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Managing Money When You Live Outside the US, Part 1

by Schuyler Francine

exchanging currency

August 7, 2017

Be Smart about Exchanging Currency, Getting Cash and Making Purchases

Just as when you’re on home assignment, you want to be smart about how you spend the money your support team gives when you’re living and serving internationally. Three areas that may not seem to bring the risk of wasting these funds have to do with how you access and spend them. Here are some tips for how to be smart about exchanging currency, getting cash and making purchases.

Exchanging currency

Getting the best conversion rate and avoiding fees doesn’t make much difference when you exchange small amounts, but put them all together and the cost of exchanging money adds up quickly. Here are some tips to help you spend less on exchange rates:

  • You’ll usually get the least value if you convert money at a hotel and the most at a local bank.
  • Airports have currency exchanges, but they often offer less value for your money and may have surprisingly large transaction fees.
  • You can often find a fair conversion rate from exchanges in tourist areas, but shop different vendors to compare. Just a few feet away you may find a better deal. (Warning: In many places it’s illegal to exchange money on the street.)
  • When exchanging cash, you’re likely get a better rate for large bills than small ones. So bring $50s instead of $20s. And bring bills in good condition; crumpled ones may be rejected.


Getting cash

In the States, you have an opportunity to get cash back nearly every time you use your debit card. Traveling internationally, cash might not be so easy to come by. When you need it, here are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • ATMs often give a good conversion rate, but be sure you don’t have to pay transaction fees. That’s one reason ECCU’s member missionaries appreciate the missionary checking account. There are no fees from ECCU for international ATM withdrawals. If you do have to pay fees, minimize them by taking out all the money you need at one time rather than dribbling it out day by day.
  • One way to avoid having to get cash is to safely carry it with you. Two convenient and safe ways are travelers checks and prepaid travel cards. You can purchase travelers checks for a fee at many financial institutions. You will need to cash them at a bank or currency exchange and pay a fee to convert your funds to the local currency. Be sure to learn in advance whether travelers checks are a good option for your destination. Prepaid travel cards work like debit cards. Besides a fee to purchase the card, pay attention to possible additional fees for ATM withdrawals, reloading or monthly use.

Making purchases

Besides cash, travelers checks and prepaid cards, you can purchase items with debit or credit cards. When possible, use cards like ECCU offers. Not only do they not add extra international fees, they also give a good exchange rate.

Next time we’ll look at how to keep your money safe when living and traveling internationally.

Category: Missionary Minded