One of the most common traveller questions is “How should I organise my money?” A prudent plan is to carry a combination of credit and debit cards, traveller’s cheques and foreign currency, and not to stash them all in the same place while you travel. When using debit or credit cards abroad, some crucial precautions should be taken to ensure you have a financially trouble-free holiday experience. Here are six of the most useful tips:
1. Let your card provider know where you’re going
Always give your card issuer the details of when and where you’ll be going during your travels. If you have told them that your itinerary includes Canada and Hawaii, they will view transactions there as normal for the stipulated time period. If large purchases of electronics equipment start to show up on your transaction records in Florida, Brazil or Poland, they can quickly notify you and put an immediate stop to further use of that card. Which leads us to:
2. Avoiding card skimming
Card skimming fraud is a growing concern worldwide, and tourists on holiday are a prime target. A hidden machine records your card details without your knowledge and this information is often sold to criminal gangs. It is common in many restaurants for the table server to take your card, disappear for a minute, swipe the card and return with the card and a payment receipt. This practice makes skimming a breeze. A safer alternative is to physically take your card up to the register and carefully watch it being put through the machine.
3. Foreign Transaction Fees
Transactions you make while on holiday normally incur an extra fee on top of what you’re typically charged at home. These can add up, so if you withdraw money from a foreign ATM, one large withdrawal will cost you a lot less than many small ones. Also be aware that even though your bank at home might let you withdraw $500 at a time, foreign banks may have a smaller limit and only allow you to make ATM withdrawals once a day. Security guards are conspicuously present near ATMs in many countries, but not always. Keep alert for suspicious persons nearby showing a little too much interest in your new cash, and make withdrawals in the daytime when there are plenty of people around, not at midnight when the area is unlit and deserted. If you can’t make sense of a foreign ATM and have a local friend you can completely trust, ask them to assist you when using the machine.
4. Free travel insurance with your card
Many of the larger credit card companies offer free travel insurance for ‘Gold Card’ members. The main stipulation is that you must pay for your entire trip (or at least a large percentage of it) with the card. You can ask for a brochure that explains precisely what is covered with this insurance. You will also be given an emergency contact number for the insurance provider, to be used in the event of an overseas emergency.
5. If your card is stolen or lost
If your card is stolen or lost while on vacation, head straight to any bank that displays a sign for MasterCard, Visa or whatever brand your card might be, and ask for a temporary replacement. In most instances you will receive one within a day or two. Get to foreign banks as early in the day as you can – the waiting lines can be long, chaotic or non-existent depending on the country. If your card is a lesser known brand, it’s worth having a chat with your provider before departure about procedures to follow if you lose your card.
6. Don’t put all your money in one basket
We live in an era where credit cards are used for everything – fuelling the car, buying online airline tickets and stocking up on groceries. While it might be feasible to live as a largely cashless society at home, it is often quite impossible in foreign lands. If you were to find yourself in Gabon in western Africa, for example, you would soon discover that outside the capital (Libreville), your card would be virtually useless. In rural areas anywhere in the world you should never assume that everyone has the necessary facilities to accept credit cards – they may not.
Smart travellers check beforehand about the level of credit card acceptance in the country or region they plan to visit, and make their plans accordingly. In some places cards and even traveller’s cheques will not get you too far at all, so a selection of appropriate foreign currency (including small bills) is a must.
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