Travel money guide: USA

Explore the land of stars and stripes and discover how you can access your cash in the USA.

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The dollar is one of the world’s most stable currencies and is the only currency accepted in the US. If you’re traveling to the states, you’ll have no problem using your credit card. Banks are common and ATMs are inside most corner stores as well.

Read on to find out which cards will work cheapest in the United States of America.

Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options

Use a combination of travel money products which don’t charge for currency conversion and have low or no international ATM withdrawal fees. A travel card or debit card combined with a travel friendly credit card will give you a cost effective way to make both over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals in the USA.

Compare travel money options and apply for a card you can use to spend for less in America to avoid throwing money at your bank while you’re visiting the United States of America.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
30,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
3x Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, 3x points at restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases
$150
Earn 3x Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, 3x points at restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases. Rates & fees
20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
1.25x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at hotels.com/venture
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a Delta purchase in the same timeframe
2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a direct Delta purchase in the same timeframe. Rates & fees
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at hotels.com/venture
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Compare up to 4 providers

How many dollars do I need to bring to the U.S.?

There’s an old saying first coined in the Reader’s Digest, once you’re finished packing your suitcase, take out half the clothes and take double the money. Ultimately, how you take your money is up to you. Someone couch-surfing in San Francisco will have a different budget to someone on a New York shopping holiday.

New York Budget Mid Top
sleep Hostel
$30 to $60 per night
Hotel or motel
$150 per night
5-star hotel or luxury suite
$350 per night
food Food truck
$5 to $10
Restaurant
$20 to $40
5-Michelin star restaurant
$50 a plate
camera Free festivals year round in American cities Guggenheim Museum
$25
Broadway Musical
$200 to $800

*Prices are approximate and subject to change

How to send money to USA

Travel card, debit card, or credit card?

You’ll find most Americans rely on their credit card or debit card to make purchases as much as cash. There are times when you’ll need to pay cash — if your buying a drink at a small bar or a hotdog from a food truck.

However, you’ll see that most merchants in American cities are set up to handle card, contactless and mobile payments.

Travel money options for USA at a glance

Travel money option Pros Cons
Debit cards for travel
  • No currency conversion, international ATM, account keeping fees
  • May be subject to forging transaction fees
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Locked-in exchange rates
  • No currency conversion fee
  • International ATM withdrawal fee waiver on some cards
  • Fees to consider such as local ATM, initial load, reload and inactivity fees
Credit cards for travel
  • Accepted everywhere
  • Contactless payment terminals are common
  • Overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fees may apply
Traveler’s checks
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

How travel money products work in the United States

Using debit cards

You can use any Mastercard or Visa branded debit card in the United States. The Visa or Mastercard exchange rate applies to foreign currency transactions. This rate is as close to the market rate you can get using a travel product overseas.

Using prepaid travel cards

Although Visa, Mastercard and American Express are accepted everywhere, not all prepaid cards have your name printed on the front, which may cause the merchant to reject them. These instances may be limited to smaller shops. You may be better off using a credit or debit card instead.

Using credit cards

America is a society of credit and any card you use will likely be accepted if the retailer can handle card payments. Contactless payment terminals are common at places like Walmart, Target, Kmart and other major retailers.

  • Tip: Rewards credit cards which also don’t charge for currency conversion can be a good way to rack up the points in the US.

Using traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks were once a staple for any overseas trip. In recent times, card acceptance and security have made these travel money products a burden.

Paying with cash in the USA and tipping etiquette

Dollar bills can give you the impression your wallet is fatter than it actually is. And although you can get by using your card for most purchases, there are times when you’re going to need cash. The US has a culture of tipping, it’s a substitute for low wages. You’ll likely need cash to tip, especially if you’re at a bar, restaurant, club or hotel.

  • Tip: There are no rules about how much or little you should tip. But be aware that many service staff in the United States are underpaid and rely on tips to make up their income. You don’t have to tip big, but don’t be stingy unless you’ve received genuinely bad service.
    Where? How much should I tip?
    Restaurant Waiters should get anywhere between 18% to 20% of the bill. Some restaurants will add tips onto the final bill (more common in tourist areas), if this is the case, you don’t need to leave a tip.
    Bar Drinks are pretty cheap. It’s good form to tip $1 per drink. You may even get a free one from the bartender if you tip a $5.
    Hotel Tip the porter $2 to $5 for a big bag and an extra $1 for every other bag. Tip housekeepers anywhere from $5 to $10 a day.
    Taxis Tip 10% to 20% of the fare.
    Cafe The barista making your coffee doesn’t necessarily need a tip unless he or she has done something special.
Promoted
Travelex Money Card

Why we like: Travelex Money Card

Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.

  • Not linked to your bank account for safety.
  • Convert currency with a 5.50% foreign exchange fee
  • Contactless payments
  • Reload, withdraw, or replace your card for free.
    Back to top

    A guide to deciphering American banknotes – The Greenback

    Have you ever found yourself in the country with a wad of foreign cash? It can be all too easy to give a fifty instead of a five. Don’t get ripped off. Familiarize yourself with US currency before you leave.

    us-banknotes

    Did you know?

    In addition to the standard $1 to $100 bills, America also has notes to cover larger denominations.

    • Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th U.S president had a $1,000 note named after him.
    • James Madison, the 4th U.S President had a $5,000 note named after him.
    • Salmon P Chase, the 6th U.S Chief Justice had a $10,000 note named after him.
    • Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S President had a $100,000 note named after him.
    Back to top

    Get travel insurance quotes for your holiday in USA

    While the USA is a pretty safe travel destination, accidents can happen anywhere. Don’t leave yourself with a large bill for out of pocket medical expenses.

    Protect yourself financially with travel insurance. Travel insurance can cover you for:

    • Emergency medical and dental
    • Evacuation
    • Lost luggage
    • Stolen travel documents
    • Personal liability
    Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip delay
    100%
    $15,000
    $500
    $500
    Essential travel coverage — with the option to customize — that can protect the cost of your trip.
    $10,000
    $1,000
    $100
    Protect the cost of your flight and choose the coverage amount that meets your needs — trip delay protection included.
    $50,000
    $2,000
    $1,000
    Budget-friendly policy designed for international and domestic travelers who want medical protection. Trip cancellation and trip interruption not included.
    $20,000
    $1,000
    $600
    Annual policy that offers affordable protection, but doesn't include trip cancellation or trip interruption.
    100%
    $15,000
    $750
    $500
    Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.

    Compare up to 4 providers

    Compare travel insurance for a trip to the USABack to top
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