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Traveling abroad is an exciting adventure, but it also involves handling your finances wisely. Understanding how to take care of your money overseas is key to ensuring your trip goes smoothly and remains enjoyable. You can implement several strategies, including researching exchange rates and planning to use a credit card for most purchases while abroad. Whether you're an experienced traveler or going on your first trip abroad, the following insights will be valuable in managing your money wisely while exploring new places.

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  • Understanding currency rates, notifying banks of travel and checking mobile roaming fees can help travelers avoid unexpected costs.
  • It's wise for travelers to utilize both credit cards and cash, considering security and acceptance at their destination. But don’t forget to notify your bank and credit card issuer to avoid card blocking.
  • Utilizing hotel safes, wearing money belts and prioritizing secure mobile payments can significantly reduce risks while abroad.

Research Currency Conversion

Knowing the currency exchange rate for your destination is key for budgeting and smart spending. Use online tools like XE or OANDA for real-time rates, and refer to central bank websites for official benchmarks. Rates fluctuate daily due to various factors, so monitor them if planning ahead.

Be aware that the actual rates at banks or exchange services might differ due to fees. Avoid offers for Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), as they can have hidden costs. Transacting in the local currency is typically more cost-effective.

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Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), sometimes called Cardholder Preferred Currency (CPC), enables you to conduct credit card transactions in a foreign country using your home country's currency. While this method might simplify transaction comprehension — avoiding the need to convert currencies — it usually has unfavorable exchange rates and additional charges, potentially making the purchase pricier than if you use the local currency.

Inform Your Bank and Credit Card Issuers

Before you travel, you should let your bank and credit card issuers know where you plan to go and when you'll be there. This simple step, often overlooked, ensures your overseas transactions aren't flagged as suspicious, which can lead to card blocks. Such disruptions can be especially challenging in foreign locations where you may have limited access to alternate payment methods.

By keeping your financial institutions in the loop, you might also benefit from travel-related perks or advice they offer, such as waived fees or safety tips. A brief heads-up to your bank and card issuers prevents potential payment hassles and can enhance your overall travel experience. You can often do so online, but if this isn't an option, you can call customer service.

Set a Daily Budget

When planning a trip, it's wise to set a daily spending limit based on the expected costs at your destination. Look into the average prices for food, bus rides, activities, etc. You can find this info on travel blogs, forums or websites that compare prices in different cities. Knowing how much things cost will allow you to make better choices, like choosing a local meal over an expensive touristy restaurant.

You may also want to consider downloading budgeting or currency conversion apps to help you stay on track with your spending.

Save Receipts

While traveling, try to save all your receipts. They help you keep track of expenses, ensuring you stay within your budget. If you're on a business trip, receipts are vital for reimbursements or tax deductions. Plus, you'll usually need them for any returns or exchanges, particularly for expensive items.

Use Credit Cards for Purchases

Using a credit card for purchases while traveling can be a convenient and safe way to manage expenses. With added benefits like rewards, security features and spending tracking, credit cards are attractive option for many travelers.

Which Credit Card to Use

Choosing the right credit card for travel largely depends on where you're going and what benefits you prioritize. Consider cards that:

Moreover, cards associated with larger networks like Visa or Mastercard are generally accepted more widely internationally.

Using Credit Cards vs. Cash Abroad

The cost-effectiveness of using a credit card versus cash abroad depends on several factors:

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: Some credit cards charge a fee for each purchase made abroad. If yours does, frequent card usage can add up. In contrast, while exchanging cash might involve a one-time fee, you won't incur charges with each purchase.
  • Exchange Rates: Credit cards often offer more favorable exchange rates compared to currency exchange counters, especially those at airports.
  • Withdrawal Fees: If you're getting cash from an ATM abroad using your credit card, you might face cash advance fees, which can be costly.
  • Security: If you're flying with large amounts of cash or wondering how much money you can carry internationally on a plane, check the regulations of the countries you're traveling to and from. Also, if your cash is stolen, it's gone. In contrast, you can quickly block a lost or stolen credit card and dispute unauthorized transactions.

A credit card is generally better for larger purchases, hotel bookings and car rentals due to its security, the potential for rewards and ease of expense tracking. Some rentals and bookings may also require a card as a guarantee.

On the other hand, cash is more suitable for smaller daily expenses, like street food, local transport or small vendors, especially in places where card infrastructure is limited or nonexistent. Additionally, local establishments might offer better pricing or discounts for cash payments in some countries or regions due to immediate liquidity and avoidance of card processing fees.

Carry Cash in Local and Foreign Currencies

Having local currency on hand allows you to cover immediate expenses upon arrival, like transport or small purchases. Meanwhile, keep some of your home currency — especially widely accepted currencies like US dollars or euros — as a backup. You may be able to use it in emergencies, unforeseen situations or in places where it's accepted directly. This balanced approach ensures you're ready for various financial situations while abroad.

How Much Cash You Can Carry Internationally Without Declaring

Regulations vary by country, but many countries require travelers to declare if they are carrying amounts over $10,000 or the equivalent in foreign currency. Always check the specific regulations for both your departure and arrival countries.

