Exchanging money abroad can be confusing. I’ve compiled a list of ways to save money on those exchange rates, tips on the best resources for obtaining money abroad, and how to keep your identity safe.

CREDIT CARDS

Credit Cards are your BEST FRIEND! Why? You will get the absolute best exchange rate possible because Credit Card companies deal in such high volumes of transactions, thus resulting in the best market rates. A few things to take note about credit card’s abroad:
  •  Make sure your credit card has a microchip, this is the most secure technology available for credit card’s and will help keep your card from getting compromised. Microchips are the most common type of credit card in Europe compared to the USA which is just adopting this technology.
  • Check with your credit card company to see if they have “no foreign transaction fees” this is a big one; cards such as American Express, Citi AAdvantage Platinum, Capital One and so on have a “no foreign transaction fees” perk meaning that overtime you use your credit card that you will not be charged any additional fees, you only pay the market rate exchange.
  • Beware of cash advances, while this is just a bad idea in general due to the high interest rates, it can be even worse abroad due to the high amount of fees charged both by your bank and the foreign ATM.
  • Lastly, even though credit cards are widely excepted abroad, the most popular are Visa or MasterCard,  however some merchants do accept American Express and Discover. My advice is to bring Visa, MC and American Express. Maximize your credit cards points potential and foreign transaction power.

DEBIT CARDS

Debit Cards are can be a big headache abroad, here are a few reasons to keep that debit card in your wallet and use it for cash withdrawals rather than transactions :
  • If there is an unauthorized charge, the money is automatically debited from your account, thus tying up your money for several days to over a week, while your bank sorts it out.
  • Returns or Refunds can also keep your funds tied up while you wait for overseas banks to release the funds back to your bank.

CASH

Cash is also something you will need when stepping out of the country. From cabs to local dives, its always good to have some cold hard cash to make things happen.  Below are a few tips to get that paper in your hands for less.

  • I have found the best exchange rates are available at your bank. Simply contact your bank and ask what the current exchange rates are, its common for banks to be slightly higher than market rates and they may charge a small service fee usually $10 or less. I just converted USD to EUR and the rate I got was $1.29usd to $1eur that’s not too bad considering the current rate is $1.25usd to $1euro.
  • AVOID the “No-Fee Kiosks” in Airports (both domestic and foreign) or “Exchange Booths” abroad, these are absolute rip offs. I’ve seen rates spiked up to as much as 25% more than current market rates, this option is good in a pinch but should be avoided otherwise.

ATMS

ATM’s are another great way to grab cash on the go and while convenient it may be best to check with your bank first on their “fees” for withdrawing cash abroad. Use these ATM tips:

  •  Most banks do charge a small fee and sometimes do not give current market rates. (Bank of America  charges a $5 fee to withdraw and 3% premium on top of each withdrawal) You can save big time by shopping around for a bank if you travel aboard frequently.
  • Make sure you alert your bank of upcoming travel plans and set your daily limit lower than normal. Sadey and I have a small personal account at a local bank that we use only for travel, we’ll put in $1000-$1500 in that account and use our debit card as needed to withdrawal abroad. The nice thing about having a small amount of money in the account, is that if our account gets compromised and the money is stolen, we still have other sources of funds available in an emergency. Our policy is that its better to loose a little than a lot.
  •  Bottom Line: ATMS can be a great resource for on the go cash and usually offer the best rates you can get while abroad.

THE EMERGENCY RESERVE

I find that keeping a few hundred bucks tucked away is a good fail safe is things go badly. Lucky for us we have never had to use this reserve but its better to be prepared. Here are a few tips:

  •  Take a few hundred and stash it away in your suitcase or special jacket pocket. You may never know if you need it. Benjamin Franklin is an international man of currency and while the currency exchange might be lousy on the fly at least you know that Ben’s got your back.
  • Travelers Checks while not as popular as they once were can also be a nice help if you find yourself in a tight spot. American Express still has offices across Europe that will cash their checks for you.