How to Handle Your Money While Abroad

I get asked about this a lot so I am finally writing this article for those who want to make the most of their money when they are about to go on a trip or while they are overseas.

Everyone knows how irritating it is to deal with ridiculous currency conversion fees every time a transaction or purchase is made. Not to mention, the constant paranoia you go through if you decide to carry a lump of cash. 

So here are some options that worked for me which might help on your next travels. Word of advice, it might do you some good if you do more digging after reading this article for I am certain there are more (even better) possibilities out there.

Exchange money outside the airport.

Some travelers still make the mistake of exchanging their currencies in the airport and this is always a big NO. If you can help it, please get your money exchanged before you take that flight or once you get to the city proper where conversion rates would work more to your favor. It helps if you do some homework about the currency exchange of the country you are visiting as this will help you know if the rates being offered are fair or not.

If you really need cash and you do not have the much needed currencies, exchange a small amount just enough to get you to your hotel or to where ever you planned to go after leaving the airport. 

Don’t stash all your ‘finances’ in one place.

I remembered reading a friend’s blog about their travel ordeal in which she narrated how they were robbed in Rio. It was scary just reading about it as I have experienced being robbed twice also. Because of these kinds of experiences, I have become suspicious of everyone. I daresay that there is nothing wrong with being ‘suspicious’ just as long as you know how to manage that paranoia and not let it ruin relationships or experiences. 

Anyway, what you can do is put your ‘finances’ in separate places where they are either securely locked (examples: hotel safety boxes/lockers with padlock) or still conveniently attached to your body. How? I suggest these:

  • Running belts (I suggest the expandable one as these can also function as sling bags later on. Besides, if you choose the slim designs then you can wear them under your shirt or jacket without worrying about the bulge),
  • Belt loop wallets (this can also be worn under your clothing, sometimes I attach it to my bra),
  • Neck wallets (not really that safe but at least you can constantly see where they are),
  • Sling bags and hidden wallets,
  • Anti-theft backpack (there are cheap but durable options in local shops. Mine was bought from SM Cebu by Branko as a gift since he know how much I travel).

Always transact in local currency.

No matter what they say or how you do your calculations in your head, it is always cheaper to transact using the local currency. This is why, it is a good idea to get your cash exchanged. Another important thing you may want to pay attention to is when doing withdrawals in machines that offer you a static conversion fee. This particular is always 2 or 3 folds higher than the conversion fee that will be charged on your bank later on. So if the machine blast you “There is a possibility that rates will go higher once the transaction is cleared with your bank, would you like to accept this conversion rate?” Click NO, but if you want to experiment, click yes and compare.

Plastic is the way to go.

Honestly, carrying cash around is not the best way to go when you are travelling these days (except for places where electronic transactions are not honored). Most countries transact by card now so it would be good to have them around. 

Credit cards for instance are good for large purchases like hotel bills, airline tickets, and car rentals. They are convenient in this way but bear in mind that there will be foreign transaction fees that can add up really quickly if you are not careful. Also, if you failed to make arrangements for your bills before the due date, those finance charges will hit you without an apology. I remembered I used mine a lot last year before I finally decided to get rid of it and just use my debit cards instead.

Debit and ATM cards are also great options. Interbank exchanges are usually better than the conversions offered in exchange bureaus (well at least the ones that are not in the black market). ATM machines are available almost everywhere and this might just be the cheapest way to get cash in the local currency. In addition, they too function like credit cards when making purchases. 

What I do these days is move around my money by utilizing neobanks like Revolut and Monzo. It makes travelling more convenient for me.

The best feature of cards is if they get stolen, you can report them and have them blocked immediately, at least for most cards. So it will be a great initiative to check with your bank first and get information about using your card overseas so you will know all its pros and cons.   

Oh, there are prepaid or travel cards too but these I do not recommend. They are often problematic (unrecognized by chip-and-PIN machines) and they rack up on fees of all sorts like activation, reloading, inactivity, etc. 

Go old school?

I placed a question mark because the next option is the way of the past – traveler’s or manager’s cheque. This might be the safest option but the exchange rates for this is not favorable and only a few merchants or banks accept these. In fact, there has been a lot of talk in forums about the difficulty of cashing in these checks even at major banks. Either way, if you want to go this route, at least secure the serial numbers in a separate place just in case they get stolen or lost. 

Send money overseas.

This is beneficial if the company you are using is also in the country you will be collecting the money from. Western Union and MoneyGram are the fastest and most well-known but they charge varied fees depending on how much you are sending, what country you are sending to, and how the money will be collected. I only use this option when I have no other choice and if I have someone I can trust to leave my money with and this same someone will send the money to me once I get to my destination.

Okay, so those are all the options that I think are all worth discussing. Tell me how it goes. 

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