Travel banking overseas can be expensive. Learn how to avoid ATM fees, get the best exchange rate, protect against fraud, and save money while traveling abroad.

Avoid International Bank Fees


The best way to obtain local currency overseas is to withdraw it from an ATM. It’s quick, easy, and you’ll get a great exchange rate. But did you know you’ll be charged $5-$7 every time you withdraw money from a different bank’s ATM?

Often both your bank and the bank that owns the ATM will charge you a fee.

When you are traveling for a long period of time, this can add up to hundreds of dollars! Let’s say you withdraw money 3 times per week while on the road

This will cost you a whopping $780-$1092 after a year of travel — easily enough to continue traveling for another month.

Many travelers use an international bank that has ATMs all over the world.

Use 3 Accounts for Safety

International financial fraud is on the rise, and plenty of travel horror stories involve drained bank accounts. Planning for worst-case scenarios is a smart thing to do.

That’s why it is best to use 3 different bank accounts while you travel.

#1: Personal Checking Account This account is used for personal reasons, like paying bills, and anything not travel related. It can also be used as an emergency backup should your Travel Checking Account get compromised on the road. This ATM card is locked in a hotel safe or hidden within a backpack, briefcase or suitcase at all times.

#2: Travel Checking Account This account is used for travel expenses, including withdrawing money out of ATMs. Never keep more than about $1000 in this account at any one time. If your ATM card details are stolen, it shouldn’t completely halt your travels. The thieves may get some money, but losses will be minimized, and you’ll get all your money back from the bank in a few days anyway.

#3: Travel Savings Account This is where the bulk of travel money resides. There are no ATM cards to steal, and account balance earns interest. When a Travel Checking Account gets low, one can easily go online and replenish it. This account is also linked to a Personal Checking Account, should one need to transfer funds if a Travel Account is compromised or while waiting for a replacement ATM card. Choose an account that has the best interest rates around, and is very easy to link other accounts to.

The redundancy built into this system is prepared for many different scenarios while traveling — including bank fraud and lost or malfunctioning ATM cards.
Travel Rewards Credit Card

Another way to save money and provide some security while you travel is to carry a credit card. International exchange rates are cheapest when paying with a credit card and it’s a great backup to have in case of an emergency.

Many cards also include basic travel, theft, and auto rental insurance.

Not to mention the possibility of snagging free flights & hotel stays with airline miles if you use your card often.

To learn more about finding the perfect travel credit card, check with your local banking expert at South Porte Bank

Protect Your Cash

Cash is used most while traveling internationally because it’s accepted everywhere. But the problem with cash is that it’s not traceable, so if it’s stolen you’ll never see it again. Taking proper precautions when carrying cash is a must!

Many travelers hide extra cash inside money belts that are worn under their clothing. These removable pouches are uncomfortable and it’s easy to forget them somewhere.

Instead try these secret pockets sewn into pants & shorts. They are a lot cheaper to make ($3-$7) then buying fancy travel pants with a similar feature built in.

It’s also wise to hide a stash of emergency cash in your luggage somewhere.

Favorite places include:

• Dirty Socks
• Toiletry Kits
• Under Shoe Inserts
• Sewn Behind a Patch (attached to your bag)

Dummy Wallet

In particularly risky locations, you can also carry a dummy or mugger’s wallet. This is a cheap 2nd wallet that’s filled with about $20 in local currency, an old driver’s license, some receipts, and an expired credit card. It’s used as a decoy, so if you’re ever mugged, you can throw it at the thieves and run away. Helpful against pick pockets too.

The tactic is best used in cities with high crime rates — such as Guatemala City, Managua, and Tegucigalpa.
Best Exchange Rates

Anytime you exchange foreign currency, you are paying a small premium to the people providing the service. How much you pay depends on the method you use to exchange it. Some are a lot cheaper than others.

Exchange with Travelers: While this is definitely the cheapest way to exchange foreign currency, it’s not something you’ll be able to do all the time. Usually when leaving or entering a new country, you’ll find fellow travelers heading in the opposite direction. This is a great opportunity to trade currencies with each other. There are zero fees involved, unless one of you can’t provide exact change.

Use a Credit Card: Credit cards will give you the best exchange rates — slightly better than using an ATM. The problem is you can’t use them everywhere. Depending on where you’re traveling, many businesses only accept cash.

ATM Machines: Using your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM is the next best thing to a credit card. Exchange rates are very competitive, and ATMs are available all over the world. Insert the card from your home bank, and instantly receive local currency to use as cash. Exchanging money using an ATM is both super convenient, and relatively cheap.

Currency Exchange Booth: This is one of the worst options for exchanging your money. You’ll often see these places at airports or bus terminals. They offer terrible rates, and there is always a commission of some sort tacked on. Even if their sign says “No Commissions”, the exchange rate they give is padded to make a tidy profit off your ignorance.

Money Changers: If you thought currency booths were bad, these guys can be even worse. You’ll find them hanging out around international land borders. Sometimes it’s an outright scam. Taxi drivers will take you to the country’s border, where you’ll need to get out and jump into another taxi, but this 2nd taxi won’t take the last country’s currency. If you’re not prepared, this can force you to use the local money changer who just happens to be waiting with an absolutely horrible deal. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure to count the money you receive twice, and check for counterfeit bills before you hand over your cash.

Always know the exchange rate for the country you are traveling to. Check online before you go at or if you use a smartphone, download this free currency exchange app:

Tips for Fraud Prevention

Credit & ATM card fraud is a reality. Following a few simple rules will help protect you from disaster.

Avoid Public Computers: All over the world you’ll find internet cafes where you can rent a public computer to manage your online banking. It’s relatively easy to install a key logger on these machines, which will track every keystroke you make, giving a hacker all of your login details. If you must, make sure to use a secure password manager like Last Pass.

Call Your Bank Before You Travel: Let your bank & credit card issuer know what dates you’ll be in certain countries. This will help them identify & block any fraudulent activity on your account. It’s also important if you want your cards to work when you get there!

Keep Eyes on Your Credit Card: When paying by credit card overseas (especially at restaurants & bars), never lose sight of it. Don’t let anyone “take it out back” to swipe the card. If the machine is not near you, ask to accompany the cashier. Card skimming scams are often accomplished this way.

International travel is a very safe activity, despite what you watch on the evening news. The key to having a great time is to be prepared for all of these possible scenarios. Chances are you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Stay smart, protect your hard-earned money, and travel longer.

Karsten, M. (2014, July 1). Travel Banking 101: Protect Your Money. Retrieved from The Expert Vagabond: