The money question!
Replies: 17 - Last Post: Jul 13, 2012 6:37 PM Last Post By: ono
Jul 3, 2012 9:22 AM
The money question!Hi All--
Very excited to be headed out on an 18 month RTW after 10 years of staying put here in the US! I’ll be travelling in Vietnam, Cambodia. Laos, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, then possibly through some of the middle east. My question right now is how to handle money on/for the trip, since so much, such as the prevalence of credit cards, has changed since the last time I traveled. Specifically, I’m wondering:
- I’ve heard that it’s best to take two ATM/debit cards (with Cirrus or Plus network), each one linked to its own checking account, plus also take a credit card. Is this the best method? If not, what is?
- I’ve also heard that it’s a good idea to bring cash USD. How much would you bring if you were going on this trip?
- Would you take any traveler’s checks, other currencies, anything else?
- How would you recommend handling things back at home to make sure the accounts stayed topped up and credit card bill paid? I am VERY reluctant to rely on accessing online banking at internet cafes along the way. I’m 51 myself, and my parents are simply not at a point where they could keep a watch on this. Given the length of the trip, this just seems like too much to ask of a friend. I am considering using a personal services company, whose owner I know and trust completely. But it means giving them access to the bank accounts connected to the debit cards, plus a “master account” that would feed these two. Any suggestions/thoughts/experiences regarding this? What do you all do for long trips?
Jul 3, 2012 8:19 PM
- debit cards vs. credit cards. Take both... also take a Visa and a Master Card. some countries will take one card, but not the other. You will never know until you try.. Also debit cards often don't work, no matter what it says on the machine.
- yes, it is a good idea to have some American cash on you, in nothing larger than a twenty, and a lot of fives and ones. Especially handy when you need a bit of cash just before leaving a country and you don't want to be carrying much local cash.
- I generally buy at least fifty dollars of the urrency for the first country i visit, so i have money for a cab or whatever transportation I need to take. If you want to, change some money ahead of time so that you have some when you arrive. There are money changers at the airport you leave from, and one usually at the place you arrive. Border crossing by land, there are often money changers hanging around.
- travellers cheques are now kinda archaic, however, i normally travel with some in case of an emergency. They will only be cashed at a bank, and they will charge you for changing it to local cash. I had been carrying the same travellers cheques for my at least three trips, but for Africa, i cashed them in for dollars before i left..
- You might consider paying ahead on your credit card accounts, or arrange that money be transferred to them on a regular basis. Can you make an arrangement with your bank before you leave? I try to get as many payments as I can on automatic deduct whether i am at home or abroad. it makes life easier. The bills are paid directly from the bank. I rent, so I give me landlady postdated cheques.
re carrying cash: if you think you will be travelling to smaller communities, villages etc. you will probably not find a bank or a cash machine. Thus be prepared with enough local money, AND american $. When I was in West Africa (Ghana, Burkina, Mali) I was happy to have my $ stash. Often you get a better deal from a local money changer than from the bank (and with less trouble).. i had never carried much cash in the past, but for this trip, I carried about $500. Yes, it was bulky, but i distributed it into different places on my person and in my luggage. ... I ended up using all of it, and was very happy to have it on hand.
You cannot always rely on being able to get money from an ATM, even in a capital city. It happened to me in Bamako, Mali. I needed to buy an airplane ticket to the next destination. I didn't have enough local money, but since i was leaving the country, i didn't want to change any more, since it could not be changed back outside of Mali. I had been told that the agency would accept my Visa.... but they didn't accept ANY credit cards, and sent me to the bank next door to use their ATM machine. The machine rejected all of my cards, so I went to the foreign exchange desk to use my card (this had happened before in Ghana, and it worked ) After waiting ten minutes, the clerk came back and told me I was overdrawn. I wasn't, as i had used my account very little, and had a $10,000 line of credit. She was adamant. I had a meltdown. Then i counted out every last American dollar i had to pay for the ticket. Fortunately I was on my way home, and was connecting in Senegal with my prebooked return flight.
I am sure you will get lots of tips from others, but this is what has worked for me.
Jul 4, 2012 1:43 AM
2All of the above.
Flexibility can be important - while ATM's are almost always reliable, you will need a stash of cash to fall back on if necessary. And in countries where the power supply is wobbly, you can only pay hotel/hostel fees when there is electricity.
And I had an accountant who agreed to have power of attorney - there must be a similar arrangement in the US - so he has access to all my bank accounts and can keep an eye on money going in and out, move things around if necessary. I trust him implicitly - and pay for the service. But it's worth it to feel the money is taken care of at home. (And he offered to send money to my children on their birthdays, and all birthday cards - which I left with him in a big pile before I left!)
