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

Travel money guide: USA

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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.

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.

Our pick for travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit
  • 3x points on dining at restaurants and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
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Compare travel cards for USA

Updated December 16th, 2018
Name Product Currency Conversion Fee Annual Fee APR (Annual Percentage Rate) for Purchases
None
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.99% to 24.99% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
None
$450
17.99% to 24.99% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
None
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.74% to 26.74% variable
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
None
$250
See Rates & Fees
50,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months Rates & Fees
None
$0
17.74% to 26.74% variable
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

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 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.
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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.
    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
    Details Features
    Atlas Premium
    Atlas Premium
    Comprehensive coverage with higher limits and a range of additional benefits.
    • Trip cancellation: Not available
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $2,000,000
    • Baggage coverage: $1,000
    • Trip delay: $200/day up to $400
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Travel Max
    Travelex Travel Max
    The most comprehensive protection plan offered by Travelex. Offers optional Cancel For Any Reason upgrade.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: $100,000
    • Baggage coverage: $2,500
    • Trip delay: $1,000
    Go to site More info
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Essential
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Essential
    Coverage includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: $15,000
    • Baggage coverage: $750
    • Trip delay: $100/day up to $500
    Go to site More info
    STA Travel Standard International
    STA Travel Standard International
    Affordable coverage for the essentials needed when traveling outside of your home country.
    • Trip cancellation: Not available
    • Emergency medical expenses: $25,000
    • Medical evacuation & repatriation: $250,000
    • Trip delay: $100/day up to $250
    Go to site More info
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Preferred
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Preferred
    Increased limits of coverage, plus trip interruption insurance worth 150% of the trip cost.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: $50,000
    • Baggage coverage: $1,000
    • Trip delay: $200/day up to $1,000
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Cancel for Any Reason
    Travelex Cancel for Any Reason
    Not 100% sure you're going to make your trip? Cancel For Any Reason upgrade is available with the Travel Select plan.
    • Reimburses up to 75% of the insured trip cost
    • Must cancel within 48 hours before scheduled departure
    • Offered on trips with a maximum value of $10,000
    Go to site More info
    Atlas Travel
    Atlas Travel
    Customizable policy that balances between the basic essentials and premium coverage.
    • Trip cancellation: Not available
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $2,000,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $500
    • Trip delay: $100/day up to 2 days
    Go to site More info
    Seven Corners Trip Protection Insurance
    Seven Corners Trip Protection Insurance
    Comprehensive coverage for the cost of your trip, your medical expenses and your belongings.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $250,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $2,500
    • Trip delay: Up to $1,500
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Flight Insure Plus
    Travelex Flight Insure Plus
    Choose the coverage amount that meets your needs. Baggage and trip delay protection included.
    • Flight accident AD&D: Up to $1,000,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: $10,000
    • Baggage coverage: $1,000
    • Medical evacuation & repatriation: $100,000
    Go to site More info
    STA Travel Explorer Plus
    STA Travel Explorer Plus
    Premiere coverage for a range of travel mishaps with additional riders for sports and other leisure activities.
    • Trip cancellation: $3,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $100,000
    • Baggage coverage: $500/item up to $2,500
    • Trip delay: $200/day up to $1,000
    Go to site More info
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance
    Make sure you're covered in case your planned trip unexpectedly goes awry.
    • Trip cancellation: $1,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $25,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $1,000
    • Trip interruption: Up to $1,500
    Go to site More info
    Allianz International Travel Insurance
    Allianz International Travel Insurance
    Customizable coverage that can give you peace of mind when traveling to popular or remote destinations.
    • Trip cancellation: $1,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $50,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $2,000
    • Trip interruption: Up to $1,500
    Go to site More info
    Compare travel insurance for a trip to the USABack to top
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