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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.

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 YorkBudgetMidTop
sleepHostel
$30 to $60 per night
Hotel or motel
$150 per night
5-star hotel or luxury suite
$350 per night
foodFood truck
$5 to $10
Restaurant
$20 to $40
5-Michelin star restaurant
$50 a plate
cameraFree festivals year round in American citiesGuggenheim 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 optionProsCons
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?
    RestaurantWaiters 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.
    BarDrinks 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.
    HotelTip 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.
    TaxisTip 10% to 20% of the fare.
    CafeThe barista making your coffee doesn’t necessarily need a tip unless he or she has done something special.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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
$95
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
60,000 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)
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
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
$550
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.
Hilton Honors American Express Card
80,000 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
With a massive welcome offer for a no-annual-fee card and up to 7x points at Hilton, this is a solid pick for Hilton fans and occasional travelers. Rates & fees
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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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.
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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

Cash pickup services in Australia

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 1.171 USD 1,171 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
$0 1 - 2 days EUR 1.99 1.153 USD 1,151 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 Within an hour EUR 8.00 1.15 USD 1,141 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.
Compare travel insurance for a trip to the USA

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