Your plane tickets are purchased, the LV duffle bags are packed, the GoPro is charged and you’re ready to catch a flight to your destination of choice. But before you can be fly in these international streets, you need to make sure one more thing is in order…your cash. Figuring out how to get and spend money when it’s in U.S. dollars is easy, but sorting out money issues in a foreign country can be a challenge even for experienced travelers. These tips will make ballin’ in foreign currency a breeze and keep you flying high like Jim Jones for your entire trip.
Play the Card Game
The first weapon in your arsenal when it comes to foreign money is an important one. No one wants to ball out while traveling only to be hit with a hefty bill from foreign transaction fees when they get back home. To avoid this trap, sign up for a credit card that will keep money in your pocket. Brands such as Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards are great because they don’t charge foreign transaction fees and you earn points on everything you spend. Not looking to run up credit card debt (even if you plan to pay it right off)? Sign up for a Charles Schwab debit card and get no foreign transaction fees and rebates on any ATM fees you accrue anywhere in the world, including home.
Player Tip: Money transfers with Schwab cards take time, so make sure to add your travel funds at least a week before you leave so you’re not broke abroad.
Know The Country’s Currency and Exchange Rate
Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of planning that we forget about the basics, like how far you’re money can go. Make sure you know the local currency prior to departing to another country and check the exchange rates before you go (that way you’ll know if you’re being take advantage of when switching over).
Checking out sites like xe.com (they even have an app) will help you find the most accurate foreign exchange rates and give you an idea of how much or how little spending money you will need. But you shouldn’t wait until you’re about to depart to check on exchange rates. Knowing what your dollar is worth in a specific locale is also good during the planning stages of a trip because it can help you determine which countries will give you the most bang for your travel buck. For example, Europe is an extremely popular destination, but the exchange rate for most countries, especially those using Euros, is not budget friendly. One U.S. dollar equals 0.873159 Euros which means you actually lose money in the conversion. In contrast, Asian countries like Thailand give you more for the U.S. dollar with one dollar equaling 34.0374 Baht.
Pro Tip: Knowing the exchange also helps with tipping because no one wants to be out here giving out $100 tips for an Uber around the block.
Stay The Hell Away From Currency Exchange Companies
When you’re in the airport you see them everywhere, currency exchange booths like Travelex, offering quick and easy foreign money exchange. Sound like a sweet deal right? Not! These companies are like the last temptation of Christ, asking you to walk through the flames and damn your eternal soul by committing one of the ultimate travel sins. As convenient as these currency exchange services are, they can eat into your bottom lines with high transaction/commission fees and exchange rates that can be lower than you may get elsewhere. If you’re going to get your foreign currency before you go, rebuke these fools and check with your bank to see if you can pre-order a lump around of funds in the currency and have it shipped for free to your local branch. Another option is to wait until you arrive at your destination to exchange funds using an ATM.
Pro Tip: Be sure to let your bank know you’ll be away, find out if they have daily withdrawal limits and if they have sister banks in the country where you can bank fee free.
Ball ‘Til You Fall
Normally, trying not to spend all of your money is a good thing, but when it comes to foreign exchange…spend it all. Some would say to simply sell it back to your bank or a currency exchange company, but doing that will actually cause your money to lose value since you’re exchanging it twice. The more money is exchanged, the less valuable it becomes and since “buy” and “sell” rates at banks and currency exchanges often include overhead and profit margins that are independently set by providers, exchange rates may vary widely and differ from the true market rate.
Pro Tip: If you can’t spend all your money while on vacay consider saving it as a souvenir for yourself or family members. You can also hold on to the money and if a friend decides to visit that particular country, you can do a private trade at a fair exchange rate. This way your money doesn’t lose much value and they don’t have to pay any fees.
Stay Fly, Diversify
You know how they say don’t put all your eggs in one basket? The same theory applies to money overseas. Don’t exchange all of your spending money, mix it by exchanging some for local currency, keeping some in U.S. dollars and leaving some in your bank account. Why? First, you don’t want your trip to be ruined if for some reason you lose all your cash. Second, some countries will give you better deals when shopping in local markets using U.S. dollars since there it may go further than their local currency.
Pro Tip: Having an emergency credit card as back up to the backups is always a good idea. Leave it in the hotel safe so you’re not tempted to spend those coins.