Money tips to keep in mind
1. Notify your bank and credit card companies when you are going overseas. We have had our ATM account frozen while we were traveling, and it can be inconvenient. If you have two cards, it is good to have a backup in case one is compromised. American Express and Discover aren’t accepted everywhere overseas, so it is good to have an alternative card.
2. While many businesses overseas may accept US dollars, you are not getting the best exchange rate. If the convenience is worth it, great. If you want to maximize your spending power, use local currency.
3. Use local bank ATM’s. Two reasons: you will get the best exchange rate and you have help is something goes wrong. (like the machine eats your card). In Europe the bank ATMs will usually be called BankoMat. Most airports will have an ATM to get you a starting amount of cash for cab or public transit. Avoid independent ATMs like Travlex, Cardpoint and Cashbox, they have high fees and can have poor exchange rates.
Usually the ATM will know your language from your card. If not, look for prompts for a language selection. Before we leave, we often download ATM instructions in the local language, so we have an idea what we are being asked. At least know how to cancel the transaction and get your card back.
4. Get a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee gives good exchange rates. You can then have businesses bill you in the local currency. Just confirm the billing is in the local currency. We were once billed $20,000 rather than 20,000 Colones in Costa Rica for a T-shirt.
Know the Pin number for your credit card, get it if you have not done so. Automated machines like train stations will sometimes ask for a Pin number even for Chip cards.
5. It is good to have some local cash for smaller businesses that do not accept credit cards (outside tourist areas) and for tipping. Our bank allows us to buy major foreign currency and AAA in most areas sells foreign currency. The exchange rate is not as good as what we get in country but it is convenient. The advantage of our bank is they will also buy back our unused bills.
We also get $100-200 of $1 and $5 US bills from our bank as a back up. In most tourist areas dollars are accepted and we use also them for tips for guides to conserve our local currency.
6. We keep several back up copies of both credit cards and our passports in case our wallets get lost or stolen. Having the address and phone for the local US Consulate is also a good idea.