Jul 4, 2012 5:21 AM
3Cards are the way to go, use one with another as a back up. Inform the companies before leaving so they Don't freeze your account because of so many foreign transactions.
Take USD as an emergency measure where ATMs not available. How much? Work out where you are likely to need them and calculate the amount that should tide you over. $1000 should be plenty - half in 100s (better rate of exchange) the rest in varying amounts. Some worry about carrying that amount and being robbed but unless you carry a flag announcing "I have lots of cash, rob me!" who the hell will know?
TCs are museum pieces and in the few places where they are still willingly accepted attract a poor rate.
Rather than worry about the bills back home, if you have no family member you can fully trust to organize payments, bite the bullet and accept modernity. Online banking is safe enough provided you ensure you log out correctly after each transaction. Never save your log on details and if in doubt, hard crash the computer when you leave the cyber cafe.
Jul 4, 2012 6:32 AM
4Thanks for the great info!
So, ATM cards and credit cards, plus cash USD it is.
@canyjun: thanks for the vivid Bamako example: I have been to Bam. and can picture the scene exactly!
@jomcarrol: had not thought about cc’s and the power supply. Great point.
@wanderinwilco: hard crash the computer—had not thought of that solution!
The only thing I’m still wondering is the “total online” vs. the “hired assistant at home” issue. Sounds like folks have different approaches here. I’d be really interested to know from more people: if you were going away for 18 months thru Asia, the “stan’s” and the middle east, and there were no family member or friend who could oversee things for you at home, would you go the “total online do-it-yourself” route or “hired assistant” route?
Jul 4, 2012 9:29 AM
Jul 4, 2012 10:34 AM
6I would try to automate as much possible and rely online banking, with an arrangement with my bank that I could send instructions by fax if I needed anything to happen to my account. They can keep your signature on file and a rough outline of your itinerary.
There are various security options you can use to protect online banking access - for eg carry your own USB key with foxfire loaded, so you're not using the computer's software. You can also have a textfile on the usb key with your password buried somewhere in it to cut and paste so you don't have to enter it with the keyboard, and so on. Look up the latest security tips for travellers.
Jul 4, 2012 4:28 PM
7With regard to paying bills you should check into whether your bank does automatic deductions. We have our pension checks automatically deposited into our bank account and all our bills (such as utilities) are automatically deducted. All our credit cards are set to be paid in full every month so we don't have to worry about paying interest. We have been doing this successfully for the past 6-7 years and have had no problems. Always let your bank and credit card companies know of your travel plans - this protects you and them should someone try to fraudulently use your cards.
Jul 4, 2012 5:09 PM
8ooops. ... newfie mentioned something i just take for granted. I, too have my credit cards automatically paid in full every month, so that any bills that i arrange to have paid on my cre3dit card, get paid. I use my credit card for nearly everything, because i use the air miles i collect for travelling.
Jul 4, 2012 9:35 PM
9A few other money/security tips -
Keep your valuables "on your body", such as a money belt or I like a cloth pouch that has a cord that goes around your neck and the pouch under your shirt. This includes your passport, credit card, big amounts of cash. I have a "day wallet" that I keep in my pocket with only a small amount of money.
Get shorts/trousers with a zipped pocket and keep you day wallet in the zipped pocket.
Be aware that experienced pick pockets are very fast and very good and usually work as a group. One acts as a decoy and the other does the pick pocketing. I had my day wallet pick pocketed from a front zipped pocket in Indonesia - it all happened so fast!
Try to keep your cards etc in separate places, so if one gets stolen you have an alternative source of funds available.
Let you bank know you are going overseas. Some banks (in Australia) have been known to stop transactions when they suddenly start to appear from places like India.
Have a photo copy of your valuables such as passport, credit/debit cards, traveller cheque numbers, travel insurance policy, emergency contact numbers etc and once again keep them separate from where you keep your credit cards, passport. I also email myself a copy of the photocopy so I can access it on line if necessary.
If your credit/debit card(s) are stolen make sure you notify your bank ASAP.
Travel insurance is helpful as they have an emergency number that you can contact should you loose your money while overseas and can provide you with emergency money.
Jul 5, 2012 4:58 AM
10All of the above fine suggestions, plus:
- yes, take a bit of US$, but make sure they're PRISTINE, unwrinkled and newish editions - many countries are very fussy/won't accept even a slightly wilted bill.
- keep money in BOTH checking and savings in your (yes, yes, at least two different) accounts. Some ATMs won't give you the choice of which to withdraw from and may go for the savings account vs. the checking.
