How to safely carry cash in other countries

Here’s how to keep your cash safe — both before you leave and while you’re traveling.

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Debit and credit cards may be widely used where you live. But there are no guarantees when you’re traveling abroad. In many parts of the world, cash still rules.

Before you leave

Do some basic research

Before you visit a country, check online to see if it’s mostly cashless or cash-dependent. It’s worth doing a quick online search to save yourself lots of headaches later.

Also check the type of currency the country accepts and whether it accepts multiple currencies. For example, visitors to El Salvador may be surprised to learn that its official currency is the US dollar. And in the Bahamas, citizens use both the Bahamian dollar and US dollar.

A–Z country guide for international money transfers.

Withdraw money in your home country

If you’re traveling to a cash-dependent country, it’s best not to rely on ATMs to retrieve cash. You may run into many problems, such as not being able to find an ATM and getting hit with unexpected ATM fees.

Consider taking out cash in your home country before going on your trip. It’s a good idea to stock up on small bills: If you’re traveling to a cash-dependent country, vendors may not always have change for large bills.

If you’ll get cash while traveling, know where (and where not to) go

Depending on how long you’ll stay abroad, you may need more cash than you feel comfortable carrying. If so, do a bit of research beforehand so you’ll know where to get cash.

Check if your bank has branches or international partners abroad that can waive cash withdrawal fees. Also consider looking into international money transfer services.

Discover how to transfer money for international cash pickups.

Be wary about traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks can be a convenient option for getting cash overseas. However, you may have trouble cashing them in if you’re going to a remote or developing country.

Further, it may not be easy to get traveler’s checks in the first place: Many banks have stopped issuing them. If you do get them, you could incur heavy fees to cash them.

Consider travel insurance

Some travel insurance policies cover you for stolen cash. Confirm whether your policy does, or consider getting a policy that includes cash protection.

Compare your travel insurance options.

Know the rules for bringing large amounts of cash overseas

Many countries require you to declare the cash you’re carrying if it exceeds a specified amount. For example, if you’re bringing the equivalent of 10,000 Canadian dollars into Canada, you need to declare the cash to customs officials.

Storing and carrying cash

Take just the right amount of cash for the day

A simple precaution is to take only the cash you’ll need each day. Store the rest in your room.

Put your cash in a safe place

Storing cash in your hotel room safe is a great option. If your room doesn’t have a safe, ask the front desk if you can store your cash in the hotel safe. (Protect yourself by getting a written receipt, if you do so).

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

For any cash that you can’t (or choose not to) store in a safe, make sure it’s not all sitting in one place. Store your cash in different nooks of your room, and carry cash in different locations on your body — pockets, bags, maybe even your shoes.

Carry cash in secret

Guard yourself against pickpockets. Great tools to hide money on yourself include money belts, pocket socks and pocket underwear.

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Obtaining and spending cash

Be careful where you get cash from

If you need to obtain more cash, do so only from reputable sources. Exchanging money with street vendors comes with a lot of risk — you may receive counterfeit or outdated currency.

If you’re exchanging your currency for another currency, check the exchange rate and make sure it’s not too far off from the mid-market rate.

What is the mid-market rate?

The mid-market rate is what your money’s actually worth on the global market compared to another currency. It’s the midpoint between worldwide supply and demand for that currency — and the rate banks and transfer services use when they trade among themselves.

Ask about cash discounts

When you use your credit card in a store, the vendor typically pays a fee to its credit card company. Many small business prefer cash payments and may give you a slight discount if you use cash. It never hurts to ask!

What to do in emergencies

If you’re robbed

Hopefully you’ll have cash stashed away in secret places on your body. While the thought of being mugged is unpleasant, you might want to carry a bit of cash in your pockets to relinquish if you’re robbed. It goes without saying that if you’re being robbed and your safety is in jeopardy, just hand over your cash.

Alerting the authorities

If your cash or valuables are stolen, alert the police and file a report. Although you may not get your possessions back, it’s still worth telling the police on the off chance they can recover what you lost.
Learn more about emergency money transfers overseas.

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