What to Do About Money Overseas

Money is one of the top three questions i get asked about by future travelers, particularly those who have not traveled before.  I’ll share with you what works best for me.  You may find something better and if you do, please share with all of us.

Debit Cards – To begin with, I encourage all of you to establish a checking account with Charles Schwab so that you then have access to their ATM card which doesn’t charge you for using a foreign ATM (they reimburse you for charges) as well as having no fees for currency conversion.  It’s a winner in my mind.  You do not have to set up a brokerage account in order to have a checking account with them.  They DO want to know where and when you are traveling so make sure you tell them.  In addition, I set a limit of how much can be withdrawn daily to minimize my loss due to a lost or stolen card.  I do that when I call to give them my travel plans.  For safety sake, I bring a second debit card just in case the ATM eats my card or it gets stolen.

Currency – Before I arrive in a foreign country, I always get some of their local currency by ordering it at my bank.  The only problem I ever had was not being able to get currency for Argentina and that is also a problem within Argentina.  I do not ever want to go into a country and not have acceptable currency.  Of course, using my Schwab debit card I can always get more when I need it.

Credit Cards – I use a Chase credit card that has no foreign fee charges.  There are enough cards out there that you should have one of them in your wallet.  If you are just starting out, I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred which will give you Ultimate Reward points to transfer to a number of different airlines and hotels. The first year the fee is waived but after that you’ll pay a fee of around $99.   If you travel a lot, then I would upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card whose first year fee of $450 is not waived.  Before you automatically dismiss it let me explain why I have that card in my wallet.  This card offers three points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants and one point per dollar on all other purchases.  This card offers excellent benefits, including a $300 annual travel credit, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, airport lounge access, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, an auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, purchase protection, return protection and extended warranty protection.  That’s a lot of bang for the buck.  When you subtract the $300 annual credit then the card is really only $150.  I’ve used the Priority Lounge pass benefit in several different airports.  It is a great way to spend hours before your flight in chairs more comfortable than in the concourse, fresh food both hot and cold (generally) for no charge.  I’ve also used the showers in the lounges. I’ve used the trip cancellation when I broke my arm a couple of months ago and neither I nor my husband could travel. I have also used it to pay for the Global Entry.  I think I am about even or even better than that with this card.

Currency Conversion – When using your credit card, the merchant may ask you if you want to be charge in local currency or US dollars.  Always, always say local currency. The merchant can charge a commission for the conversion and you do not know what rates they are using for the conversion.  You want to pay in local currency.  Got that!

When I am traveling to several countries with different currencies, I always make myself a cheat sheet.  I’ll have a chart in US dollars and then next to the dollars I’ll find our what the euro conversion is, the peso conversion, the Swiss francs, etc.  I get this information from XE Currency Conversion

Remember to always have some coins for the public restrooms.  I have found that they are usually fifty cent or seventy cent euros coins.  If you can’t find a public restroom, go into a small store and purchase something – then you can use their restrooms for free.

Hope this helps answer some questions you may have.





2 thoughts on “What to Do About Money Overseas

  1. For those eligible for USAA, their debit card does not charge a fee and refunds fees charged by all other entities.

  2. After traveling almost continuously since February 2018 I agree with most of your post. Here is where we disagree:
    1. We haven’t seen a need to order currency before arrival in a foreign country. We just use an airport ATM (with our Schwab cars of course) if we need money immediately. If not we wait until we are settled in and use one near our Airbnb.

    2. We don’t use a cheat sheet for currency conversion. I use the Globe Convert app on my phone.

    I also use the ExpensesOK app to track our spending. Once a month I input what we spent into our budget spreadsheet (excel) so we have an idea of how we are doing financially.

    Great post!

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