If you’re planning a trip, you might have thought about using traveler’s checks while on your adventure. These are checks that you purchase at the bank and use like cash — with safety their main benefit.
Once you’ve purchased traveler’s checks, you sign them. You can exchange the checks for cash at merchants that accept them, but you need to provide ID and match the signature. Unlike cash or personal checks, if you lose a traveler’s check, the issuer can cancel uncashed checks and issue you new ones.
Today you have fewer opportunities to use traveler’s checks: They are no longer widely accepted at stores and hotels either in the US or worldwide. Still, they could be helpful in a few specific situations.
Using and buying traveler’s checks
Years ago, many businesses accepted traveler’s checks — and they were as good as cash.
That’s not true these days: Take a traveler’s check to a store, and you’ll probably get a puzzled look. Their acceptance is declining, bowing to newer, more convenient options like credit and debit cards. Worse, many banks won’t even accept them.
If you take traveler’s checks on a trip, don’t plan on using them as currency. And know exactly where you’ll cash them once you get to your destination.
Where to get a traveler’s check
Over the years, many consumers have had difficulty using and cashing traveler’s checks. Now, many banks — including giants like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America — no longer offer traveler’s checks.
But traveler’s checks aren’t yet obsolete. You can still find them from such companies as American Express, AAA and Visa. Typically, when buying them, you’ll pay a 1% to 2% fee on the amount of your checks.
How to buy a traveler’s check
Go to a bank or visit the website of a traveler’s check issuer.
Make a note of the serial numbers on your traveler’s checks, and sign each one.
How to cash a traveler’s check
Go to a bank or currency exchange that accepts traveler’s checks.
Countersign your check in front of the clerk. Usually, the signature line is the lower right corner of the check.
Show your photo ID to the clerk.
Receive your cash.
How traveler’s checks can be useful
traveler’s checks aren’t as popular as they once were. However, you’ll find a instances where it might be helpful to carry them.
1. You’re going to a place where there aren’t many ATMs
One reason traveler’s checks aren’t used much anymore is because ATMs are widespread. Instead of walking into a bank to exchange a check, you can insert your card and get cash in seconds.
Of course, that’s an issue if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t have many ATMs. In that case, traveler’s checks could be useful. Just make sure there’s a bank or currency exchange that will cash your checks.
2. Safety is a big concern.
If you’re worried about credit card fraud, using plastic can be an unsavory option. For example, you may be worried that ATMs are tampered with or not affiliated with a bank.
traveler’s checks may make you less susceptible to fraud. To cash your check, you must produce a signature that matches the one you used when you got the check. This makes it extremely likely that the person cashing your check will be you — and you only.
3. You want a fallback option.
If nothing else, traveler’s checks can be useful backup. If you happen to lose your cards or your money is stolen, you can cash a check.
What to do if your traveler’s check is lost or stolen
If you lose your traveler’s check or they’re stolen, you’re not out of luck. As long as you comply with your issuer’s terms, your traveler’s check will be replaced.
Here’s what to do:
Call the customer service phone number provided by your issuer.
Provide proof that the check is yours — submit the check number, proof of purchase and your identification.
If required by your issuer, report your stolen check to the police along with evidence.
After you’ve reported your missing check, your provider will void it and issue you a new check.
Alternatives to traveler’s checks
The times are a-changin’. Here are three options today considered superior to traveler’s checks.
Credit cards can be incredibly convenient if they’re widely accepted at your destination.
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Debit cards are just as convenient as credit cards, and they don’t have cash advance interest. However, they usually have foreign transaction fees. Many card providers also charge you a fee if you use an out-of-network ATM.
Fortunately, you can apply for debit card services that are light on fees:
The Charles Schwab High-Yield Investor Checking Account charges no foreign transaction or ATM fees. If you’re assessed a fee at an out-of-network ATM, Charles Schwab reimburses you.
Capital One 360 charges no foreign transaction or ATM fees. However, it won’t reimburse you if an ATM company charges a fee.
Discover Cashback Checking charges no fees when you use an Allpoint or MoneyPass ATM. It also comes with no foreign transaction fees. However, you won’t be reimbursed if an ATM company charges a fee.
Kevin Joey Chen is a credit cards, banking and investments writer whose work and analysis have appeared on CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Business.com, Lifehacker and CreditCards.com. He's passionate about helping you get your finances in order by expertly navigating cutting-edge financial tools — including credit cards, apps and budgeting software.
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