Traveling to a foreign country can and should be a fun experience, but it can also be very expensive. Money expert Clark Howard wants you to save serious money while traveling abroad by knowing a few simple tips.
5 Things To Know About Travel and Your Money
In this article, we’ll go over some steps Clark says you should follow before and during your trip, including one of his “Never, Not Ever” rules.
Are you ready to save? Let’s get started.
1. Let Your Bank and Credit Card Issuer Know You’re Traveling Abroad
Before your trip, make sure you tell your bank and credit card issuer(s) that you’re going out of the country.
If you fail to take this simple step, you could find yourself at the cash register with a shopping bag full of souvenirs only for your credit card to be declined!
When I went to Ireland a few years ago, I made sure to alert Chase that I was going out of town for several days and would be making transactions. Chase asked me to provide my specific travel dates as well as the country I was visiting.
Alerting your bank and credit card company about your travels helps them monitor your accounts for fraud and will reduce the likelihood that your transactions get declined.
According to Experian, “Many card issuers allow you to set up a notice on their website or using the card’s mobile app. Others require you to call by phone to notify them.”
Not all institutions require this step, but it’s worth checking with your bank or credit card company before you leave.
2. Make Sure To Pay in the Local Currency
When you’re making a transaction abroad and you’re at the checkout, it’s up to you to ensure that you choose to pay in the local currency and not in dollars. If you don’t, you may get hit with expensive junk fees.
“You go somewhere to buy something — OK, now this is diabolical — the banks have programmed the terminals all over the world where they override the currency of the country you’re in, and whatever currency of the country you’re from, it pops up on the terminal,” Clark says.
“If you just take the bait and sign for that … what happens is then you’re assigned a 7 to 10% junk fee for having them do a courtesy conversion of your purchase from euro to dollars. It is an unbelievable new way to steal your money by the world’s banking industry.”
To make sure you pay in the local currency, Clark says you’ll typically have to decline to pay in dollars and choose the next option, which should be to pay in the local currency.
“You want to do that because otherwise, your trip is going to cost you 7 to 10% more than you thought it would,” Clark says. “When you go to pay for your hotel room, the same thing will happen and the stakes are higher.”
3. Use an ATM Card To Change Your Money
“You want to use your ATM card to get euros,” Clark says. “This is true for any place you go in Europe.” And true for just about any currency abroad.
“You get a much, much better rate when you get euros out of an ATM than if you go exchange at a bank or one of those money-changing things in an airport.”
But you shouldn’t use just any ATM, says Clark: “You want to make sure that the ATM card you use is fee-free … and that your financial institution doesn’t charge you any foreign currency junk fees when you get euros out.”
Some major U.S. banks have international partners for ATM use. Check your bank’s website before you travel to see which banks in your destination country will let you withdraw money with no fees.
4. Watch Out for Foreign Transaction Fees
Some credit cards and ATM cards charge foreign transaction fees. You don’t ever want to pay for those.
Here are what some of the major financial institutions say about fees when you use their credit and/or debit cards abroad:
- Citibank: “Citi charges a foreign currency markup fee of up to 3.5%. This is a standard charge levied across the market,” it says on its website. This fee is waived on some Citibank cards.
- JP Morgan Chase: Chase Bank says the rate for foreign transaction fees is usually 2-5% of the entire purchase. You may be able to have the fee waived depending on which Chase credit card you have.
- Wells Fargo: The bank says it charges 3% for each purchase in a foreign currency that a network converts into a U.S. dollar amount
- Bank of America: Per its website, for ATM withdrawals, “Bank of America will assess an international transaction fee of 3% of the converted US dollar amount.” There may also be a $5 usage fee.
But fear not: you can avoid foreign transaction fees with certain credit cards. Read our guide on the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
And note that Clark warns against using a debit card for purchases — anywhere.
5. Clark’s ‘Never, Not Ever’ Rule for Money Exchange
And now for that “Never, Not Ever” rule:
“One place you should never, never, never, not ever change money from U.S. dollars to any foreign currency is at any American airport — unless you just hate your money and you want to throw it away!”
“The exchange rates you get in an international terminal … in a U.S. airport are the world’s worst!” Clark says. Clark wants you to wait until you get to your destination to get those euros or other types of currency.
Want to spend less when you vacation? Follow Clark’s #1 travel rule to save on your next trip.