Nothing ruins a vacation quite like a monetary crisis. The risks are certainly there: Your bank could mistake your innocent purchases for fraudulent ones and freeze your accounts, you could rack up tons of unexpected fees, or you could simply get screwed on the exchange rate.
Here are five tips to help you protect your money abroad, prepare for emergencies, and prevent overspending.
1. Inform your bank that you’re planning to travel.
Be as detailed as possible about where you’ll be (hotels, specific cities within countries, etc.). Most banks let you do it online, but I like to talk to a person, too, just for peace of mind. Before you leave, make sure you have your bank’s international contact information with you in case something goes wrong — your standard 1-800 number may not be the correct contact.
2. Don’t keep all your money in one place.
When I took a trip overseas last year, my partner and I were diligent about telling our banks where we’d be traveling to avoid any issues. As soon as we got off the plane, we walked over to an ATM to take out some cash. In a moment at once terrifying and hilarious, the machine read out, “YOUR CARD HAS BEEN CAPTURED.” We had to transfer all the money in his account into mine (we had split it evenly in case something like that happened), but that took a few days to come through. I don’t know what we would have done if his ATM card was the only way to access our money. Having emergency money in traveler's checks (yeah, they’re still a thing) as well as cash is a smart idea.
3. Enable online accounts.
Assuming you don’t have online banking already, get it. Logging in to your account online will give you the option to verify your activities if you do get flagged, monitor your expenses, and keep an eye out for fraudulent charges.
4. Avoid airport currency exchanges.
While it’s convenient to exchange your money at the airport, the exchange rate will be less than favorable. Avoid unfair exchange rates by withdrawing money from an ATM or bank.
5. Get a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit or debit card.
Most cards charge a premium for any international transaction, so you may want to open a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit or debit card before your trip. You should also use it to book your trip — flights on foreign airlines and hotel reservations can all be subject to international fees. Just make sure that your card offers a worldwide payment network, and do your research to make sure your travel destinations are covered.