Your travel money options

Last updated by Jack on 24 January, 2014 in Travel Tips.

Travel money

For anyone who’s travelling long term, money management becomes quite important. While away from home, banking becomes difficult, and money is usually withdrawn by using bank debit cards or even credit cards. But at least sometimes that method can fail, or the cards are blocked for security, or they’re simply stolen and alternative methods are needed.

Charge card and credit cards

These would normally be your first options, as they’re connected to the bank account at home. This lets you top up the funds, and access the money through cash machines all over the world. There’ll be fees to pay for taking out cash abroad, and even more so with credit cards, but it is very convenient.

Do keep the size of those fees in mind though, you don’t want a nasty surprise when you get back home (or when checking your bank balance!). Do also compare the exchange rates for your selected card, though they do tend to be among the best available.

Definitely let your card issuer know you’re headed abroad before you do, so the card isn’t blocked the first time you use it.

Where to find travel credit cards:

Money transfer options

There have always been different ways of sending money abroad, with the most traditional now being the humble international bank transfer. Unfortunately that normally requires a bank account in the country you’re currently in, whether yours or a trusted friend’s. Bank transfers are also costly with poor exchange rates and high fees.

Better options are to use dedicated money transfer services such as HiFX or Western Union.  These are practical, reasonably low cost with regards to fees, and using good exchange rates as well. They’re also convenient if you’re travelling in countries with less well developed banking systems, as they are more commonly used there by the locals.

Mind the safety rules below though.

Traveler’s cheques and international postal orders?

Before credit cards became common in the early 80s, traveler cheques was the default way of carrying travel money. They’re still around, and are secure from theft too, but nowadays hard to turn into local currency.

International postal orders have basically gone the way of traveler’s cheques, and can be even more expensive to cash in.

I wouldn’t recommend either option, and they’re mainly replaced by prepaid credit cards.

Prepaid credit cards

With these credit cards, you’re not extended a line of credit but you deposit an amount first, which you then draw on wherever you are.  You’ll pay both a setup fee and a loading charge with most, and then often also a couple of percent on each withdrawal and purchase. These makes prepaid cards relatively expensive, but very convenient. Also, relatives at home can top up your balance, or you can transfer money from your bank account.

They are good for safety, as you can’t lose more than the balance on the card if it’s stolen or copied. If you’re going to a location where fraud and card theft is really common, it’s a good idea to carry several of these rather than one with a large balance.

Protect your money

Any time you’re carrying money, you’ll be a target for fraudsters and thieves, whether traveling or at home.

  • With credit cards, ensure that your card doesn’t leave your sight to minimize double charges or cloning risks
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you
  • With credit cards, only carry one and a small amount of cash, and leave the rest in the hotel safe or similar safe location
  • If you use internet banking, be very cautious of public computers and ideally use a USB stick based solution

One of the most important safety rules though is that you establish a secure way with friends and family around requesting more money. Any method that is easy and anonymous to use, such as money transfer, is abused by fraudsters. So leave a code word or phrase with your family, which you’ll use in a money emergency.

This way, they can be sure it’s you asking for money, and not a random guy on the internet in Nigeria!

But most of all, just keeps your eyes open for opportunistic people who’ll try and fleece you in person, and you will likely keep your cash safe. Because if you’re anything like me, spending it on fun stuff is the greatest challenge to keeping to the budget.

Photo by Denni Schnapp on flickr

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Related articles:

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Quick tips for saving money on holiday
Tips for staying safe camping in New Zealand
British keep spending on holiday despite economic woes
How to protect your credit card on the road

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