Spending Money Abroad

Converting your US dollars to a different currency can sometimes be a challenge. While many businesses abroad take credit cards, there are often many places that still rely on cold hard cash. I’ll go over a few ways to convert your money into the currency of your choice.

So, How Do I Not Get Ripped-Off?

Currency Conversion Services
We’ll start off with the worst way to convert your money. This would be at an airport currency conversion stand, such as Travelex. It is a terrible deal because the rate you pay for currency is much higher than the current exchange rate. Best case scenario you are paying about 10% more than the current rate and worst case 20%. In addition to the higher rate, many times you pay a flat service fee. With Travelex that is $9.95 if you convert less than $500.

Many banks will allow you to order foreign currency directly from them. This is particularly useful because they will ship the money to your house and you won’t have to worry about visiting an ATM while you are abroad. You will also pay a higher rate, but not nearly as high as with a currency exchange. Wells Fargo’s rate is about 6% higher than the exchange rate and you pay for shipping if you order less than $1,000. Bringing a lot of cash with you increases the risk of losing your money or having it stolen. Make sure you leave what you don’t need for the day in your in room safe.

Debit Card
Whenever I need cash in a foreign country, I prefer to use my Charles Schwab debit card.  It is a great way to withdraw foreign currency without any penalties. They do not charge a foreign transaction fee and they will reimburse any ATM Fees you incur with a credit at the end of every month. With this debit card, you can withdraw cash in the airport right when you land. I usually take out small amounts throughout the trip so I’m not carrying a lot of cash with me.

Credit Card
The best way to pay in a foreign country is with a credit card. Like debit cards, they give you the best conversion rate for your money.  . Some credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee of around 3%, but there are many credit cards that don’t charge a fee. In this case, the money you pay is converted based on the actual conversion rate. One card I like to use is the Amazon Visa card because it has no foreign transaction fees and it has no annual fee!

Exchange Rates

You can check the current conversion rate at XE Currency or by Googling your desired currency conversion.

If you know you’re headed back soon you can always bring extra cash home with you. That way, you don’t have to worry about withdrawing money right when you arrive.

Backup Plan

My last tip is to always leave an extra credit card in your room while you are out for the day. If for some reason you lose your wallet or it’s stolen, you will always have a backup way to purchase things!


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