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Traveler’s checks: What are they, and are they still used?

Traveler’s checks still exist, but there are plenty of other options while traveling.

Maybe you were told to consider traveler’s checks when planning a vacation overseas. But the truth is that traveler’s checks are largely a thing of the past, and you probably won’t need them overseas if you have a debit or credit card that can be used internationally.

What are traveler’s checks?

Traveler’s checks are a form of payment you can use while traveling to foreign countries. They’re like a personal check that’s in the local currency of the country you’re traveling to.

In most cases, you head to your bank and exchange your cash for the traveler’s check before you go on your trip, usually for a small bank fee and a currency conversion fee. They spend like cash in places that accept them, and during the purchase, you need to provide your ID and match the signature. Also, issuers can cancel uncashed checks and issue you new ones if lost or stolen — unlike cash or personal checks — so they’re safer in that way.

Are traveler’s checks still used?

Traveler’s checks are considered outdated. They’ve fallen out of style, similar to personal checks, in that some merchants may still accept them, but you still have a better chance they’ll prefer debit or credit instead.

Traveler’s checks could be helpful in a few specific situations and may be a little safer than carrying cash while traveling, but you’re probably OK to skip them.

Pros and cons of traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks have their upsides, but thanks to modern payment methods, they’re just not as useful or convenient as they used to be.

Pros:

  • They’re replaceable. Traveler’s checks can be canceled or replaced by the original issuer if they’re lost or stolen, and often, you can grab the replacement at a travel agency when you’re overseas.
  • Safer than other payment methods. Because they aren’t directly tied to a personal bank account, there’s no risk of someone using these checks to steal your identity.
  • No expiration date. These checks don’t expire, whereas personal or payroll checks tend to be only good for 180 days. If you don’t use a traveler’s check, it can be redeemed or saved for a later date.

Cons:

  • Not as widely accepted. Compared to debit and credit, you’re unlikely to find a merchant that still accepts these checks unless you’re in a tourist-y area.
  • Likely a fee to get them. Some banks charge a fee to issue traveler’s checks, and you’ll probably have to pay a currency conversion fee as well.
  • Not super convenient. When using a traveler’s check, you’ll have to sign and prove your identity, which is great for security but not so great for speed.

3 alternatives to traveler’s checks

If you don’t want to bring cash on your trip, you have three main options.

1. Credit cards without foreign transaction fees

Credit cards can be incredibly convenient when traveling due to their wide acceptability — and you can earn cashback or travel points with the right card. Many credit cards charge foreign transaction fees, but many cards skip it, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card (Terms apply, see rates & fees).

But you’ll want to avoid using credit cards at an ATM, because you’ll likely pay a high cash advance APR and extra fees.

2. International debit cards

Quite a few debit cards are designed to be used internationally, such as the Wise and Revolut. Wise offers a significantly lower currency conversion rate, starting at just 0.43%, whereas most other banks charge around a 3% foreign transaction fee and a 1% currency conversion fee. Revolut also offers fewer fees when purchasing overseas, as well as certain allowances for free currency conversions.

3. International prepaid debit cards

Perhaps one of the most convenient options — aside from cash — international prepaid debit cards let you load up cash and spend it overseas. There are usually more fees than regular debit cards, such as a card purchase fee, reload fees and ATM fees. But if you just want a simple card without the hassle of setting up a new checking account and don’t mind paying a few extra fees, these might be your option.

A few examples include the PayPal Prepaid Mastercard and the international ECARD prepaid card.

Bottom line

You can purchase traveler’s checks if you don’t want to bring cash or worry about foreign transaction fees abroad. But outside of tourist-heavy areas, hotels or some restaurants, you may not be able to use them.

There’s also a good chance that the debit card or credit card you already have can be used overseas, but just be sure to let your provider know you’re traveling to avoid getting flagged for fraud, and ask about foreign transaction and currency conversion fees so you’re not caught off guard by your next bank statement.

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2 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    IvanDecember 22, 2018

    Hey, I have traveler’s cheque issued by Thomas Cook Agency, how can I withdraw it?

      AvatarFinder
      JoshuaDecember 22, 2018Finder

      Hi Ivan,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      To encash your traveler’s check, you would need to find a bank or currency exchange that accepts your check. Once you found one, you need to present your check, present valid ID and sign the needed document.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Joshua

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