Spending Money Abroad– Best Way To Do It

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If you are going on vacation or studying abroad, most students always wonder- should I bring cash, traveler checks, and credit cards or just withdraw from the ATM? How much should I bring and where should I exchange cash or travelers checks?

Daily Expenses

I recommend bringing around $100 American dollars in cash for emergencies and then withdrawing from the ATM for the rest of your stay.  Using the ATM usually guarantees a good exchange rate. Be aware that your bank will most likely charge a fee for withdrawing internationally. Also, it is always a good idea to inform your bank ahead of time that you are traveling  abroad so they don’t freeze your account for suspicion of fraudulent activity. If you need to withdraw a large amount to pay for an apartment or other large expense abroad, ask your bank to raise your withdrawal limit or you might be able to withdraw a larger amount through multiple transactions but you will pay the fee for each one.

Credit Cards and Travelers Checks

Use your debit card for ATM withdrawals but credit cards everywhere else. If an error occurs in a transaction, it is always easier to resolve it with a credit card than a debit card. Most major credit cards are accepted at restaurants, stores and hotels, but smaller establishments may only accept cash. Traveler checks have become less convenient nowadays because searching for a good rate and location that accepts traveler’s checks can be a hassle.


The small amount of cash you do bring should be free of rips or marks. Other countries are very wary of counterfeit money and only accept crisp, non-marked up bills. This is also true for foreign currency that you receive out of the ATM and in change. Always make sure the bills are in good condition and I find it helpful to keep smaller bills on hand.


Tipping varies country by country. Generally, you don’t tip as generously as you do in the U.S, but you should leave what you think is appropriate for the service. Be aware that most places will catch on that you are American and almost expect the tip that goes along with it.

Exchange Rates

When abroad, I usually reference http://www.xe.com for reliable exchange rates in the specific country I am visiting. Always research your specific destination to find out the convenience of using certain types of payments because countries in Europe can differ greatly from countries in Asia or South America.

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