Travel is one of the best opportunities you can offer your family but every trip no matter the length comes with some planning. Researching visas, mapping out an itinerary, deciding on backpacks, checking everyone has the right gear, arranging health checkups. One of the most important pre-trip planning jobs is making sure you can access your money overseas. Without ensuring you have easy access to your money at all times it’s not going to be much of a trip!
Accessing money overseas in today’s connected world is usually a simple task but things can still go wrong. Power outages, a particular bank not accepting your card, connection problems between local banks and your bank back home or not being able to get online when you need to transfer cash to name a few. Most problemd will be random errors you will never understand. Don’t worry though. There are a few simple steps you can take to prevent most of the problems you’ll encounter along the way and avoid finding yourself stranded with no cash.
Talk to your bank before you go
Most credit cards can be used worldwide, even for cash advances, but not all. Many cards attached to savings accounts won’t work overseas, but visa/debit cards attached to savings accounts often will. It’s a great idea to check with your bank or credit card company a month before you plan to travel that your cards will work overseas, thus giving you plenty of time to arrange for new cards if needed.
Make sure your bank knows you will be travelling. Many banks and credit card companies have security measures in place to track fraudulent transactions. One of the biggest triggers is unexpected overseas transactions. The last thing you want is to have your card frozen by your bank. It can easily be avoided by simply telling them your travel plans. Even if you don’t know your exact itinerary you can give them idea of what regions you will be travelling in and how many months you plan to be gone.
Overseas withdrawal fees can quickly add up. Talk to your bank to see if there are any ways you can minimise these fees. Many institutions offer a range of options that make travel cheaper and easier, for instance an offshore savings account or a card with no international withdrawal fees. If you are going to be spending the bulk of your time overseas in one country an offshore savings account is an excellent way to save money on transaction fees and to facilitate easy transfer of money.
In many less developed countries, local ATMs impose their own limits on cash withdrawals. So even if your bank allows you to withdraw $2000 per day, you may find that you can only withdraw $500 at a time and for each withdrawal you will incur an ATM fee as well as any fees your bank might impose. That ATM withdrawal of $500 may cost you $10 in fees, which can quickly add up if you are needing to go to an ATM every few days. Another great reason to talk to your bank about offshore savings accounts or find a card that charges minimal fees for overseas transactions.
If you do plan to transfer money from your home account to an overseas account, check with your bank that your account allows you to do this. Often this is a service you have to apply for.
Carry more than one card
Even if your card has worked 100 times before in 10 different countries, sometimes for no apparent reason you will ever be able to work out every ATM machine you can find won’t read your card. There’s a simple solution – have a backup card. Your backup card should be from a different company and it should be a different type of card – if you usually use a visa card, carry a mastercard or AMEX as your backup. In Asia many places now prefer you to have a card with a ‘chip’ for EFTPOS transactions so try to make sure at least one of your cards has a ‘chip’.
There is a another great reason for carrying more than one card – if you misplace one card or it gets stolen you have a spare. Or lets say your husband goes snowboarding with his card in his pocket and lands badly on the card snapping it in two … with only one card it’s a disaster, with a spare card it’s just a funny story.
If you plan to transfer money from a home account to an international bank account, remember transfers can take up to 10 days. Also, remember to make the most of reliable, fast internet. If you are in a location with good internet, don’t put off doing that transfer until tomorrow. Do it now because tomorrow’s location might have terrible WIFI.
It always pays to have a 1-2 days worth of money in an easily exchangable currency like US dollars or UK pounds, to use in an emergency. We’ve found it useful on a number of occasions. Once we had a 24hr blackout that took down all the ATMs in town, right when we were down to our last $5. On another occasion we were in a small town and for some reason we could never work out, none of our cards would work in any of the ATMs. We’ve also arrived late into a town and not been able to locate an ATM but there was a money exchanger handy. With tired hungry kids it’s always better if you can change $10 so you can buy dinner and get them to bed rather than drag everyone around town in search of an ATM.
Other great reasons to carry emergency cash can include in case you arrive in a town to find it actually doesn’t have an ATM, despite everyone telling you it does. We tend to take ATMs for granted but in many countries they aren’t as easy to access. Burma has only recently introduced ATMs, and those are primarily in the capital. Heading to a Thai island? Not all of them have ATMs. If you are going on a tour with an action packed itinerary, particularly in a remote area or one that involves a hiking trip, you may find actually getting to an ATM trickly. Many small towns in developing countries don’t have ATMs. Even in Japan in smaller towns we found there might only be one ATM in the entire town, located inside the post office so access to it was limited to working hours.
How good are you at remembering your PIN number if you don’t use your card for a while? It may sound ludicrious but if you are travelling overseas for a long time you may not be using all of your bank cards for an extended period of time. Perhaps you’ve set up an offshore savings account with an ATM card linked to it. Or if you are travelling with your partner perhaps you routinely use their cards to access money not yours. At some point in your trip though, you’ll suddenly need to use a card you haven’t used in a while. It’s about then that you realise you’ve forgotten the pin for that card thanks to not having used it for 6 months. Getting your pin resent to you from overseas is a hassle and takes time. Come up with a plan for dealing with this ahead of time.
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