Traveling to a different country raises financial concerns that don’t apply when traveling domestically. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip abroad:
Tracking exchange rates is easy. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to figure out the exchange rate for foreign currencies. Google has a simple converter that’s easy to use.
Get some foreign currency before you go. When you arrive in a foreign country, it’s a good idea to already have some local currency on hand to pay for expenses like transportation and meals. You can order foreign currency online through some banks and services, and most large chain branches can get you foreign currency if you give them advance notice. The rate they exchange your money for will be lower than what you see online, so you may want to shop around for the best rate.
Know how you’ll get additional cash while abroad. Check with your bank to see if your ATM card can be used at your destination to obtain additional cash, and ascertain what types of fees you’ll be responsible for. If the fees will be high, you may want to take as much cash with you as possible, but if fees are reasonable, you might want to wait to see if you actually need additional cash while you’re there.
Be aware of credit card conversion fees. You can likely use your credit card while abroad, but before you go on your trip, find out if you will have to pay any foreign currency conversion fees, or a fee for letting you make charges in a foreign currency. There are cards that don’t charge any conversion fees, so if your card issuer does impose a fee, you might want to get a new credit card before your trip. Alternatively, you can try to limit your card use while you’re abroad to locations that will charge you in dollars, rather than the local currency.
Carry a chip and PIN credit card. Although the magnetic strip credit card is still widely used in the U.S., in other countries, merchants may only accept credit cards with chip and PIN technology because such cards are generally considered to be more secure (the card’s information is stored on the chip, rather than in a magnetic strip). If you intend to use a credit card while abroad, be sure to check which type of card is more common at your destination.
Consider the safety of your destination before departing. Some destinations, like Japan, are generally very safe for tourists, and many of the locals carry large amounts of cash without hesitation. In other countries, however, pickpockets are common, and tourists are a popular target of crime. Before you depart, check to see what kind of precautions are recommended for your destination. You may want to purchase certain types of gear, such as a money belt, to protect your valuables.
Travel with adequate insurance. Before you go abroad, check with your insurance providers – including your health insurance and driving insurance providers if you plan to drive – to make sure you’ll be covered. If your coverage is insufficient, purchase travel insurance for your trip. You hopefully won’t need it, but you’ll be happy you have it if you do.
Research the customs of your destination. Customs vary dramatically by country, so be sure to do your research before you leave home. Find out if tipping is common at your destination, and if so, is it normally added to your bill or are you supposed to calculate it yourself? How much is customary? Do merchants at your destination haggle, and if so, what’s the best practice for foreigners? If you know these types of issues before you arrive, you can avoid unpleasant surprises!
Declare your acquisitions when you return. When you return to the U.S., you’ll have to fill out a customs declaration form and list what you acquired while abroad. Therefore, it can be extremely helpful to keep a list of your acquisitions as you make them, and to keep receipts for your purchases.