foreign transaction fee or conversion fee.
For example, while in Ireland, a restaurant asked me if I wanted to pay in USD or Euro. Out of curiosity, I asked how much the fee would be to pay in USD and the waiter told me there would be a 5% fee. So, always remember to pay in the local currency.
Notify your banks and credit card companies when and where you will be traveling
Some banks and credit card companies make this easy and allow you to notify them online when you are logged into your account. Others will put a hold on your card and notify you via email and text message. Once you respond that you are the one making the charges, they will lift the hold. Other companies require you to call and notify them of your plans. Check with your credit card companies to see what their requirements are. You can typically find this by doing a simple google search.
Other important mentions
If you are traveling with a spouse, family member or friend, make sure that you split up your cards. That way if you something happens, you still have a backup.
Lastly, just make sure to check your credit card statements often for inconsistencies. If there is a charge that you don’t recognize, make sure you investigate and, when necessary, call the credit card company.
My goal with this post was to help at least one person avoid a fee while traveling. If I have succeeded, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.