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3 travel money tips for your vacation

Get your travel money in order before you take your trip abroad.

Updated

Planning an adventure in Australia or a Vacation in Vancouver? Make sure you know how to access your money once you arrive. Don’t waste time hunting down exchange offices or banks to make hasty currency exchanges. Or worse — don’t lose vacation money to exchange fees. Read our top three travel money tips to ensure you’ve got your money situation under control. Compare travel insurance quotes online

1. Know the currencies you’ll be dealing with

You might think you’ll be OK using American dollars anywhere you travel — but USD isn’t accepted everywhere. Even in countries that do, you’ll pay more in fees and the exchange rates. It’s always a good idea to exchange a bit of money before you leave the country — enough to get you a taxi or pay for immigration fees. If the country you’re traveling to uses rare or exotic currency, it may be harder to get at your local bank. Check ahead of time.

Once you arrive, hit up an ATM or exchange office to get the local currency. Though you don’t want to exchange all of your money — wads of cash can make you a target of theft. It’s best to rely on credit, debit and travel money cards to pay for bus or train tickets, hotels and big meals.

Check the exchange rate between the local currency and the American dollar before you leave for your trip. Consider a money transfer services like Travelex or WorldRemit. You’ll get a good rate, and you can have your money waiting for you at your destination.

Travel money card comparison

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Foreign transaction fee Welcome offer Rewards Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
None
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $$1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
American Express® Gold Card
None
35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $350 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Petal® Visa® Credit Card
None
N/A
Up to 10% cash back from select merchants, on other purchases earn 1% back, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
None
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
An impressive cashback card that offers up to 4% back on everyday purchases like gas, travel and dining all for the cost of a Costco membership.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
None
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

2. Plan for back up

When you make your vacation budget, chances are you didn’t tack on extra money for an emergency. Tourists are the target of theft in most any country you’ll travel to. Always be aware of where you store your money, cards and travel documents, and avoid carrying too much cash on you at once.

In the case you do run into financial problems, have someone from back home on alert to send money quickly. Money transfer companies like Western Union and Travelex can wire you money fast, either directly to your bank account, or to a pick-up location.

3. Accessing money while overseas

While South Korea is moving towards a society that only accepts plastic, places in rural Vietnam and Thailand hardly accept credit cards at all. No matter where you travel, find out the best way to pay your way. How do you decide the best way to pay while abroad? Check out our country travel guide to see the travel money options for your destination.

  • Cash. Though carrying cash is convenient and accepted in most places you visit, it could leave you vulnerable to thieves and pickpockets. Many countries won’t accept money that is torn, stained or crumpled, so keep your money protected in a wallet. Get cash from ATMs, licensed exchange offices or banks. Don’t rely on your credit card for cash advances unless you have to. Credit card companies charge high fees and you’ll pay interest immediately.
  • Debit Cards. The biggest advantage of debit cards is that you’ll have access to your bank account each time you come across an ATM. Find a card that waives the international ATM fees to save money. You’ll also be able to make over the counter purchases with your debit card wherever Visa and Mastercard are accepted.
  • Credit cards. You’ll have the most purchasing power on expensive items like hotels and flights. Find yourself a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees. Carrying a credit card gives you the added benefit of travel insurance, rewards and discounts, depending on your provider. Cards that offer travel perks and waive fees often charge an annual fee, so make sure the fee is worth it before you bring it along on your travels. If you’re ever in a jam, credit cards also offer cash advances, though we don’t recommend it. You’ll pay high fees and interest rates apply the moment you get your money.
  • Travel cards. The benefit of travel cards is that you can lock in a favorable exchange rate before you leave for your trip. The Travelex travel money card can hold seven major currencies — good for traveling to more than one destination. You’re issued two cards, so you’ll have a back up if your card is lost or stolen. And because it’s not linked to your bank account, you’ll have extra protection.
  • Traveler’s checks. Security is the main advantage of using traveler’s checks. Each check has a unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. Fees are the main disadvantage. Banks charge you to get check and to cash them. You’re better off using a debit or travel card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals. Traveler’s checks are good for locking in a good exchange rate. So if you watch the forex market, get them while the getting’s good.

Always notify your bank of where and when you’re traveling. Credit card companies and banks will suspend your card if they detect any activity they think is fraudulent.

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