So, you’re off on another trip abroad. You’ve probably planned for some time, but let’s pause to talk about an important travel topic—money. As a fellow missionary traveler, I’ve learned answers to some questions that may help.
How much money will I need?
This is best answered by someone who is familiar with the economics of the country you’re visiting. Ask someone who lives there like a missionary or student; or ask the person or organization planning the trip. I recommend taking at least 10-20 percent more than recommended for unplanned expenses.
How much money can I bring into another country?
The maximum (including traveler’s checks) you can take into or out of the US without declaring it is $10,000. Most of us don’t carry that much, but check the laws for the country you’re going to by visiting the U.S. Customs website.
What is the best way to make transactions while traveling?
You have several options, so be prepared with two or three of the following. Then, if one method is not accepted, you have a back-up.
The first rule with cash is “Be careful!” Cash is convenient but can make you more vulnerable. If you must carry large amounts of cash, don’t keep it all in one place and never leave cash or other valuables in an unattended suitcase or bag. If you take US currency, you will need to exchange it for local currency at a bank or currency exchange (for a fee). Before you leave, check the exchange rates and fees at your own bank, they might provide a good option for you. WARNING: It is generally illegal to exchange money on the street in other countries.
It’s wise to carry a debit card since many places do not accept credit cards (see below). Call your card provider in advance to let them know the places and dates you will be traveling so they can detect any fraud attempts during that time. Make sure to find out if your card is accepted internationally and what the ATM limits or fees are set by your bank. Be aware that additional fees may be set by the ATMs in country. ATM fraud and theft can be a major problem in some countries, so be careful. If a machine looks suspicious (i.e. any damage or obvious fixtures attached), don’t use it.
Travelers checks can be one of the safest ways to carry money because if they are lost or stolen the issuer will replace them. You can purchase travelers checks for a fee at many financial institutions. You’ll 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
Many financial institutions have replaced travelers checks with prepaid travel cards that work like debit cards. Besides a fee to purchase the card, pay attention to possible additional fees for ATM withdrawals, reloading or monthly use.
You can use credit cards for purchases in many countries, but some businesses only accept cards they recognize or that come from in country banks. Many times you’ll get a better exchange rate when you use a credit card. Using a credit card can also protect you. If fraud is committed, your bank account and cash will not immediately be depleted, giving you time to fix the problem. Some credit cards come with travel insurance and/or fraud protection, so find out what’s available to you before you travel.
What are US dollars worth in the country I’m traveling to?
Exchange rates vary widely. Make a “currency cheat sheet” that lists some common amounts you might spend and what they equal in US dollars. This can help you make quicker buying decisions. Another great tool is http://www.oanda.com/currency/travel-exchange-rates, a website that includes a currency converter, smartphone apps, and helpful currency tools.
This may all sound complicated, but if you do your research ahead of time, then you can pack your bags and have a great time!