How to Protect Your Money While Traveling

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When I was 18, I traveled to Europe as an exchange student. I really didn’t know how to protect my money while traveling, and kept all most all of it in pocketbook, in a single form. I was lucky: The only danger my money faced was being spent. If I had been robbed, I would have been hard-pressed to get my money back (although, as part of a student exchange, I would have had help dealing with the aftermath).

True, I was at a disadvantage: I didn’t have a credit card, and I didn’t have a debit card. (This was a looong time ago.) Traveler’s cheques were the way to go when traveling overseas. However, some of the basics of protecting your money never change. It is especially important to be careful of your money if you know you will be traveling to a place in upheaval. Plus, you never know if the country you are in might suddenly become unpredictable, as what happened in Egypt recently.

Before you head out of the country, consider these tips for protecting your money:

Use Credit Cards

Credit cards are almost universal these days. Take a credit card that is accepted in a wide variety of places. These cards should be used for large purchases (hotel rooms, car rentals, tickets, etc.). Credit cards come with fraud protection, so if your card is lost or stolen, your liability is limited. It’s a good idea to bring at least one other card along with you, as a backup. Your back up card, and a paper with the phone numbers and account information for the cards you are bringing, should be kept in a separate and secure place. A hotel safe or locker is a possible choice.

Keep Cash in Different Places

You probably will need cash for some purchases, since not every vendor will take a credit card — especially if you stray off the beaten path. Don’t keep all your cash in one place, though. Leave some of it in a secure place off your person, and keep some of it separate on person. You can use money belts worn under the clothes to protect some of it, and keep some in a wallet or purse. There are other hiding places that are popular for cash, including socks and bras.

Know Where Your Debit Card Is

If you want access to cash, you can use a debit card. Keep track of it, and report it immediately if it is lost or stolen. Before you go, think about where you are likely to withdraw cash from an ATM. Find out where the ATMs are located, and use those. Be on the alert for false ATMs set up by scam artists in areas frequented by tourists. When in doubt, use a bank ATM (even if the fee is a little higher).

Also, be aware of the differences between ATMs in the U.S. and in other countries. Password and PIN entry may be different; before you go, you may need to choose a PIN that is compliant with the machines in another country.

Clean Out Your Wallet or Purse

Take as little as possible. Take only the identifying information that you need. Limit the number of debit and credit cards you bring to three or four (total). Don’t keep account numbers, Social Security cards and other sensitive information in your wallet or purse. Travel light, and have an inventory — kept separately — of what you are bringing. Do a check at the end of each day to make sure you still have everything.

Let Others Know What You Are Doing

Before you leave, let your card issuers and your bank know that you are traveling overseas. Make copies of your important documents (including your passport). Write down the phone numbers of the banks (account numbers not necessary) in question, and make copies of your itinerary. Give a copy to a trusted family member or friend to keep for you, and keep another copy for yourself. Just make sure it is kept in a secure place.

If you are careful with your money, making preparations, it should be quite safe as you travel, and you can enjoy your vacation.

Do you have any other money tips for traveling overseas?

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “How to Protect Your Money While Traveling”

  1. Great tips! My wife and I will soon be out of debt, which means it’s time to reward ourselves with travel! We’ve always wanted to get outside of the U.S., and would most likely travel around Europe. These are good suggestions, and I will keep them in mind for our trip. 🙂

  2. Nico says:

    Good article!

    I would add
    – debit cards usually have much lower fee than credit cards. Check before leaving – it might save you tens of $$. If you’re going to withdraw a lot, check before leaving which bank abroad will give you the best deal (same with mobile phone companies).
    – send yourself an email with important information (card and bank numbers, etc)

  3. Strebkr says:

    These are all very good points to remember when traveling! Thanks.

  4. indio says:

    All good suggestions. For me it depends where I’m traveling, what process I will follow. For example, in Brazil I always stick a credit card in my sock as a back up. I was once on a public bus where everyone was held up at gunpoint. They got my wallet, but didn’t leave me entirely stranded. In Rome, I wear clothes with pockets and keep my wallet in my front pocket. Cargo pants can be handy too. The purse is only for holding lipstick. In NYC, I wear a bag crisscrossed, messenger style over my shoulder and keep it in front whenever I’m on the subway.

  5. Money Smarts says:

    I used quite a few of the tips you mention above while traveling in Europe a couple of years ago. We used mainly credit cards, and always kept one in a separate location – cruise ship safe – while we were out and about. I also made copies of everything in my wallet and stored it securely online in case i needed to remember what was in there – in addition to keeping a copy with me of important numbers were my wallet to be taken. Also used the money belts in a couple of cities. One last thing we did.. We carried some decoy wallets with us with a few dollars in it and some old student cards that we could give away if we were robbed.

