How to Manage Cash when Traveling Internationally

by Janet Green

 traveling with money

May 23, 2014

Because I work at ECCU, I get the privilege of not only serving missionaries through banking, but using some of the best practices I’ve learned for my own short-term missions trips.

I went on a short-term mission trip to Hungary in 1998. The first day of our trip included some sightseeing around Budapest to help the team acclimate to the time change and climate, and to get some insight to the culture. I needed some cash, so I found a bank with an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). I swiped my card, entered my pin and asked for $200 US, which the ATM converted into Hungarian Forint, and got my money. It was just that easy. I got the best exchange rate, and in one stop had all the money I needed for my 10-day stay. When I told my team what I had done, they thought I was taking a big risk. They were convinced that carrying cash was safer than using the ATM and believed they could get a better exchange rate at a currency exchange office. Turns out they had brought $5,000 cash and divided it between three people to carry. We were blessed that none of them got pickpocketed.

In 2009 I went on another short-term trip, this time to Romania, and money was handled the same way. I used the ATM and the team brought cash. A friend of mine led a team with her husband to Asia in 2010. She was pickpocketed and lost $3,000 in US cash.

There are options for managing money internationally and risk associated with each. Depending on where you are traveling and what you need cash for, try to use the one with the least amount of risk.  Usually, most of the money that short-term missionary teams bring is for housing, food, and additional support for the missionaries or local churches they work with.

If you or someone you know is heading out for a short-term missions trip, here are some alternatives to simply carrying all that cash.

  • If the missionary you’re visiting banks with ECCU, deposit the support funds directly into their account here in the States.
  • If the team stays in a hotel for the trip, use a debit or credit card to pay for the stay.
  • If the team stays with local families, have one or all of the team members open an ECCU savings account and use their ECCU ATM card to get cash to pay the family for food and housing. This also assures that each team member knows how their own funds are being used.
  • If the team goes to dinner together, use a Visa card to pay for the meal. Visa is accepted worldwide.
  • If each team member wants to buy souvenirs or other items, use a Visa card or have them open an ECCU savings account and use their ECCU ATM card to get cash or pay for their purchases.

Preplanning is key. Help short-term team members prepare by asking these questions when making money decisions for their trip:

  • Is it necessary to bring a large amount of cash?
  • Do you know anything about the banks in the country where you will be traveling? For example, will they charge a separate fee for a withdrawal?
  • Is your team aware of the risks of carrying a large amount of cash?
  • Do the missionaries you will work with bank with ECCU?
  • Is Visa readily accepted at merchants?
  • Are ATMs available in the location you are traveling to?

These questions can raise the issues and set you up to educate your team about best practices.

I was recently asked to join the missions committee at my church, and wouldn’t you know, we’re sending out a short-term team this summer. One thing’s for sure. After I get the details—like country, city, and missionary names—I will be asking the ECCU Member Services team for advice on the best way to manage money in that location.  You can too.

What tips do you have to share?

Category: Missionary Minded