Totem Travel specializes in international travel so we get a lot of questions about foreign currency, cash and credit cards while traveling abroad. Here’s my recommendation for all but a handful of destinations including most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific Islands of Fiji and Tahiti, the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica –
Travel with $2-300 in cash, an ATM card and two major credit cards. Call the customer service number on the back of each card before you leave to advise that you’ll be out of the country. The bank will note your travel dates and destinations and this will forestall a security hold for “unusual activity”. You should also verify your daily limit for ATM transactions and check on any credit/debit card fees for international purchases.
ATM machines are located in all major airports, near major tourist attractions and throughout the cities and towns just as there are here. Plus most hotels, restaurants and stores accept major credit cards. The ATM is normally the least expensive and most convenient way to get cash and the only trick is to convert your daily limit in U.S. dollars to the local currency then take out that amount. That way you get the bank rate of exchange with the lowest possible fee.
The worst place to get cash is a currency exchange counter! They either charge astronomical fees or have a terrible exchange rate and they are masters at advertising only one aspect of the transaction… We also do not recommend travelers check unless you don’t have credit/debit cards. Travelers checks are not widely accepted and they are a hassle to use.
One more suggestion – if you are buying something expensive (e.g. jewelry, original art) use a credit card and make sure your receipt states specifics for the purchase. Fraud is not a common problem but if your emeralds turn out to be green glass most major credit cards have fraud protection and will reverse the charge if challenged and documented.
I hope you find this information helpful and call or email if you need help planning the perfect vacation in Europe or Australia. My passion is helping clients get the most of every travel experience and I love designing customized itineraries to meet your special wish list whether that is wine tasting in Florence Italy or scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef!