Traveling Abroad Tips and Tricks for Managing Finances
Traveling is a risky business, but the risks are worth taking for a lifetime of memories. If you’re planning a major international adventure, don’t let a banking disaster trip you up from having the getaway of your dreams. For four years, I was a nomad, traveling through 25, but only had minor money drama
twice, thanks to practical advice from other travelers before me, and a few things learned on my own.
Tip 1: Use e-wallets
If you don’t Apple Pay or other accredited e-wallet apps for point-of-purchase spending, then you should, even at home. These apps give vendors a unique code tying your purchase to the bank transaction. The vendor never knows your number, so your card won’t be compromised by that shop. It
also means your card stays in, I hope, your RFID-protected wallet, preventing illicit scanning. Plus, e-wallet notifications can tell you when your card’s getting used — making monitoring easier everywhere.
Tip 2: Communicate with your bank
London and Paris are business-as-usual for banks, but other countries have bad reputations because of known risks. My own experiences in Mexico with PayPal blocking client payments taught me to proactively contact banks and credit card companies through secure messaging, which prevented such
scenarios for my final three years abroad. Tell banks where you’re going, when, and you may avoid flags on transactions.
Tip 3: Never accept converted rates abroad
When withdrawing cash at bank machines or paying checks at restaurants and elsewhere, you’ll often be asked if you want to pay in your home currency. Don’t. Pay in the local currency, whatever it is. I’ve
seen “courtesy currency conversions” up to 10% higher than the bank’s rates. So, for example, if you’re in Europe, pay in Euros — never accept the American-dollar conversion rate. It can save hundreds on a
Tip 4: Be careful at ATMs
You know this, but there are other risks you may not know. If you’ve never had to advocate for yourself with a foreign banking institution in another language, I don’t recommend it. Ensure ATMs are attached to a reputable bank currently open for business hours, because you can always get in-person help if needed. After-hours use is risky, and using standalone independent ATMs is foolish, if avoidable. Always have your smart phone out and ready for screenshots of questionable things. Such as a transaction
“timing out” before completion, and producing no cash. That happened to me in Mexico, and I repeated the transaction to the same result. Checking my banking app, however, showed that I’d had $400 USD withdrawn from what appeared to be a scam. Always check your banking app if you’re dubious of what’s going on.
If you must use a sketchy machine, be sure you’re alone. Check your phone for nearby Bluetooth signals. They may be a sign of criminals transmitting card data from the machine — not uncommon in tourist centers. If so, find a new machine.
Stay Vigilant and Keep Your Money
Long story short is, smart phones are smart for protecting yourself as you travel.
Some folks only use free WiFi abroad, but having a data plan produces a far richer travel experience — and far safer. (And local plans for short-term stays can be incredibly cheap!) From translation apps for speaking to locals through to researching sites stumbled upon, phones have revolutionized travel. Apps now help with currency conversion, tracking budgets, and more.
Keep your phone up to date while abroad. Be savvy online as well as at the point of purchase, and you’ll be fine.
But always have at least one backup credit card from different card companies, even if it’s a no-frills card. You never know when banking outages may strike. Having different credit cards on different networks may save your vacation, like when my primary card network went down on Christmas Eve in Portugal before I bought wine and cheese. Ah, memories!