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No. of Recommendations: 4
1) First, make sure you are using a credit card which does not have a currency conversion fee. Many do, but many (including the Costco Visa, HSBC Premier, Capital One) do not.

2) As was pointed out, never let the credit card machine, bank, hotel, whatever do the translation to USD. You may be taken for a ride. I have had a number of arguments at fancy hotels over this - just insist. (I assume they share in the profit with the bank) Be especially careful. The nationality of your credit card is read and your currency (in my case, USD) will show up as one of the choices - with the big green button meaning you accept and the little red button means to leave in the original currency. If in doubt, ask - and let them know if they are mistaken, they will have to reverse the transaction and do it properly.

3) If you need foreign currency, there is always an ATM at airports and train stations. Use a debit card for these transactions. Some atm machines charge a fee (again, make sure you are being charged in local currency and that they are not doing the conversion to usd "for your convenience"). You will find this fee generally lower or not at all at ATM's run by large banks, so avoid "convenience" ATM's. The exception is that, in Japan, the 7-Elevens all have free ATM's (owned by the 7-Eleven Bank, of course). There are some debit/ATM cards associated with brokerage accounts and premium commercial banks which absorb ATM machine fees. Again, make sure your bank is not charging a foreign transaction fee on your debit card (most don't, but a few still do). Once in a while a machine will reject your card. Try a machine from a different bank and you should be OK.

4) Make sure all your cards have chips (most foreign machines no longer have magnetic strip readers). Make sure your ATM PIN is a four digit number (some countries demand this number of digits), and even though US credit cards do not normally have PIN's associated, ask your company to assign one (most will). I have seen these demanded, on occasion, when using a credit card in a transit card vending machine. If you don't have one, and the machine demands it, try hitting the "enter" key - it sometimes works.

4) UBER (and its clones) is your friend. You get the "local price", don't get taken on "the scenic route" and avoid all the scams which involve the driver doing some slight of hand trick with currency. The company (and you) also knows who you have been riding with in case you leave something behind.

Jeff
(Whose whole chapter on assorted taxi scams basically becomes old news using ride-sharing services like UBER whenever possible. Author of https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00V7C2L9S)
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How about the card/s offered by Schwab?

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ralph
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I use my USAA card almost exclusively. It's big advantage is that it's chip/PIN. Europe especially is geared for that: insert card, enter PIN when prompted, transaction done. Very secure (which is why they do it over there...we are very foolish not to be doing it on this side of the pond).

None of my other cards offer that. So I use my USAA VISA. I would have to double check to see if there's an exchange fee.

Interesting comment about currency. So always do it in local currency. I will try to remember that.

I don't generally use a debit card. In fact, I think my credit union never sent me a new one because I never used the old one. I did get cash with my USAA card once, but usually I have cash in my money belt and just look for a currency exchange (often at the airport, but I have had to find a bank a couple of times).

1poorguy
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1poorguy,

While an ATM/debit card must be kept secure, it is far less risky than carrying all of the cash needed to fund a vacation on your person. Admittedly, it may be different if you spend your trip solely on a cruise ship for a moderate period of time, but we tend to take trips of 2-4 months at as clip with at least half of the time spent hoofing it across multiple countries by car/train/bus/plane/whatever.

I have found that the vig charged by banks and money changers is likely to be 10% (higher on cruise ships) and have found it easier/safer to use cars to pull out moderate amounts of cash on an as-needed basis.

That said, there are places in the world (Zimbabwe comes to mind) where I travel with a stack of freshly printed US one dollar and five dollar bills and don't bother with cards or local currency. That said, that's the exception and I find I generally get better prices almost everywhere by using local cash if I'm not paying by credit card.

In places where I use USD (Madagascar and Mozambique come to mind), frequently the locals don't want $1 bills as they get a lower rate than for larger bank notes, so they will quote prices like "3 pieces for $5" and refuse to take one dollar bills. My solution (if I only want one piece) is to say "I'll give you a $5 bill for one piece and you give me three of the "bad" $1 bills as change. Everyone is happy.

Another strategy I've used to get rid of foreign currency when in a tourist environment (Brazil comes to mind) is to, at the end of the day, offer one of the vendors to trade them their currency for US dollars at the bank rate. That way, neither of us gets stuck with paying a commission and both of us can buy a pizza with our own money when we get home:-).

Jeff
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Ralph,

You'll have to ask them. I currently use ATM cards from a local commercial bank and from HSBC (which is the only retail bank I'm aware of with branches in nearly every hovel in the world). I have heard that Fidelity has cards with advantageous terms, but haven't personally checked them out.

While many credit cards (but not all) don't charge foreign transaction fees, the only ATM cards that I've seen from banks that eat the fees require require you to have fairly large minimum sized accounts there. Brokers may also offer similar terms, but I've not checked. Playing with plastic is just a byproduct of my primary activity which is traveling.

Jeff
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https://boards.fool.com/checking-account-with-charles-schwab...

I haven't written a book but have used the card in many, many places around the world.
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How about the card/s offered by Schwab?

Dunno. I know Fidelity reimburses ATM fees. My credit union does too, so you might want to check with your bank and see if they do as well.

If I were paranoid I'd probably load up my Fidelity cash account with whatever money I needed for the trip, use the Fidelity card for cash withdrawals, and leave my credit union debit card at home. But I've used my debit card for cash pretty extensively in Europe over the last several years and never had a problem.
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