Money Concerns Abroad

Money is always a big topic when it comes to travel especially international travel. Travel is expensive but there are some practical points you need to know before you go.

How Much Money? One of the big questions I get from people is, “How much money do I need to take?” I’m not sure if there is a generalized formula but there are some considerations we need to think about. If your destination is a developed country then you can pay most expenses with a credit/debit card. An under-developed, third world country is a different matter because many establishments may not accept credit cards. When I travel to a third world country, I go prepared to pay cash.

So back to the original question, it is a matter of budgeting day by day before you go and then adding contingency money to your calculated cost.

Credit/Debit Cards: If you are planning to use a credit/debit card for international travel you need to notify the financial institution of your travel plans. Most of the time you can do this easily online or you can call the number on the back of the card and set up your travel notifications. If you fail to do this, the credit/debit card company will probably flag your account and temporarily suspend your transactions.

Credit cards are recommended over debit cards for foreign travel. It is wise to carry two credit cards if possible. One can be used for regular use and stored in your wallet while a backup is in your security pouch.

As stated above, when traveling to a third world country, you may not be able to use credit or debit cards. Check before you go but even then you may get a surprise. Once when I was going to be staying in a hotel in a third world country, they said they could process a credit card transaction but upon check-in, they said their machine was not working. I had prepared by taking enough contingency cash to cover the expense but I could have gotten into a real pinch.

Security: Your passport, money, and credit cards need to be carried and stored securely. One of the most important things you need is a security pouch that you wear under your clothing and around your waist. There are also some different ones that you wear around your neck but I prefer the waist ones. You can purchase these in some department stores like Target and Walmart. However, there will be a better selection online.

When flying you need to place your passport in your pocket or shoulder bag for easy access because you will need to show it many times. While traveling to your destination you will need your passport, your primary credit card, and a relative small amount of cash easily accessible. Once in country, I put my passport, the reserve cash, and reserve credit card in my security pouch. As added protection against moisture for your passport, cash, and credit card put them in a sandwich size press and seal bag before you place them in your security pouch.

Before leaving my room at the beginning of every day, I take from the security pouch any expected cash needs for the day. I carry a small travel billfold in addition to the security pouch. In the small billfold I carry a little cash (daily use), primary credit card, drivers license, and insurance cards. Do not carry all your money in one place; put some in your wallet, small amount in your pocket and most in your security pouch worn under your clothing.

I also like to carry a little money, especially small bills or some of the foreign currency in a money clip for those times I just need to pay for something without showing all my money. Also if you were to be mugged, toss the money clip away from you and run in the opposite direction.  The thief will go for the money, and you have a head start.

Foreign Currency: It is wise to do a little research before you go and learn about the country’s currency; you need to know what it is called and the exchange rate for the United States Dollar (USD). Some countries even have two currencies. Cuba has a Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP), generally valued at 25 CUP to $1 USD and is used by local citizens. They also have a Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), usually valued close to a 1 to 1 exchange rate. The CUC is used by tourist.

When you exchange currency there may be a fee charged as well. Check with your bank before you go, you can often order foreign currency.

Be careful making currency exchanges on the street; you may get ripped off with bad currency or even robbed. If you have a host or guide they may direct you to the least expensive exchange rate and to a reputable currency exchanges.

American currency is sometimes accepted in certain countries. Correct change is difficult to receive so be sure and carry an assortment of bills.

Also be cautious in reading number groups separated by commas and periods. The United States and Great Britain are some of the few countries that use the comma to separate groups of thousands and periods as a decimal place; other places it is opposite. For example in the United States we would write two thousand three hundred point twenty-five as 2,300.25 but in many parts of the world it would be written as 2.300,25 which can be quite deceiving or confusing to the unaware.

Thieves and Beggars: You are more apt to have your money stolen by a pick-pocket than an all-out robbery. Keep this in mind when you store your money. My travel pants have a zippered front pocket and this is where I put my small billfold. I keep some bills in a money clip in my open front pocket.

For women carrying a purse, I would suggest one that has a cross-body strap and all the openings with zippered closures.

In some places, you will see some pitiful beggars and emotionally you may want to help them but you can cause a small riot if you are not careful. If you have a host or guide, they may instruct you on the best way to help. When I have given to beggars, I try to be very discreet.

Keep your valuables safe and enjoy the trip.

Enjoy the Journey!

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