    Thankfully we never had any problems.

  6. billsnider says:

    Some other thoughts.

    Use two differant credit cards. Keep them seperated. For instance, if you and your spouse are traveling, one carries Visa and the other MC as an example.

    If you get robbed, file a police report. The credit card company may ask you for one.

    Safety rule is to keep anything valuable against the skin such as in a money belt. Only keep immediate money in your pockets.

    Leave all jewelery home. Use a cheap watch. Watches are targets since they cost a bundle outside of the US.

    Don’t carry a wallet. To easy to take.

    Watch your luggage. I once had a friend who was distracted on a bus in London and found that their luggage went bye-bye on a previous stop.

    Watch idle chatter. You don’t know the people and how they will use this info.

    Good luck.

    Bill snider

  7. zapeta says:

    Thanks for the tips. We always split up our money and each carry different credit cards just in case.

  8. jsh says:

    Another suggestion I’ve heard is to memorize the actual numbers of your ATM PIN instead of the letters. Not every ATM will have the letters over the numbers.

  9. Strebkr says:

    While spending a summer in Europe for school I saw an American couple get their stuff taken from them on the train from the airport into the city. I’ve seen lots of tricks and I thought I had enough common sense to watch out for them, but on guy dropped a few coins on the ground while walking by and getting off the train. Guess what happened next? EVERYONE’s eyes went straight to the ground. Another guy standing by the door snatched what looked to be a small camera bag. By the time the train started moving again it was too late. They guys were gone and so was their stuff (wallets, passports, and camera) I still think about that day because that could have been me.

  10. AMA says:

    Also…it’s good to do research on the country before you go.

    Some countries prefer US dollars (Egypt) or treat them identical to their own currency with a fixed exchange (Jordan) whereas others won’t take them (Japan) or will only take perfect, mint bills (Bolivia). In some countries where bargaining or extreme tipping are common, you NEED cash. Best advice I had for Egypt, was to go get several hundred dollars in $1s and $5s. In most countries though at least some things (esp official sites) will only accept local currency.

    Based on that, you can decide what type of cash makes sense (USD or currency from the country you are visiting).

    When it comes to where to convert your currency, that’s a tough call that can be hard to research easily since online info may be out of date and finding out foreign rates is hard. In my personal experience, the US banks and currency counters usually give a worse rate than when you get to the country itself, but that might vary depending on the country/currency. (For instance in Japan they gave me about 15% more yen than the US counter did for each $1 converted…)

    Theft varies by country. Some countries are known for it. Others punish theft very harshly so even in impoverished areas, pickpocketing might be low.

    ATMs for debit cards are also different. In Egypt, for instance, almost any machine will work for us Americans, even if we have many digit pins. In Japan, most ATMs won’t even accept your card (look for 7-11s and post offices…they have US compatible ATMs!) and in some countries, you need to be sure to have a 4 digit pin (many US cards have 5 or 6 as default).

    When it comes to credit cards check with your issuer. Some credit cards can charge you very high fees for foreign transactions (3%, 6%, or I had one friend who found out hers was 12%!)

    Absolutely you should divvy up your $ into different places. The same is true if you have more than 1 credit card. And also make copies of your passport (a lot easier to get a replacement if you lose the real one).

    It’s also important to let your banks know where you are going for a different reason…if they see foreign charges they aren’t expecting, many will freeze your charging. This can leave you stranded and it can be very hard to get the problem solved when you are outside the US.

    • Strebkr says:

      There were towns in Switzerland that did fixed exchange rates because it was easy. No matter what the swing, they held it constant. (I’m pretty sure I came out ahead that week)

  11. eric says:

    I stick with a no foreign currency fee card like Capitol One. Hasn’t let me down yet. 🙂

  12. M says:

    Make copies of your documents before you leave – but email them to yourself so they are readily accessible from remote locations if getting back to where you have the paper copy stored is too difficult.

    Keep $200-300 USD with you, in multiple compartments of multiple bags. Brand new bills only. Don’t bring hundreds – they are too large to change. Bring 50s, 20s. You’d be surprised to know that the US Embassies won’t take credit cards to pay for an emergency replacement passport, and you’ll need $135 in cash to get it done.

    For walking around – the sock trick is nonsense when you’re in a place that’s 95 degrees or more.

    For the ladies – tuck a bill that covers cab fare and a little extra in your bra, spending money split between your pocket and your purse.

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