While traveling, take multiple forms of money with you. You should also contact your bank and credit card companies before departure to let them know the dates and locations of your travel.

Many companies will lock cards when used for the first time overseas as protection against fraud. A money belt or neck pouch is a safe way to store money on your person.

There are four major options for carrying currency with you:

  • Cash

    Because your money will be originating from a U.S. bank that may charge service fees with each transaction, most U.S. citizens find it less expensive to use cash for daily use. Even in Western Europe, businesses often prefer that you pay in cash. For this reason, many travelers choose to withdraw larger amounts of local currency less frequently from a local ATM, rather than depending on cards for regular use.

    Before leaving the US, exchange a small amount of money in your host country’s currency for use your first few days abroad. Contact your bank in advance, as they may need to special order a currency for you. Wait to obtain the bulk of your foreign currency until you arrive in the country. Be careful where you exchange your funds abroad; use banks whenever possible, especially banks in partnership with your home institution (to get the best rate).

  • ATM Cards

    Most travelers report that the best method to access cash is with a debit or ATM card linked to a checking account in the U.S. The card should be compatible with the PLUS network (Visa) or Cirrus (MasterCard) network. However, the availability of ATMs vary from country to country, so check with your provider to make sure your card can be used. Your will also need an international (4-digit) PIN. Contact your bank about specific fees, charges, and daily withdrawal limits that are associated with transactions at foreign institutions.

  • Credit Cards

    Carrying credit cards, depending on the country, can be useful alternatives to cash. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. Each company has special cards for students, and some include special deals for traveling. Most cards will charge a small conversion fee per transaction based on current exchange rates (usually 1%-3% of the transaction total), as well as the normal monthly fees and charges. Some credit cards can also be used to withdraw cash from an ATM, although this usually comes with a higher finance charge if the balance is not paid in full every month. Credit cards are not a universally acceptable method of payment, so always plan to have a back-up, such as cash or traveler’s checks.

Banking Abroad

In some countries, opening a bank account is more of a hassle than a benefit. Students should check with their program to determine if it is necessary. With credit cards, debit cards, and ATMs, most students find that they do not need to open another account. Some US banks have partnerships with foreign banking institutions, which can help customers keep exchange rates low. Faculty, staff, and students who find opening a foreign bank account necessary should take a letter of introduction from their US bank, to help speed up the process.

  • Sending Money Overseas

    Western Union offers an International Money Transfer Service and has offices worldwide. Additionally, your home bank can issue a foreign bank draft through its partnership banks in your host country. Contact your bank for more information.

    See Sending Money to Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) for the procedure for sending money to U.S. Citizens in emergency financial situations.

  • Budgeting and Exchange Rates

    Creating a budget is highly recommended to keep from overspending. Talk to someone who has been to the country to get a rough idea of how much you will really need, and explore the Cost of Living index for your country. If you are a student studying abroad, check the student program evaluations on the Study Abroad website.

    Exchange rates change frequently, so be aware as you make your budget. Save all receipts from money exchanges; the receipts will indicate the rate of exchange at the time the transaction was made.