Banking and Credit Cards – if you haven’t done so already, let your bank and credit card providers know that you’ll be in [insert all countries you will travel to] from [insert start date and end date]. There are no costs associated with activating your card in other countries. This ensures transactions you make are not flagged as “suspicious activity.” If banks notice that someone in another country is making withdrawals from your account, they often assume your cards have been stolen and may cancel them to prevent fraud.
Ask your bank which banks in [insert countries] they have a relationship with. Just as an example, Bank of America has partnerships with Deutsche Bank (Germany) and BNP Paribas (France) and Barclays (England), which allow you to skip the charges if you find those ATMs.
If you will be using a credit card, ask your provider what the foreign transaction fee is per use. Most credit cards charge a 3% fee on purchases made abroad. If you have time, I recommend applying for a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee. I personally have the Chase United Credit Card, which does not charge me any foreign transaction fees.
Always pick the local currency — when you use your credit card abroad, you will often be given the option to be charged in your home currency (i.e., instead of being charged in the local currency, they will charge you in US dollars). Don’t choose to be charged in U.S. dollars. The rate at which they are converting the currency is always worse than the rate your bank will give you. Pick the local currency and let your credit or debit card company make the conversion. You’ll get a better rate.
Do not exchange your money in the U.S. You will have the chance to exchange money when you get to [insert country]. Please check the conversion rates on xe.com to make sure you are receiving the best rate, or at least something close to it. You can download the XE app.
Also (generally), ATMs give you the best exchange rate.
If you have time, I personally recommend opening a Charles Schwab checking account—they have no foreign transaction fees and you can use any ATM within the U.S. or abroad. If you are charged an ATM fee, Schwab will refund you all fees at the end of the month.
Cell Phones – let your cell phone provider know you’ll be out of the country. I usually ask my provider to deduct my non-use from my monthly bill, since I will not be using the cell phone services (talk, text or data) for set amount of time while I am out of the country (so why pay for them). They usually agree to give me a pro-rated charge for not using their services while I’m abroad. Also, make sure your cell phone is on Airplane Mode at all times to avoid roaming charges. You can still use the Wi-Fi feature while on Airplane Mode.
Baggage Fees—Note the baggage fees associated with your airlines.
Last but not least, check the weather and pack light!
Have a wonderful time abroad!
Grace Olguin, Study Abroad Advisor
International Center, Bldg 1-104
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
3801 W. Temple Avenue Pomona, CA 91768