If the last time you left the country you used Travelers Checks, or it’s your first time traveling abroad - this post is for you! A common question I get asked is how to pay for things outside of the US - so I’m happy to share my best information to help make your trip as stress free as possible from a money stand point. I do most of my travel in Europe so will be focusing on the Euro, but these tips apply to almost anywhere you are traveling to on your trip.
First a little information on the European Union - which consists of a total of 28 countries. I’m not going to list all 28, just suffice to say they are the most commonly traveled countries in Europe. While the countries are independent this union allows them to operate as a cohesive economic and political block. If you want more information or to see pictures of their headquarters in Brussels just click on the archive on the main page of my blog and see my Brussels post dated 5/29/19. I just visited there! The vast majority of the EU members use the Euro as their currency, but there are 9 that still use their own currency. The 9 are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the UK. So depending on where you are going you may need both Euros and the country currency. It’s a lot easier when they use the Euro but all the information I will be sharing applies to either.
What to take:
A Debit Card, 2 Credit Cards with Chips and some US currency preferably $20 and $1 bills. How much US currency? Not much. Five $20’s and 20 $1’s is plenty. Why do you need US currency? Well in a pinch people will take US currency. I’m not talking about being able to buy a cup of coffee or a meal with it, but if you land and have no local currency and need to give someone a few dollars for helping you carry luggage or get directions giving them US money is better than nothing. You will need to get local currency soon after landing and I’ll cover how to do that.
Call your bank affiliated with your Debit card and make sure you will be able to use it where you are going. Make sure your pin will work there - most likely it will. Let them know your dates of travel and where you will be.
Should you exchange US dollars for Euros or the local currency in the US before you leave. NO! Well you can if you don’t mind paying quite a bit more than you need to, but it’s very easy to get currency after you land and why not save your hard earned money and spend it on your trip? Don’t exchange currency at the airport when you land. That’s the most expensive place to do it and totally unnecessary. Most flights from the US land early in the day, so once you get into the city or town where you are starting your trip you can just find an ATM - one preferably outside of a bank - during regular banking hours - and get some money. It’s best to use an ATM during the day for a couple of reasons. Better for safety, and just in case the ATM doesn’t return your card - which has never ever happened to me - you can go right into the bank and get help. I’ll suggest later in this post how much money to withdraw.
Credit Cards - why two? Take two because if you only take one and it is compromised in some way, that’s a problem. Why not more than two? Two is plenty and why take a chance on having to keep track of more than two cards. What kind of cards? Well they MUST have a chip. Cards without a chip will not work in Europe. And you should make sure your credit card company does not tack on a foreign transaction fee. This is important and you must ask the company specifically. If you don’t ask then you could be in for a bad surprise when you get your credit card bill upon your return. They will have added a fee every single time you used the card. Foreign transaction fee is not to be confused with a cash advance fee. I strongly discourage you from taking cash advances from your credit card at an ATM instead of using your Debit card for cash. If you get a cash advance they charge interest on that money from the day you get it until you pay it off compounded daily. Don’t do it! Make sure you call the credit card companies and let them know the dates of your travel. You can typically do this easily and often just by following the prompts when you call the customer service number on the back of the card.
What to use when. Should you pay cash or use your credit card. My recommendation is to use your credit card for almost all transactions. The exception would be very small purchases ie. coffee and a croissant, snacks, postcards or small souvenirs. Pretty much anything you buy on the street from a vendor will need to be in cash - for everything else use your credit cards. Why? Well for one credit cards are safer to use in Europe than the US because the card never leaves your sight. They always bring a machine right to your table to run it. And if there were a problem ever it’s resolved typically fairly easily with the credit card company, and why risk carrying lots of cash with you when the most common crime committed is pickpocketing.
How much money to withdraw from the ATM? Withdraw enough for 3 to 4 days of small purchases. Your bank will charge a small transaction fee each time so minimize that by withdrawing enough so that you’re only having to find an ATM a couple of times on your trip.
Another suggestion I have is to download a free APP to your phone that will convert US dollars to other forms of currency. Currently the exchange rate is very strong comparing the US dollar to the Euro. As of today 1 Euro is equal to $1.13. I have been to Europe when the exchange rate was 1 Euro equal to more than $1.50, so not as much buying power. So with the ratio being so close to 1:1 you may not even need to do the conversion. But say you’re going to Croatia where the currency is the Kuna. 1 Kuna is equal to 15 cents. So 17 Kuna is $2.59. Good luck figuring that out in your head! You might see an entree on a menu for 200 Kuna and think wow pricey! In fact that would be about $30. There are lots of free APPs available so just pick one.
And lastly my suggestion is to bring something with you to keep your cash, debit card and credit cards secure. I have used a money belt previously and didn’t find it to be very comfortable or easy to access. My choice is a travel purse that is very secure but also comfortable. It is a cross body bag so I keep it in front of me at all times. The straps are slash guard and it has turn and lock security hooks, plus snap and lock mechanisms on all the zippered compartments. The purse is lined with RFID safe fabric which keeps personal information from being scanned. If I were a guy I would get something similar but more manly. Putting your wallet in your back pocket is a terrible idea. I get the majority of my travel items from a great website www.ebags.com. Never pay full price for anything. Go to their website and sign up to be on their email list. They will email you ever day with a discount coupon usually good on anything you want so I find them to be very reasonable and they are easy to work with on returns.
I hope this is helpful! If you have any questions just let me know. Enjoy your trip!