Travel money – Best way to take cash to the USA | finder.com

Travel money guide: USA

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

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.

Which option is right for your next trip?

Compare travel cards for USA

Rates last updated February 23rd, 2018
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Cash Advance Fee Annual fee Product Description
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
0% of transaction value
$0
$10 or 5% of the transaction, whichever is greater
$0 annual fee for the first year ($89 thereafter)
Enjoy 40000
bonus miles after you spend on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase.
Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum
2%
of transaction value
$0
The Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers multiple perks, including one of the lowest available APRs on the market.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
0% of transaction value
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants.
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card
0% of transaction value
$0
Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.

Compare up to 4 providers

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.

    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.
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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.

    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.

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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
    Details Features
    Seven Corners Trip Protection Insurance
    Seven Corners Trip Protection Insurance
    Travel with a smile - protect your trip cost, your medical expenses, & your belongings.
    • Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expenses up to $250,000
    • Trip Cancellation – 100% of Trip Cost
    • Trip Interruption – up to 150% of Trip Cost
    • Political Evacuation - $20,000
    • Lost, Stolen or Damaged Baggage – up to $2,500
    • Emergency Medical Evacuation – up to $1 million
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Travel Max
    Travelex Travel Max
    TravelEx's most comprehensive protection plan for the comprehensive traveler. Offers optional Cancel For Any Reason upgrade.
    • Trip Cancellation - 100% of Insured Trip Cost
    • Trip Interruption - 150% of Insured Trip Cost
    • Trip Delay - $1000
    • Medical Expense Benefits - $100,000
    Go to site More info
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Essential
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Essential
    RoamRight’s Essential travel insurance package can be broken down into three critical parts: Trip Cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance, and baggage insurance.
    • Cancellation Cover - 100% Cost of Trip
    • Emergency Medical Expenses - $15,000
    • Emergency Evacuation and Repatriation - $150,000
    • Baggage and Personal Effects Cover - $750
    Go to site More info
    STA Travel Standard International
    STA Travel Standard International
    Get affordable cover for the essentials of options with STA's mid-level cover policy. This option will still provide up to $1500 in luggage cover and up to $100,000 in medical cover.
    • Trip Cancellation Cover - 100% of trip cost insured up to $10,000
    • Emergency Medical Expenses Cover - Up to $100,000
    • Baggage and Personal Effects - Up to $1,500
    • Trip Delay - Up to $500
    Go to site More info
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Preferred
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Preferred
    As the name implies, the Preferred package provides coverage for most trips and vacations.
    • Cancellation Cover - 100% Cost of Trip
    • Emergency Accident & Medical Expenses - $50,000
    • Emergency Evacuation and Repatriation - $500,000
    • Accidental Death and Dismemberment - $10,000
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Cancel for Any Reason
    Travelex Cancel for Any Reason
    Cancel For Any reason upgrade available with the Travel Max plan. Cancel for any reason - no questions asked.
    • Reimburses up to 75% of the insured trip cost
    • 100% cover if delayed to departure and loose at least 30%
    Go to site More info
    Atlas Travel
    Atlas Travel
    Provides customizable coverage for specific losses. Cover can be tailored to provide a balance between the basic essentials and premium cover.
    • Illness and Injury Cover - Up to $1 million
    • Emergency Medical Evacuation - Up to $1 million
    • Lost Checked Luggage - Up to $500
    • Travel Delay - $100/day up to 2 days
    Go to site More info
    Atlas Premium
    Atlas Premium
    Provides quality cover for a range of benefits with higher cover limits. Premium plan is perfect for travellers with health concerns looking for total protective cover.
    • Illness and Injury Cover - Up to $2 million
    • Emergency Medical Evacuation - Up to $1 million
    • Lost Checked Luggage - Up to $1,000
    • Travel Delay - $200/day up to 2 days
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Flight Insure Plus
    Travelex Flight Insure Plus
    Provides option to choose between different levels of flight insurance protection.
    • Flight Accident AD&D - Up to $1 Million
    • Baggage - $2,000
    • Medical Expense Benefits - $2,500
    • Medical Evacuation / Repatriation - $25,000
    Go to site More info
    STA Travel Explorer Plus
    STA Travel Explorer Plus
    Get premiere cover for a whole range of options with STA's premium policy. This option will still provide up to $100,000 in medical expense cover and up to $3,000 in cancellation cover.
    • Trip Cancellation Cover - $3,000
    • Emergency Medical Expenses Cover - Up to $100,000
    • Baggage and Personal Effects - Up to $2,500
    • Trip Delay - Up to $1,000
    Go to site More info
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance makes sure you are covered incase your planned trip unexpectedly goes awry.
    • Trip coverage - Depends on plan
    • Baggage coverage - Up to $1,000
    • 24-hour hotline assistance
    • Existing medical coverage - Up to $500,000
    Go to site More info
    Allianz International Travel Insurance
    Allianz International Travel Insurance
    If you frequently travel abroad and want extra coverage in case you get sick, injured, or need to cancel your trip, Allianz International Travel Insurance is the perfect solution.
    • Trip coverage - Depends on plan
    • Baggage coverage - Up to $1,000
    • 24-hour hotline assistance
    • Existing medical coverage - Up to $1,000,000
    Go to site More info
    Compare travel insurance for a trip to the USA

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