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Travel Hacks

How to Manage Money While Traveling Abroad

by Team Fathom

how to change money while traveling

Photo by Didier Weemaels / Unsplash.

Team Fathom breaks down some common currency questions into simple dollars and cents.

You hustle to the airport, shuffle through security, take off, land, locate your luggage, and figure out your next move. The last thing you want on your mind is money. Should you exchange currency now or later?  Should you have done so at home? Will you get price gouged? For your pre-flight peace of mind, we answer some of the most common questions about converting currency when traveling abroad.

What should I carry in my wallet while traveling? 

Bring enough cash to last the first 24 hours of your trip, a debit card to withdraw local currency, and a credit card to pay for airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and other big bills — just alert your bank before traveling to avoid triggering a fraud alert. Once you reach your destination, make sure to keep some amount of money on your person, as some businesses won't accept plastic or take only chip-enabled cards (like automated ticket machines in Europe). If you’re worried about putting all your eggs in one basket, stash an extra credit card or some cash in your hotel room, or fold a big bill into a small bag or pocket as backup.

Should I change money before I get to a foreign country?

No. You’ll get better rates at the ATM machines in your destination country. But if you need cash immediately upon arrival or are traveling to a remote destination without reliable infrastructure, convert bills at your local bank before taking off. In most cases, you'll need to call the bank in advance (allow a few weeks) if you’re looking for an uncommon currency. If you can, keep track of the exchange rate for the best deal.

Where should I change money when I get to a foreign country?

ATMs are amazing: They're ubiquitous, always open, and consistently offer the best exchange rates. Most banks charge a small fee for using foreign machines, but they're still the way to go when you consider the upside: they are convenient and keep you from carrying around wads of cash. Never get money at Travelex airport kiosks unless you're desperate, and be wary of Travelex ATMs, which have replaced bank ATMs in the arrival halls of many airports, particularly in Europe. 

What is dynamic currency conversion and how do I avoid it?

At a cashier or independent ATM, dynamic currency conversion gives you the option to complete your transaction using your home currency instead of the foreign currency. The service intends to let travelers know exactly how much they’re transacting, but using dollars in Europe means the machine or merchant converts the money (often at below-optimal rates) and then charges you a fee for it. The takeaway: Always withdraw and pay with foreign currency.

I hate seeing "foreign transaction fee" on my credit card statement.

Everyone does. If you do a lot of overseas travel, it's worth signing up for a credit card that doesn't charge such fees and using that when you travel. Call your bank and ask, but excellent options include Capital One and American Express. If you fly often with one airline, get more bang from your loyalty and purchases with a card like British Airways Visa Signature.

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