Handling money on a long trip can get tricky: if you’re constantly moving, you’re dealing with new currencies every week (or even every day if traveling through smaller countries in, say, Central America or the Balkans). And while more and more places accept payment by cards, you still need to carry cash when you go off the beaten path. Here’s how to manage money abroad without paying extortionate ATM, foreign exchange, and transaction fees.
Taking Cash Out
Taking cash out of an ATM is always cheaper than exchanging money locally, especially in places like airports where the exchange rates are poor. Exchanging money on borders can be better if there are several competing vendors offering better rates, and always try to negotiate to get the best deal. Still, ATMs are usually the cheapest option, just make sure you’re choosing ATMs linked to bigger banks to get a wholesale rate and to avoid high ATM fees.
Before you leave, make sure you call your bank and let them know where you’re going. Some banks may freeze cards if they notice what they deem is “suspicious activity” – and withdrawing money in Bolivia or Senegal may count as exactly that.
Best Cards for Travel
How much does your bank charge for cash withdrawals abroad, transaction fees, and foreign exchange? Some may charge as much as 3-5% per withdrawal/transaction, and that can quickly add up. Get a card that allows you to travel and withdraw money/pay abroad with no additional fees, like Charles Schwab. Another great option is Revolut, a mobile banking app offering Visa and Mastercard cards that you can use in over 150 countries free of transaction and withdrawal fees, plus free international transfer.
When entering a new country, decide how much money you’ll need for the duration of your stay. Taking out too little means you’ll have to do it again, likely spending more in ATM fees, and taking out too much means you’ll have to exchange money again, likely losing some depending on the exchange rates. A good option is to simply carry some US dollars (or euros if in Europe) – in most countries, people are quite happy to accept dollars or euros if you don’t have local currency. Note that if you pay in USD or euro, the rate will always be higher.