Handling Money While Abroad & Currency Exchange
Students should plan to have approximately enough money to cover expenses for their first week abroad when they arrive in their host destination. Most airports will have currency exchange centers or ATMs in which the student can access or obtain the local currency upon arrival. Below are a few examples of the ways in which students can access or obtain money while abroad:
Credit or debit cards are one of the best methods to use funds while traveling abroad. They usually get the best exchange rate and ATM machines are usually available 24 hours per day. Visa and Eurocard/Mastercard are widely accepted. The student should notify their bank about the locations and dates they will be traveling before they travel abroad because fraud detection systems will cancel a card if it is used in locations that are unusual for the cardholder. Check to see what types of service charges will apply if the card is used internationally. Remember that most banks have per-session and/or daily limits to the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from an ATM.
Cash is a universally accepted form of payment, however it is often the most prone to theft or loss. Money can be exchanged at airports or most train stations. Banks generally offer a better exchange rate, but they may also charge a fee.
Traveler’s checks are prepaid checks that can be exchanged for currency at foreign banks. They can be purchased at any major bank in the US before going overseas. We recommend that traveler’s checks be used as a last resort since they have the least favorable exchange rate and it can be difficult to find locations that will exchange them. However traveler’s checks are secure and can be returned at any bank for no penalty upon return. If the checks are lost or stolen, the checks are worthless because they require the signature of the check-holder.
How to Carry Money
The best way to avoid loss or theft is to keep valuables in a money belt worn underneath clothing.
Opening a bank account in the host country is recommended if the student is going to study abroad for a full year. Students will usually receive an ATM/Debit card that will make financial transactions much easier and more cost-effective; your student will be able to avoid ATM fees if they enlist at a local bank. Opening an account also makes sense for locations where ATM access is not convenient or sufficient. If the student chooses to open an account in their host country, they should wait until they arrive and open the account in person (not online). In some locations there will be a US bank abroad. The student should research the banking options in their host community that best fits their needs.
After acceptance into an off-campus program we recommend students and parents begin to think about the sources of currency they will use while abroad. Research the kinds of services available in your off-campus program community as well as the host committee’s banking customs. Students should also contact their credit card company or bank to let them know they will be traveling as well as check on the availability and locations of ATMs in the area where they will be studying. It is a good idea to talk with your son or daughter prior to their program departure about establishing a travel and spending budget while abroad. Students are encouraged to use location-specific resources as well as other students who have studied abroad to determine estimated expenses for food, local transportation, and personal expenses including some entertainment.
Rates of Exchange: Since currency rates are constantly changing, parents and students are encouraged to monitor the exchange rate prior to and during the program period. A website for monitoring currency exchange is www.xe.com/ucc. A helpful website for translating US dollar amounts into the currency of the host country is, www.oanda.com/converter/classic.
How to Exchange Currency: The key to successful money exchange is advance planning and estimating how much money you will need for a particular country. It is costly to convert to a new currency because each time you convert you pay a service charge. You can exchange money at banks, traveler’s check companies, airports, railroad stations, some tourist information centers, and travel agencies. Offices of traveler’s check companies, banks and sometimes exchange counters at airports tend to offer the best rates. Bring your passport with you as identification every time you exchange money. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports or high-traffic tourist areas; they will often give a worse exchange rate.