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Tips for Dealing with Currency

by Tara Miller

For many years traveler’s checks were thought of as the safest way to carry money while traveling.  However, with automated teller machines (ATM) popping up all over the globe, your credit card or debit card may now be the safest, most convenient choice.  First of all, by using your debit card or credit card at an ATM, the bank gives you the best possible exchange rate and you will save on the commission typically charged when cashing a traveler’s check.  Additionally, ATMs can be used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unlike banks which often have limited hours and are closed on the weekend.

Although credit or debit cards are now proving to be a safer and more convenient option than traveler’s checks, there are a few things that you must remember when planning to rely on your plastic:

  1. Transaction/currency exchange fees: Prior to your travels, you should call your bank/credit card and confirm what, if any, fees will be charged to use a foreign ATM.  Some banks/credit cards will charge a small transaction fee or foreign currency exchange fee.  These amounts are usually far less than the standard commission charged when cashing a traveler’s check, but it is always good to be informed and know exactly what to expect on your statement.  Fortunately, in Europe most of the ATMs don’t charge the user a fee for not belonging to that particular bank like they do here in the USA.  Although the fees are minimal, it is still advisable to withdraw money for a few days as opposed to money each day to cut down on the transaction costs.
  2. Personal Identification Number: If your pin number is a word, be sure to know to which numbers the letters correspond.  Most of the keypads in other countries either do not have letters on them or the letters do not correspond in the same way.  Therefore, it is important to known your pin as number sequence and not a word.
  3. Know what cards you decide to bring: Choose one or two cards (one credit card and one debit card) to bring.  Keep in mind that Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards.  There is no reason or benefit in bringing more than one credit card and one debit card.  When you have decided on your cards, make a photo copy of each card (front and back).  Leave one set of copies with someone you trust at home.  Put a second copy in your suitcase or some other safe place that you will keep with you.  In the event that your wallet is stolen or you lose your cards the copies will provide the necessary phone numbers and account numbers to have your cards replaced ASAP.
  4. Call your banks prior to departure: Let your credit card and bank know where and when you are traveling.  Banks fraud departments are constantly monitoring our accounts for fraudulent activity.  If they suddenly see a charge in Russia and you live in Florida they will probably suspend use of your card until they can verify this activity leaving you with a declined credit card and no access to money.
  5. Keep your cards and cash safe: Use common sense when caring your cards and money.  A neck pouch or zippered front pockets are both smart choices.  Never have your money in a backpack pocket where you cannot see it at all times.

With the right planning and a little common sense, you will find that carrying a credit card or a debit card can alleviate much of the stress of money while traveling.


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