How to handle money when you’re traveling overseas

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Planning to travel overseas soon? You’ve got some homework to do if you want to handle your money the Clark Smart way while you’re abroad. But don’t worry, here’s an easy primer to get you started…

What to do with your money before you go overseas

Should you exchange money at home?

My rule is never buy foreign currency before you get to your destination. The fees are too high when you buy here. You will get much a better deal on exchange once you land in your destination.

Tell your bank you’ll be traveling

Before you leave the United States, call your credit card companies and bank and let them know where you’ll be traveling. If you don’t alert the issuers, you may find your cards shut down. That’s because the legit transactions you do overseas could be flagged as phony charges from international crime rings who duplicate cards and use them all over the world.

If you prefer not to call, go to your issuer’s website and see if there’s a form you can fill out a form to alert them about your foreign travel.

While you’re abroad

Use a card with no foreign currency fee

Most credit card issuers charge around 3% extra if you use their card outside the United States. Capital One, however, has no fees at all on their credit cards when used internationally. The same goes for some other cards from different issuers. Many smaller issuers and credit unions will not charge rip-off fees. Use those cards if you can.

Know how to dodge the ATM fees

Using ATMs abroad is the most effective way to get money when traveling. But some banks will charge a foreign currency rip-off fee that usually starts at $9 or $10 per transaction! That’s outrageous.

If you’re with a big bank, check to see if they’re part of any alliance where you can use ATMs fee-free in other countries. Simply tell them what country you’re going to and they can tell you if there’s a fee-free alliance partner bank there.

You can also get fee-free ATM transactions abroad with most Capital One cards. Charles Schwab also typically absorbs ATM fees for many of its customers, if you bank with this discount stockbroker like I do.

Protect your money and passport

Money belts are highly advisable in many international cities. Pick-pocketing can happen anywhere.

I also suggest you make photocopies of your passport before you go. Only the ID pages need to be copied, along with any current visa stamps. Check out the State Department’s Traveler’s Checklist for more info.


Leave some copies at home and take others with you to leave in your hotel room. Be sure to carry your original passport on your person at all times. Replacing a lost or stolen passport when you have a copy of it is so much easier than if you have no copies whatsoever to show.

Bonus Tip: Take a clear photo of your passport with your phone camera ‘just in case!’


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