The American Automobile Association (AAA) has drawn up a list of tips for international travelers from the United States to help them protect their vacation funds and maximize financial convenience while traveling abroad. From useful personal experience gained while traveling internationally, Airlines and Destinations’ Editor has added a couple of tips of his own.
1. First of all, AAA suggests that travelers use a combination of various forms of payment in other countries, each offering different advantages. Forms of payment include credit cards, debit cards, refillable money cards, foreign currency and travelers cheques. “The best option for travelers is to carry a mixture of credit cards, debit cards, local currency, and travelers cheques,” says Tom Wilt, managing director, AAA Partnership Programs. “All forms of payment should be treated like cash and kept securely in your wallet.”
2. Credit cards: For years, smart travelers have known that credit cards are a great way to pay abroad. A credit card is safer than carrying cash and may offer a great exchange rate in the bargain. Call your issuer prior to departure to notify it that you are travelling outside the U.S. and to determine what fees are applied to international purchases and current conversion rates. These may be as high as 3 per cent to convert purchases to U.S. dollars. (AAA’s own Visa credit cards charge just a 2 per cent foreign transaction fee.) Even with the surcharges, paying by credit card may still be cheaper than converting cash overseas. Paying with plastic is quick and convenient, particularly in Europe, where Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely accepted. In addition, many credit cards come with traveler-friendly features, such as extended protection against theft and the accidental damage of purchases. Others offer travel-accident and car-rental insurance. Paying by credit card also gives you the opportunity to dispute a bill from a foreign merchant. Credit-card protection benefits vary according to country.
3. Debit cards: A tip directly from Airlines and Destinations: A debit card can often be used to obtain cash from ATMS which are on one or more of the same financial networks (MasterCard, Visa, Star, Interlink, Plus, et cetera) as your card issuer ― look on the back of your card to see the logos of the networks it participates in ― but should not be used for credit card-type transactions when traveling. This is because debit cards do not provide extended-protection benefits.
4. Foreign currency exchange: One convenient option to consider is obtaining at least a small amount of foreign currency in advance of your travels. This is a good way for travelers to avoid high exchange rates at airports and ATM fees and still have money on hand. Although it is frequently easiest to obtain local currency for tips and small purchases at airports, some AAA offices and banks offer foreign currency exchange. Call or visit your nearest bank/AAA office and ask if it offers foreign currency exchange, the fees associated, limits and how long it will take to receive funds. Arriving with a few Euros or other local currency in your possession can be helpful with baggage handling and ground transportation when you first arrive at your destination.
5. Here is a tip directly from Airlines and Destinations: The exchange rates offered for various currencies by some large U.S. banks can be considerably worse than the rates you will find at currency exchanges or even hotels in your destination country. Argentina is one country where the Editor of Airlines and Destinations personally was able to obtain significantly better exchange rates locally than when buying the foreign currency (in this case Argentinean pesos) from JPMorgan Chase Bank just before leaving, even though the daily posted spot exchange rates (which did not include the bank’s commission) did not change significantly. So if you are carrying cash, it may well be better to take US dollars with you and exchange them at your destination. Also, exchange your money after you reach your destination rather than at the airport, if possible. Typically, foreign-exchange offices in city centers (and often hotels too) offer better exchange rates than do foreign-exchange offices in the arrivals or departures areas of airport terminals. In major cities such as London, the difference in the exchange rates offered in the city, compared with the rate offered at the airport, can be startling.
6. Refillable money cards: A refillable money card, such as the AAA Visa TravelMoney card, is a prepaid, reloadable debit card, which offers travelers a safe and convenient alternative to travelers’ cheques and cash. The card can be used everywhere Visa credit cards are accepted, as well as at ATMs around the world. Travelers using refillable Visa or MasterCard money cards will also benefit from being able to obtain local currency at every ATM around the world that accepts Visa or MasterCard, and emergency card and cash replacement anywhere in the world, generally within one business day.
7. Travelers cheques: Travelers cheques are safer than carrying cash as they are refundable if lost or stolen. Most travelers cheques never expire, come with 24/7 customer service for replacement and may include additional benefits. They can be exchanged for local currency where accepted at your destination. American Express Travelers Cheques are the best-known and lost or stolen cheques can be replaced through any American Express office worldwide.
8. Be sure to make a list of the numbers on the traveler’s checks and contact numbers for all cards or traveler’s checks to quickly and easily report them if lost or stolen. Carry this list in a secure location (other than in your wallet) at all times. Carry only the credit cards and other financial products and identification cards needed during your trip. Reducing the number of bank cards you carry and leaving other non-essential identification and membership cards at home decreases exposure to financial loss or theft. Also, be sure to track your usage by keeping receipts for your ATM, credit and debit cards in case you need to dispute a charge later.
9. If you do plan to use your credit cards overseas, call your card issuers in advance and let them know. Sometimes, the card may be put on hold after one or two foreign transactions until the card issuer determines that it is you using the card. If someone is not at your home to verify that you are overseas, then you could find your card is useless when you try to use it.
10. Review your accounts and statements as soon as possible and report billing errors immediately to resolve problems in a timely manner and uncover any possible fraud.