How to Prep Your Finances for International Travel

One of the most common concerns surrounding international travel is how to manage your money. Where to get the best exchange rate, how to keep your funds safe, what to do in an emergency—any one of these details can ruin a trip if overlooked. Have no fear! Here are seven financial travel tips you should follow before your next trip to ensure smooth sailing, and spending!

Get Your Checking Account in Check

It is staggering how many added fees banks are charging these days. Beat the system and prepare for your trip by opening up an account with no foreign withdrawal fees. Capital One 360 and Charles Schwab are two such banks that won’t charge you extra to use an ATM overseas or ding you for currency conversions. Schwab goes so far as to reimburse you for any costs that may be charged by the ATM itself worldwide. You can manage many of these accounts online, so opening one is as simple as a few clicks on your laptop. Depending on the length of your trip, this simple step can save you hundreds.

Pro tip: These accounts can save you time and money at home, too. For instance, since Capital 360 is based online, they partner with many different ATM branches across the country for their customers to use. These free withdrawal locations can be easily found using their app, giving you far more options than a traditional bank does.

Eliminate Credit Card Conversion Fees

When shedding unnecessary fees from your life, don’t stop at your checking account! Credit card companies, too, often charge exorbitant international usage fees. Search Google for “credit cards with no foreign transaction fees” to keep your expenses low on the road. Look for details like sign-up bonuses, the ability to earn travel points, and no annual fee to help narrow down your options.

Pro tip: When swiping your credit card in another country, many machines will give you the option of paying in the local currency or US dollars. Don’t fall for the “convenience”! The calculation comes with a poor exchange rate, costing you more money for your purchase. As long as your credit card doesn’t charge conversion fees, always opt to pay in the local currency.

Don’t Forget to Notify

Your parents have probably been reminding you about this one for years, but it can’t be overstated! Nothing is worse than swiping your card on vacation and getting denied. Calling your card companies from overseas can sometimes be complicated, and always cuts into your fun and leisure time. Make a quick call to every card company in your wallet before leaving to make sure you don’t have to deal with this inconvenience on your trip.

Pro tip: Many cards now have an easy online function where you can enter your travel dates and countries without even having to listen to hold music. Sign on before you head out.

Leave Cash at the Bank

Many people make the mistake of exchanging tons of currency in advance to take with them on their travels. Not only is it unsafe to carry so much cash, but it’s also completely unnecessary. Unless you are going somewhere very unique and remote, or a place where they don’t accept US debit cards (Cuba!), you will be just fine without a purse full of bills. Carry a bit of local currency or a few US dollars to exchange at the airport for a snack or taxi ride upon arrival. But without a doubt, the best exchange rate you are going to get is by withdrawing cash from an ATM machine at your destination. Just make sure you look up the rate before you arrive, so you know how much to withdraw!

Pro tip: If you insist on buying local currency with cash, versus withdrawing it from an ATM, choose an exchange facility that is not in the airport or near any popular tourist sites for the best rate.

Slim Down Your Wallet

Is there any reason to carry your ATM card to go snorkeling? Or take your credit card to a cash-only market? All too often, tourists lose their wallets while traveling—with every card they own inside. This tragedy is easily avoided! Get yourself a compact travel wallet, and fill it with only the things you plan to use each day. Leave unnecessary cards and cash locked in your luggage or hotel safe.

Pro tip: Take a photo of all of the cards you do have with you on your journey (with the customer service numbers visible). So if you do end up minus a few at any point in your travels, it’s easy to call and freeze or replace them.

Diversify Your Accounts

Do a quick assessment of the credit card brands you’re currently carrying and make sure to incorporate some variety. Oftentimes on the road, merchants or ATMs will accept Visa or MasterCard only. If you want to make sure you are never left without the right plastic, make sure you have at least one of each. In some countries, you will not come across this issue. But it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!

Pro tip: To further prepare for overseas card quirks, make sure your ATM cards have a four-digit pin number. Many banks in the US can accommodate longer secret codes, but some ATM machines outside of the country cannot.

Have Back-Up

Hopefully you’ll never need this one. But if you ever do, you’ll sure be glad you have it! Many of us have an old checking/savings account that is no longer in use. Carry an emergency ATM card linked to a back-up account with at least a few hundred dollars in it for unforeseen issues. Say your account is hacked and your bank freezes access to your funds. Or an old ATM machine accidentally eats your card. With proper back-up, you’ll never be left without access to the cash you need, when you need it.

Pro tip: Link this account to your main account online before departure, so that you can transfer money between the two in a pinch. Nothing will stand between you and your souvenirs!

Have any other pro financial travel tips to share? Comment below.

About the Authorsabrina-hoverkamp

Sabrina was born and raised in Los Angeles, and began her love affair with travel while studying abroad in London. A commercial producer by trade, she’s managed to convince her art director husband to quit their jobs and travel around the world for a year - twice! The two enjoy life on the road so much, they’ve just moved into their renovated retro RV to explore the US indefinitely. Follow along with their upcoming adventures at and on Instagram @yes_kamp.

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