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International Travel Money Tips

There are some important money tips you need to know before your next international trip to save you money and avoid costly mistakes.

Get a Credit Card with No-Foreign Transaction Fees

Most cards with annual fees will offer no foreign transaction fees. If not, you could pay up to 3% for each transaction, which can add up quickly. Check out our credit card section to find a card that won’t charge you a foreign transaction fee. 

Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion

Some hotels restaurants will “nicely” offer to convert your bill to your own country’s currency. Avoid this sneaky trick. Always pay in the local currency if you have a card with no foreign transaction fees because when the merchant converts it to your country’s currency, they usually add a 3-5% fee.

Get a Debit Card with Free International ATM Withdrawals

Charles Schwab bank account allows you to withdraw funds from international ATMs for free. There is also a $100 bonus to sign up and there are no monthly fees. However, Schwab does conduct a hard pull of your credit, because they also set up a brokerage account that you can decide to use if you want. Alternatively, Fidelity’s checking account also offers no fee for international ATMs and Aspiration’s Summit Checking Account. I highly recommend you bring along a second debit/ATM card and hide it somewhere safe just in case your primary ATM card is lost or stolen. 

Bring Some Cash

You should bring some cash with you just in case you can’t find an ATM when you land. I like to bring at least $100 USD or Euros per person with me just in case I need it to pay for an immigration visa or other expense on arrival. In the event that the country you are visiting prefers U.S. Dollars, bring a lot more cash with you. Those countries are mostly developing ones in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.  

Don’t Exchange Money at Airport

These kiosks typically have the worst exchange rate (e.g., this study at London-Gatwick found that if you changed $1,310 into local currency and then changed it immediately back, you would lose $389 in the process). When you arrive, withdraw enough money for a few days from the ATM using a Charles Schwab or Fidelity checking account. Towards the end of my trip,  I withdrawal only the money I need for that day since the exchange back rate is usually the worst rate. If you have any money left over as you’re leaving, pay your hotel bill with your cash or buy something at the duty-free shop. 

Notify Banks and Credit Cards

Before you leave, inform your bank and credit card issuers that you will be traveling abroad to avoid a fraud alert, which could cause your entire account to be frozen. You can do this by calling, sending a secured message, or live-chatting with the bank. 

Have Multiple Cards in Multiple Places

I like to bring at least two debits cards and three credit cards with me when I travel. Be sure to also put one debit and one credit card in a safe and hidden location that is not on you. The last thing you want is for your wallet to get stolen and all of your cash and cards are gone. You would be without any source of money for at least 5 days. If you hide a card or two, you will at least be able to survive off that.

You should bring at least one Visa and one MasterCard, since American Express has a limited international footprint (typically Hotels and high-end restaurants). You can leave your Discover card at home. 

Tipping Varies by Country

Each country has different tipping guidelines. In Japan, it is perceived as an insult to tip. Whereas, in most other countries a 10-15% tip is expected. Here’s a good guide that looks at each countries tipping expectations.

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