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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.

Updated

Fact checked

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 is still king.

Before you leave

Do basic research

Before you visit a country, learn whether it’s mostly cashless or still depends on cash. It’s worth a quick online search to save yourself 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. Finding an ATM may not be so easy, and you could get hit with high, unexpected ATM fees. If you travel often, look into a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees for easier spending.

Also, consider taking out cash in your home country before going on your trip. And 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 plan to stay abroad, you may need more cash than you’re comfortable carrying. If so, do a bit of research beforehand so you’ll know where to get cash.

Check if your bank supports branches or international partners abroad that waive cash withdrawal fees. Also consider looking into international money transfer services for pickup at your destination.

How to transfer money for international cash pickups

Don’t solely rely on traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks can be convenient for getting cash overseas. But you may have trouble cashing them in remote or developing countries. And some retailers and restaurants charge a fee for cashing them.

Also, it may not be easy to get traveler’s checks in the first place: Many banks have stopped issuing 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 money you expect you’ll spend each day. Store the rest in your room or safe.

Put your cash in a safe place

Many hotels offer in-room safes for guests to store cash and valuables. If your room doesn’t have one, ask the front desk if you can store your cash in the hotel’s 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 more cash, get it 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 the credit card issuer for the convenience of not relying on cash. To avoid that fee, 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 discreet places on your body. While the potential for getting mugged is unpleasant to think about, you might want to carry a small amount of cash in your pockets to give up 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 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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