It used to be automatic. Along with passports and airline tickets, travelers would
not leave home without their travelers' checks. These days, with fewer merchants
accepting traveler's checks and the relatively high fees for buying and cashing
them, many travelers have moved to credit, debit, and ATM cards as their source
of funds while on the road. Here are some tips for international transactions.
- Visa and Mastercard charge a one percent fee for foreign transactions, and
most banks tack on an additional two percent to convert the transactions to
US dollars. Check with your credit, debit and ATM card providers to determine
which of your cards are most travel-friendly, or sign up for a new card with
a provider that waives or reduces the fees (for example, Capital One adds
no fee, and absorbs the one percent Visa and Mastercard charge, and Wachovia
charges just the one percent.)
- Make sure you have ample available credit and/or funds deposited, and check
expiration dates on the cards you have chosen. Remember, many foreign ATM's
accept four-digit PINs only, and typically don't display letters on the keyboards.
If you use a word to remember your PIN, memorize the numeric equivalent before
- Unusual foreign transactions may be flagged as fraudulent, so let your credit,
debit and ATM card providers know of your travel plans to avoid a freeze on
your account. Take more than one card with you to ensure that you have an
alternative should your account be frozen.
- Make a list of convenient ATM locations in your destination cities before
you go. Both Visa
have on-line worldwide ATM locators covering more than 210 countries. Make
sure that your ATM card displays a Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus or Plus logo for
- Prepaid debit cards are a safe, albeit more expensive, alternative to a
traditional debit or ATM card. You simply purchase the value needed ahead
of time and use in ATM machines while traveling. Since the card is not connected
to your checking account, there is no danger of being wiped out should it
be stolen or lost, but there are usually extra fees involved.
- Make all of your purchases in local currency, and beware of merchants offering
to convert your purchases into US dollars. These merchants typically inflate
the exchange rates by as much as five percent.
- Cash-to-Cash machines are common, especially in Europe. They look like ATMs
- the difference being that you feed in currency rather than a card. While
they seem very convenient, they are best avoided as they charge inflated exchange
rates. The same is true for the currency exchange booths at many international
- Exchange rates and commission fees can be very expensive when converting
foreign currency back to US funds, so try to limit your cash withdrawals to
just what you need. Use your remaining currency for a last lunch or souvenir,
or tuck it away for your next trip.
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