As summer comes to a close, we here at AppreciatingSense™ |by Mink Wealth thought we might share a few tips to help you save money while you travel—in case you plan on squeaking out one more trip in the coming weeks!
Best Banks for Frequent Travelers
At the end of this article, we will provide a link to the Best Banks for Frequent Travelers, but for now let’s explore some key financial details you may not have considered when traveling abroad.
It is true that “plastic” is increasingly accepted abroad, but credit cards often come with an extra tax on everything you buy, in the form of foreign transaction fees. Plus, the more exotic your journey, the less likely it is your credit card can be used for transactions. And, of course, the hassle of traveler’s checks is a welcome thing of the past. Yet, having access to “cash”, and when you need it, is still a necessity of travel in every country around the world. Just think about it—you can’t tip a doorman with a swipe of your MasterCard!
So what are your options?
Travel With Cash
There are multiple ways to exchange currency before or during a trip. But are some options better than others? Definitely! For example, a currency exchange kiosk located at an airport can tack on additional fees, commissions and charges that can be avoided elsewhere.
Your local bank may also be an option, whether in-person or by ordering foreign currency online. The bank may even have an affiliation with another financial institution in the country you are visiting. The largest banks in the U.S. often have global branches all over the world, so be sure to check the proximity of one of their foreign branches to your hotel, and that you can access their services without having to pay for them.
Lastly, you can visit a foreign currency exchange service here in the states, such as Travelex.
But now you have a different problem. Would it be more convenient to carry a whole vacation’s worth of cash on a plane to and around your destination, or simply access the cash if or when you need it once you get there? The answer is the latter and if you must travel with a lot of cash, it should be a serious consideration during the travel planning process.
One big “no-no” is to put cash in your checked bags. Too many people have access to them while they’re out of your sight, so if the money turns up missing it would be almost impossible to make a case for who took it. Try carrying a wad of cash on your person and you may be inviting the good folks at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to pat you down and/or perform an additional screening.
Perhaps the best path is the last remaining option, which is to put the cash in your carry-on and keep it in your sight at all times. For additional protection, secure the carry-on with a TSA-approved lock, and inform the TSA agents that your bag contains cash. Maintain a direct line of sight to your bag if they choose to perform any additional screening. Allow for additional time at the airport to justify any unusual amount of cash you may be carrying. If you prefer to carry cash on your person—in a money belt, for example—remember you can always do so in the airport restroom after you pass through security.
Foreign Transaction Fees
As stated previously, we believe it makes sense in most cases to access cash at your destination, if or when you need it. This does not mean you shouldn’t carry some cash on the plane with you, but the amount should be minimal. When accessing cash internationally, it is important to know the fees associated with your transactions.
Foreign ATM withdrawals usually incur two different charges—the foreign ATM fee and the foreign transaction fee.
Credit Card Fees Associated with Traveling
The short answer is “Yes”. If you decide to use your credit card overseas you could incur a number of different fees. The first and most common is the foreign transaction fee, which does not have to be related to ATM withdrawals. According to WalletHub, a foreign transaction fee, or international transaction fee, is a 2-4% surcharge that roughly 90% of credit cards apply to transactions processed outside of the United States. The fee is generally the combination of charges assessed by the card network (e.g. MasterCard, VISA) and a fee that your credit card issuer (e.g. Bank of America, Citi) charges on top of that. Keep in mind the fee can apply even when you are not traveling abroad. For example, you could incur a foreign transaction fee just by conducting business with internationally-based merchants. If the prices on a website are quoted in a foreign currency, that’s a good indication you are transacting with an international merchant.
Click here to view the Foreign Transaction Fee Landscape for the ten largest banks and credit unions (Source: WalletHub). You may be surprised by what you see if you find your financial institution on this list. Disclosure: Please call your financial institution to verify you have the most current and accurate information pertaining to your account.
The second fee to keep an eye out for relates to dynamic currency conversion. Many overseas merchants take joy in the fact many Americans are intimidated by foreign currencies and their relation to the U.S. dollar. They cheerfully offer to charge U.S. travelers for converting their prices into dollars before running the credit card. Although this perk seems attractive at first glance, it can result in exorbitantly high exchange rates (as high as 7%), not to mention the dollar value being pegged to the foreign currency is usually based on a lousy exchange rate set by the merchant. And to top the cake, even though the transaction is being made in U.S. dollars, your credit-card issuer may still levy its standard foreign transaction fee.
All-in-all it makes sense to work with a financial institution that waives foreign transaction fees both on ATM withdrawals and credit card transactions. That way you can have peace of mind knowing you can use your credit card wherever it is accepted, and access cash wherever it is not, free of foreign transaction fees. You will not have to worry about slowdowns in the airport or your safety while traveling abroad, concerning the amount of cash you may be carrying on your person. When you arrive back in the U.S. you can avoid the possibility of having a large amount of foreign currency on you that needs to be exchanged back into U.S. dollars.
Before you travel make sure to inform your financial institution, so they do not become suspicious and suspend your card due to fraud concerns. Best of luck and safe travels! For more information, check out our Travel Services page!
Calfas, Jennifer (11 Aug 2017). This Is the One Place You Should Avoid When Exchanging Currency. Money. Retrieved on 8/22/2018. Retrieved from:http://time.com/money/4893665/currency-exchange-tips-bank/.
Kiernan, John S. (15 May 2018). Foreign Transaction Fees: How To Avoid Them & Save. WalletHub. Retrieved on 8/22/2018. Retrieved from: https://wallethub.com/edu/foreign-transaction-fees/19571/.
Kim, Theresa (20 Jul 2018). Foreign ATM Fee Comparison at the Top 10 U.S. Banks. My Bank Tracker. Retrieved on 8/22/2018. Retrieved from:https://www.mybanktracker.com/news/foreign-atm-fee-comparison-top-10-us-banks.
Maloney, Lisa (8 Aug 2018). How to Travel on an Airline With Cash. USA Today. Retrieved on 8/22/2018. Retrieved from: https://traveltips.usatoday.com/travel-airline-cash-9937.html.