Where’s Wilson: Travel Tips Regarding Money

Where's Wilson, The Newest ICLEF Blog

This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

Travel Tips Regarding Money
by John Wilson

One of the most frequent questions I get about travel outside the US is what to do about getting foreign currency. Ultimately you will decide what you want to do based on your comfort in being in a foreign country without any  local cash money in you pocket for a little while. The below recommendations are skewed toward getting the best exchange rate with the least transaction charges. If, for your comfort, you need money from the start of you trip,  get it from exchanges or cash machines at the airport upon arrival.  If that is not comfortable enough, get it from your bank or the US airport.

Times have changed with respect to options to get foreign currency. Below are some ideas I feel are the best and safest ways to handle finances when out of the country. I have managed to lose almost every credit and debit card there is. It caused a little inconvenience, but no tragedies, so don’t let this area of foreign travel cause angst.

When to get foreign currency.
• Do not purchase foreign currency in the US.  I worked for a bank and still could not get a fair rate.
• Except for your convenience, do not purchase from a kiosk or currency service. Especially in an airport. Their rates are not good either.
• If you must get the country’s currency in the airport use the ATM.
• I wait until I am out of the airport and use the debit card at a bank ATM to get the best rate and least expense.
• But you say, “How am I going to pay the taxi?” A lot of Taxis will take credit cards. When they don’t and you have no local cash, it is amazing how willing they are to help you find an ATM on the way to your destination.

Cash, debit and credit cards, travelers cheques?
• Take enough cash to cover a one or two day emergency, but not enough that you will cry if you lose it. I alway wear an old fashioned money belt with$150-$200 in it.  If all else fails money can be wired to you at a local bank.
• Take a debit card. It is one of the modern world’s wonders that you can be at an ATM 10,000 miles from home or in a village with an ATM on a dirt road and one minute later have cash in the country’s currency. And at a very good rate.  If I will not be needing cash as I go out for the day or evening, I leave the debit card behind.
• I take two credit cards and keep them in separate places in the event one is lost or stolen, I can fall back on the other. JPMorgan recently replaced a credit card for me in Cape Town, South Africa in two business days.

Last month, I cashed $800 of travelers cheques that I had purchased in 2008. I never used them. I think the cash, debit and credit card trifecta makes traveler’s cheques obsolete. They are harder to cash sometimes and harder to replace all times, than the providers advertise.

Which Credit/Debit Cards to get?
• Get a credit card that charges no foreign currency translation fee on purchases. Capital One and JPM/Chase have them among many others. Mastercard and Visa are generally easier to use overseas than American Express.
• Get a card with a “chip” in it. Most countries other than the US use this technology. It cause less rejections of your card. Most major institutions provide them. Or Google “credit cards with chips” to find out much more.
“Travel” credit cards reward with miles which can be exchanged for flights. Sometimes double or more for travel. I like Citibank’s Aadvantage card (American Airlines) and American Express Sky Miles (Delta).
• Some cards also include auto collision, emergency medical evacuation, lost luggage and on and on.
• Get a debit card that is widely accepted and does not charge a currency translation fee. (Not a Zypher gas card)

Take a picture!
• If you lose a card, all the information you need to cancel, replace etc is on the card. Not helpful.
• You can make a copy of them, which I do, but I primarily rely on photos (front and back) taken on my smart phone which I carry on all trips even though I usually do not have phone service.
• While you are at it, take a photo and/or copy of your passport, medical insurance and drivers license.  Don’t take the license if you are not going to need it.

Take only the cards you need when you leave your accommodation.
• When in Indy, I carry a wallet with multiple credit/debit cards, drivers license, insurance etc. If I lose the wallet the cards are relatively easy to replace.
• Before I travel to another country, I “clean out”  my wallet of all items I will not need. (I probably don’t need the Library or CVS card)
• Before I leave my room when traveling, I decide what I will need that day. If I do not expect to get cash, I leave the debit card and extra credit card behind.
• Many times I do not even take my wallet as it is hard to have it pick pocketed if it is in your room.

Safe Travels!

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact the ICLEF travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN


One Response to “Where’s Wilson: Travel Tips Regarding Money”

  1. kevin-vonkamecke says:

    Call the number on the back of your card. But wait, you don’t know it because the card has been stolen. The solution is to write or store the number in a safe place before hand i.e. on your cell phone. Or, find the telephone number for the issurer on line. I don’t take a picture of the telephone number, usually on the back of the card because it also has the security code, but I do take a picture of the front of the card with my cell phone so I will have the information if I need it. I have a security lock on my cell phone because of the above and other sensitive information stored in the phone. – JW

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