- Get thyself a Schwab account - veteran travelers swear by them - they guarantee to reimburse you for all ATM fees - which can add up if your an expat/long time traveler.
- Ideally, 2 or 3 different accounts with likewise different ATM cards (should one get lost/stolen/eaten by an ATM machine. Better yet - make sure at least 2 of them are with different banks, so if a bank suddenly decides to block your account (as fraud protection 'cuz they happen to think there's something funky about a purchase - ask me how I know...) so you have another bank's account to use.
- Oh and...carry a defunct credit card plus a small bit of cash when out and about (especially at night) so you can happily hand it over if not-so-kindly requested by a robber. Likewise a defunct passport.
- Also, Skype can come in mighty handy - dial 800#s totally free to speak w/ your bank should the need arise. Same for any other business back home w/ 800#. Even a paid land line call will only cost you around .02/min. to the States.
- PayPal can be one of your money stashes. I use mine to both receive funds (from website clients) as well as to pay for air tickets, etc.
Oh, and did anybody yet mention? A virtual online mailbox for your snail mail. Many offer check deposit, etc. Many to choose from- indeed, so many it can be dizzying. Read about why I chose VPM (Virtual Post Mail) in my "Desperately Seeking a Mail Forwarding Service" in my TravelnLass blog.
Jul 5, 2012 6:21 AM
11It is probably worth talking to your bank. There are even more options available some of which dont attract the substantial international transaction fees that YOUR bank and the bank in the country you are travelling in will charge.
Like lots of things these days.. serious mathamatical calculating is required to work out what is the most economical as well as the safest way to access money. As generally suggested above, having a few different options is a great idea.
Jul 5, 2012 12:46 PM
12What an amazing wealth of information—so many things I had not thought of! I can see that with automating all bills, having my cc auto-paid each month (why did I not think of that before?!) and getting a virtual mail box for the remaining snail mail, I can probably get by without a personal assistant here in the US.
And @travelinlass—wow—it’s an honor to hear from you on this. I have been following your blog since before you left home. Folks, if you want to read a laugh-out-loud funny blog about the kind of travel we all love, this is it: http://www.travelnlass.com/ And Travelinlass, I too am a Seattle-ite. It was rainy, cold and in the 50’s here last week. Gotta love summer in latte-land!
Jul 6, 2012 10:07 AM
13A couple more suggestions:
I type up an "important info" list of phone numbers, consulate #s, number to call at VISA and bank if cards stolen etc. I email this to self and I also carry a copy folded up with $200 US and taped into a zip loc bag and put under the insole of my walking shoes. I make sure I am wearing these shoes when going through tricky borders etc.
Travelers cheques are not only expensive to cash but I carried some as insurance up until I tried to use them here in South Africa a few years ago and was told by the bank that it would take a week to clear them because there had been so much fraud. Waiting a week for them to clear is not workable when they are your back up plan so I've never used them since. I carry two different ATM cards, three differnt credit cards and stash them in different places. Also $500 US cash plus a good stash of local currency wherever I am. My husband thinks I'm nuts to carry so much cash but as we discovered on this current trip (we are in Africa as I write this), out in the countryside of many countries they only take cash and if you have a breakdown or need to buy a new tire you will need a LOT of cash.
I also set everything up at home to be paid automatically. All incoming is auto-deposit to bank account. Then I monitor with online banking. I am careful where I check my online accounts - not at internet cafes, for example, where bright young techno geeks know how to monitor your activity. But I did check tonight, for example because I am sitting at a campground at a river lodge out in the country.
For the record, I have been online banking, on the road for about ten years now and have never experienced fraud. Nor have I ever had my credit cards or money stolen from me while traveling.
Jul 6, 2012 11:32 AM
14I agree with all of the above great advice, and here's my 2 cents worth. Some places where the currency is 'big' like India, Laos and Vietnam where $1AUD = lots of Rupee, Kip, Dong etc. ATM withdrawals are sometimes limited to around the equivalent of only $200AUD because lots of (sometimes crappy) notes can jam the mechanism. On occasions when I require greater amounts ($1000 to $2000) I send the money to myself via Western Union. This incurs a fee of around $15 whereas 5 to 10 ATM transactions would cost me $60 to $100. There are Western Union offices everywhere, and you can set up an on-line account before you leave home.
Personally I prefer to look after my own finances when travelling (4-8 months at a time), because these days you can react instantly to a financial crisis (ATM's, TC's, Western Union etc.) whereas the time lag contacting someone back home may only exacerbate the situation.
Don't forget, when you're in need of a cash 'solution' somewhere in the middle of Asia, it's probably the middle of the night back home.
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