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10 Money Tips for Traveling Abroad

When you travel overseas there's some banking info you'll want to know before you head out. Basically, you can use your debit card abroad; there are just some fees associated with using it, so below is how you can avoid some unnecessary fees and save the money you worked hard to earn for your trip.

By: Chelsea Brinkley + Save to a List

1. Call Your Card Company to Let Them Know Your Travel Plans

  • Do this before you go. You may be able to do this online through your bank.
  • Transactions in another country could be declined as suspicious if your card company isn’t aware of your travel plans. 
  • Make sure your PIN number is in the proper format. 4 digits is standard in most countries. 

2. ATM Withdrawal Fees

  • If you go to an ATM abroad to get some cash out, you'll be charged this fee and it could really add up depending on how many times you do this. For Wells Fargo (my bank) there is a $5 fee for using an ATM abroad. 

3. Foreign Transaction Fees

  • When you use your card abroad you'll be charged this fee for each transaction which again could really add up depending on your expenses. 
  • For Wells Fargo there is a 3% fee of the total amount you spend. 

4. Get Foreign Currency (Before You Go)

  • You can order this online and have it shipped to you or pick it up at your local bank branch
    • Do this ahead of time since it will take 5-10 business days to get to you
    • With Wells Fargo the shipping and handling fee is FREE for orders over $1,000 (otherwise you're charged $15).
  • Beware that when you return home, you may not be able to change it back at the same rate and may (probably will) lose a bit in the exchange process.

Photo: Brian Fulda

TRAVEL HACK - Do not use the services in the airport or hotel for currency exchange - the exchange rate is much higher.

5. Pay in Local or Home Currency? 

  • You'll get asked this question if paying with your debit card abroad. You can read this article to tell you why but to make this simple- always pay in the local currency. Otherwise, you're charged a "conversion fee" with the benefit of being able to see what the cost was in your easily understandable home currency. Silly. 

6. Research Tipping Etiquette 

  • Every culture is different so know what's customary

7. Know the Exchange Rate

  • I use an app called XE Currency on my phone that's very helpful.
    • You'll at some point be sitting down for lunch and think "umm I see how much this costs in their currency but not sure what that means to me in my currency". Simply, pull out your phone and convert it.

8. Track Your Expenses

  • I use and app called EveryDollar where I have a budget line item for each trip. Every night when I get back to my hotel or wherever I'm staying (with the free wifi) I pull up this app and track my expenses against the budget I created for it. It helps me stay on track and know what I have left to spend. 

9. Keep Photo Copies of Your Cards 

  • I do this just in case  something happens. Better safe than sorry.
    • By "a safe place" that does NOT mean printed off and just carrying around with you. I put these photos in LastPass which is password protected and secure.

10. Do a Combination of Things

  • I would order some foreign currency to take with you in cash, use your debit card for some things (paying in the local currency of course), and take out cash from an ATM minimally.

Cover photo: Jason Hatfield

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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