Money Abroad 101

Yesterday is a canceled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have – so spend it wisely. ~ Kay Lyon

Money while Abroad

Bring some money with you for incidental expenses when you arrive (buses, taxis, phone calls, etc.). Exchange it at the airport, or outside of the airport for a better rate. You may want to have some traveler’s checks in case of an emergency. They don’t cost much and can be purchased in a variety of currencies (if you want to avoid currency fluctuations). You buy can buy them for face value from an American Express office (AMEX), AAA, or your bank. Your bank may charge a modest fee. AMEX and AAA members can purchase and redeem them, minus the usual 1% to 4% commissions.

If you choose to purchase traveler’s checks, then keep them in a safe place. Create a record of the serial numbers on the checks and cross off those that you redeem. Also, leave a copy of your serial numbers at home with someone you can call in case you lose your list. For most of your visit, plan to either open up a bank account or use ATMs (CIRRUS and PLUS are popular and accessible) to withdraw cash from home. Many students opt to use an ATM, when it offers the most favorable exchange rates.

If you plan to use your ATM card in conjunction with your bank at home, check with your bank to make sure that your pin is valid, and verify the amount of service charge invoked for each transaction. Also, check to make your ATM card is working and is not going to expire while you’re overseas. Have a backup plan in case your ATM card stops working, is damaged, or gets lost or stolen. You don’t want to be left with nothing but the clothes on your back. You can use credit cards, too, but not as often as in the US.

Credit cards also have favorable exchange rates; on the other hand, not all credit cards are accepted. The Discover Card, for example, is accepted only on a limited basis outside of North America. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are most prevalent, and are therefore, your safest options. Look into banking fees before you commit to a credit card. Capital One boasts a zero percent transaction fee on all international transactions, while Chase and Citibank charge three percent. Depending on the card type, HSBC charges between one and three percent.

If you are thinking about opening a bank account, then think also about the exchange rates and whether or not it might be to your advantage or disadvantage to deposit a large amount of money when you arrive. Obviously, if the US dollar is getting weaker, then it would probably be to your advantage, guaranteeing your money will stretch as you planned, but if the dollar is getting stronger, then it might serve you better to withdraw cash, as you need it, using your ATM card. This is a personal decision, but obviously a very important one.

If you’re planning to withdraw large sums of cash to pay rent or something else, then consider getting a local bankcard. You can open a local account and arrange for lump sums to be transferred from home. Rather than paying ATM fees to withdraw your money from home, you’ll just pay a small fee for each transfer. Try to limit your transfers in order to better monitor your cash flow, and save on fees. Use the Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) system if you can wait at least two or three days; they are cheaper than same-day wire transfers.

International banking is yet another service that students are taking advantage of when they study abroad. Whether you choose Internet banking or not, make sure that you have Internet access for your bank accounts and credit cards. It is easier to pay bills, make transfers, and monitor your account online, than it is via phone or fax.

Weekly Budget Worksheet

Category   Amounts
How much money do you have to spend? 1  
One-time Expenses (i.e. books, supplies, etc.) 2  
Subtract box 2  from box 1 and record in box 3 3  
Weekly Rent 4  
Weekly Utilities 5  
Weekly Food 6  
Weekly Transportation 7  
Weekly Entertainment 8  
Add box 4 thru box 8 and record in box 9 9  
Number of weeks you’ll have these weekly expenses 10  
Multiply box 9 by box 10 and record in box 11 11  
Subtract box 11 from box 3 and record in box 12 12  
How much from box 12 will go to other travel? 13  
How much from box 12 will go to souvenirs? 14  
Subtract box 13 and box 14 from box 12 and this is

how much money you have left, which should be zero


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