Avoid Airport Currency Exchange Kiosks

Airport currency exchange kiosks might seem convenient, but they often offer less favorable rates than local banks or ATMs. As such, relying on these kiosks generally isn't a good idea. For instance, if the market rate is 100 local units to your currency, an airport kiosk might only offer 90. It's best to exchange just enough for immediate expenses at the airport and then use a local bank or ATM for the rest to maximize your money's value.

Be Wary of ATM Machines

Prioritize using ATMs from major, well-known banks for better security and rates. Before inserting your card, inspect the machine for any signs of tampering, like loose parts, which might suggest skimming attempts. To manage fees, try withdrawing larger sums less often; many ATMs charge per transaction, and frequent withdrawals can rack up costs. Being discerning with ATMs ensures safer access to your money and helps dodge unnecessary charges.

Use a Money Belt or Hidden Pouch

Storing money and essential documents like passports securely is crucial when traveling. Money belts or hidden pouches, worn discreetly under clothing, offer protection against potential theft. For instance, while navigating busy locations like markets or stations, having your cash and passport closed and concealed ensures they aren't easily accessible to thieves. Brands like Eagle Creek and Pacsafe offer reliable travel security products.

Use Mobile Payment Apps When Applicable

Mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay are generally safe to use, and they offer several security advantages over traditional payment methods. Here's a breakdown of their safety features and considerations:

  • Tokenization: Both Apple Pay and Google Pay use tokenization for transactions. Instead of transmitting your card number, these services send a unique token to the merchant, so even if a hacker intercepts the transaction data, they won't have access to your credit card information.
  • Biometric and Passcode Authentication: For a transaction to process, you typically need to authenticate it using a fingerprint, facial recognition or a passcode, adding an extra layer of security.
  • Encryption: These mobile payment apps encrypt your card information, making it difficult for hackers to access even if they breach a point of sale or network.
  • No Physical Card: Since you're not using a physical card, there's no risk of it being skimmed, lost or stolen.
  • Transaction Alerts: Apple Pay and Google Pay offer real-time transaction alerts, allowing you to monitor your spending and immediately detect unauthorized activity.
  • Secure Element: Both apps store your payment information in a separate chip in the device called the "Secure Element," which ensures that malware or malicious apps cannot access your payment data.

Here are some factors to consider when opting to pay via mobile wallet:

  • Device Security: The safety of mobile payment apps is also dependent on the security of your device. Ensure you have strong passcodes and updated software, and avoid downloading suspicious apps.
  • Public Wi-Fi: Avoid making transactions over public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks as they can be more susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks.
  • Destination Acceptance: While these payment methods are increasingly accepted worldwide, not all merchants or destinations may accept mobile payments. It's good to have a backup payment method.
  • Lost Device: If you lose your phone or it gets stolen, someone might try to access your mobile wallet. Having biometric and passcode protections in place can help prevent this. It's also easy to remotely wipe your device or suspend the mobile payment apps if needed.

Use Hotel Safe to Secure Your Valuables

Hotels often provide safes in guest rooms, offering an excellent solution to store items like passports, jewelry, electronic devices and extra cash. These safes are designed to protect your valuables from theft or accidental loss. While exploring the local surroundings, there's no need to carry everything with you; by storing nonessential items securely in a hotel safe, you can enjoy your adventures with a greater sense of ease and security, knowing that your valuables are safely tucked away. It's a simple yet vital step to ensuring a stress-free travel experience.

Consider Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a financial safety net for unexpected challenges on your trip. Whether it's lost luggage at the airport or a sudden illness requiring medical attention, these setbacks can be costly. A good travel insurance plan can cover these costs, from replacing stolen items to footing medical bills in foreign countries. However, be sure you understand the policy's terms — not all plans cover every eventuality, so know what's included and what isn't. For adventure-seekers, make sure thrill-seeking activities are covered. Having travel insurance ensures unforeseen problems don't drain your wallet, letting you explore with peace of mind.

Check Your Mobile Carrier for Roaming Fees

Using your phone abroad can rack up costs due to roaming fees. Before heading on a trip, check with your mobile provider about international rates and available travel packages. If you're staying at your destination for a long time or seeking cheaper rates, consider getting a local SIM card or an e-SIM, which provides local prices and flexible carrier options. Always think about a data plan to manage internet usage. By adequately preparing, you can stay connected without unexpected bills.

Next Steps

Whenever you travel, managing your finances diligently is key. Review your bank statements to spot any unauthorized transactions and report them immediately. Keep your receipts organized, especially if you need them for expense reports or tax claims. Lastly, evaluate how well you adhered to your travel budget. By comparing actual spending to your budget, you can glean insights for better financial planning on future trips.


Below are some frequently asked questions about managing finances when traveling:

About Grace Pilling

Grace Pilling headshot

Grace Pilling is passionate about empowering readers to make informed financial choices to support their best lives, not a company’s bottom line. Prior to joining MoneyGeek as a senior content manager, Grace was a senior editor at and Bankrate, where she focused on teaching people how to use credit cards wisely.

*Rates, fees or bonuses may vary or include specific stipulations. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
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