Paying for Stuff Abroad

I am nearing a vacation that is going to take me to cities with two foreign currencies. While my international travels to the Caribbean and Latin America allowed me to use my US dollars, I am not planning on the same luxury in England and the Eurozone.

Get Currency Before You Leave

If you have plenty of time before you leave, most large banks are able to order foreign currency for you. The exchange rates are generally reasonable, but the entire process is a hassle. You have to order it ahead of time, wait for the delivery, and go in person to pick it up.

If you are worried about getting to your destination and being stuck without an ability to exchange your money, this is a good option. Otherwise, I don’t think it is worth the time.

Bring Cash to Exchange

You can bring a big wad of your local currency and find a currency exchange when you land. This is easier because you only have to go to the bank once and most airports have foreign exchange services on site. Additionally, popular tourist cities have exchange businesses in popular areas so it is never too tough.

I used this method several times when traveling to Israel and Europe. The biggest benefit is the convenience factor. The biggest downside is the exchange rate. Most private exchange businesses make money on the transactions and charge high fees.

You can also find a local bank to do your exchange if you are traveling with a popular currency like the Euro or US Dollar. Banks generally have better rates but not all banks all you to exchange foreign currency.


For my next trip, I am planning on the ATM route. If you are going to any developed country, you can find ATMs everywhere you go. ATMs will dispense the local currency and usually have very good exchange rates, the only thing you really have to worry about is the fees.

Lucky for me, my Schwab Bank ATM card does not charge any ATM fees and reimburses other bank’s fees automatically. With no fees, this is definitely the best option for me this time around.

I have used ATMs for foreign currency in Israel, Hungary, and Czech Republic with no problems.

Credit Cards

These days, Visa and MasterCard are taken almost everywhere you go. You can also find international retailers that take American Express, but it is not quite as common.

Depending on your card, using a credit card abroad might be better than cash. You are protected from fraud and loss and the card companies generally charge a competitive foreign exchange rate. The only worry is that some banks have a per transaction fee for the exchange.

Luckily for me, my British Airways Visa does not charge any fees, so I am planning to use it for the bulk of my purchases for this trip. Just be sure to read your credit card fee schedule before you go to make sure you don’t have any problems. Also, it is a good idea to call your card issuer to make sure they know you are out of the country and don’t shut down your card for fraud.

Your Thoughts

When you are traveling, what is your preferred way to pay? Do you use cash or card? How do you get the cash when you need it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by Images_of_Money.

3 thoughts on “Paying for Stuff Abroad”

  1. When I travel overseas I use ATMs and credit cards.  I make sure that the banks do not charge transaction fees.

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