How to travel with cash, credit cards, and atm fees? That is a question I am often asked by my friends.
They ask, “how do you travel with money? Should I just bring a bunch of cash? How much will things cost? Are there ATMs?”
I had friends ask these same questions flying into Australia, a modern western country. So I figured I would write to try to answer these questions, and to give some tips on what I do.
Cash is King
First off, in a lot of Third world countries Cash is King. Lets be honest cash is always king, but it is not always my go to. That is why I have credit cards. I will get to that later.
Cash is always going to be taken everywhere. The hard part is getting a good rate for your cash. The other hard part is knowing what cash you need.
Advice on Cash in most countries:
If you are traveling for the first time, I advice you to bring a little bit of USD while you travel. You never know if you are in a pinch and may need some time. Most countries take it and will exchange it for their local currency. Places like Central America use it to exchange into their own local currency. (Except El Salvador, they use USD as their currency.)
Depending on the country you are depends on how much cash to have on you. A lot of countries in South East Asia are cash dependent. They deal with cash everywhere. There are places that use credit cards, but it is better to have the local currency on you.
When using cash make sure you know the conversions in your local currency. Make sure that you know how much transportation is or entrance fees into places. It would be terrible if you did not have enough and got stuck.
The Ease of Cash:
Cash is easier to use in certain places for public transportation. It is easier to use for buying things and even street food in places. When people say cash is king, it means that is better to use cash instead of card.
Make sure you always have some backup cash. This is in case you are in a pinch, and you may run out of cash. This almost happened to us.
My wife, Sarah, and I almost got stuck in El Tunco, El Salvador. We were down to $6 USD left and had to jump on a bus back to San Salvador. The fare was $1.50 each, and the one bus driver was trying to charge us double for each backpack as well. So we got rejected, but two buses later we hopped on and made it back to San Salvador.
We were lucky, but always make sure you have enough cash. There are moments in travel that you just need to stow away some extra for an emergency.
ATMs and ATM Fees:
Now you all must be wondering, how do you get your cash in other countries? The easy answer is ATMs.
You can also get cash on the border through money changers or at the airport. Honestly, you will lose some money. ATMs give you the best rate. Banks do not want to lose their money.
ATMs are not always available. Crossing borders into other countries where an ATM is not readily available can be tough so you will have to exchange money at the border. I suggest you exchange enough to get to your destination, and then find an ATM to get a better rate.
Places like Central America, you sometimes have to exchange money on the border. Just do enough to get you from point A to point B. The rates with the people on the border are not as high
ATMs have many good qualities. They can be everywhere. They give you the best rate out there. It is a better rate than exchanging money at the airport or on the border of a country.
I use the app XE currency converter to help figure out the rates while traveling in other countries. It helps me determine if I am getting more bang for my buck.
Generally speaking, ATMs are good place to grab some cash.
ATMs also have a bit of a negative. Sometimes there are fees. Well…. Lets say there are always fees at ATMs.
You may be getting the best rate, but on top of that rate you are paying fees. Fees suck. They take your money and you are left with just a bit less.
A way to get around fees is to have a bank account without ATM fees.
Bank Options to avoid Fees:
Some of those you may find would be like the Citibank Plus Everyday Account in Australia gives you free withdrawals from any Citibank ATM worldwide. That is nice, but it means you have to find a Citibank ATM.
There is also ING Orange Everyday account in Australia as well. It is good as in you can get ATM fee reimbursement to any ATM worldwide, but you must have a minimum $1000 in your account at all times, and make 5 debit transactions a month. That is not so bad.
The one I use would be the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account in America. It has no ATM fees worldwide, and no minimum balance. I tell everyone about this card. It is in my opinion the best. At the end of the month, the bank reimburses the ATM fees. Any withdrawals I take out, the fees will reappear at the end of the month.
Last, but not least, is the mighty credit card.
There are so many credit cards out there, and oftentimes people don’t trust themselves with cards.
I understand, I have heard people that believe in America that “Cash is King.” Honestly, I got out of that mindset, and realized that sometimes you can use credit cards to get more that you expect like free flights, hotel stays, and of course cash back.
Warning: Never get a credit card if you cannot pay off the balance. The rewards are worthless if you are stuck paying off the interest.
Many types of Credit Cards:
There are many credit cards out there like business cards, cash back cards, travel credit cards, airline cards, and hotel cards. If you are looking at traveling, I suggest to find the best travel credit card that fits your needs.
Foreign Transaction fees:
The cards I will talk about are the cards with no foreign transaction fees. Most cash-back cards have foreign transaction fees. It is mainly because they have no annual fee. It is free to use the credit card.
My mom and dad were in Taiwan visiting me last summer, and I had noticed they were using their Citi Double Cash card. I asked my day” Doesn’t that card have foreign transaction fees?” He responded with the phrase that he would put the transaction in USD, but what he did not realize was there was a fee. I had known that, but I just didn’t know my dad had been using this card for most of his foreign travels.
Then I noticed a change in my dad. He was paying for my wedding rehearsal dinner in Melbourne, Australia and I noticed he was using the Amazon card. I asked him once again about foreign transaction fees. Lucky for him, there were no foreign transaction fees with the Amazon card. He had learned not use credit cards with foreign transaction fees.
When out traveling and you have a card. Make sure there are no foreign transaction fees.
Zero Foreign Transaction Fees:
Cards that have 0% foreign transaction fees usually have an annual fee depending on how many perks are on the card depends on how high the annual fee would be. Lots of times the bank will waive the fee for a year. It all depends on the card.
Credit Cards I Carry:
I carry right now three cards without foreign transaction fees. I have the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the Barclays AAdvantage card.
I basically use the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It is by far my favorite and the go to card for me. I get 3 points for every dollar spent on dining and anything related to travel. It also gives me other perks as well.
I do not have many cards, but I research and figure out what are the best cards that work for me. I work on getting the bonus, and use it to travel.
Side note: Sometimes companies that accept credit card may add a service charge of 1-5%. Always ask if there is a service charge. It will save money.
Cash, Credit Cards, and ATM Fees
Cash, Credit Cards, and ATM fees is part of the world of traveling. There are many opportunities to save money while traveling. One of them is to not lose money through ATM fees, money conversions at airports or on the border, or paying through foreign transaction fees while using your credit card.
I am always trying to learn how to travel smarter, cheaper, and longer. It is the best way to create better and more memorable experiences.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous