Financial Education: Traveling with Money 101

If you’re planning a vacation, you have a lot to think about. One of the most important things to consider is how you’ll pay for stuff when you’re enjoying all the entertainment and hospitality in a foreign country. Even if you’re prepared with lots of credit cards, you still want to have some cash on hand for a lot of different reasons.

As a traveler in a foreign country, you may think you can pay for everything with a credit card these days. And yes, it’s true, credit cards are available for use in more places than ever before.

But you may be surprised to know, especially in many places outside of Western Europe, that cash is still a preferred method of payment in many places. This is especially true if you plan on traveling outside major urban areas in foreign countries.

And not only that, but there are also quite a few good reasons to have cash on hand, in the local currency, no matter how many ATMs your travel destination supposedly offers.

Cash is Still Important

There’s a lot you can do with foreign currency, and a lot you’ll have to do while traveling that a credit card can’t pay for.

There’s a lot of variation in payment methods depending on where you’re traveling, but for the small transactions, you make while abroad, cash in a foreign currency is still necessary for the skilled traveler.

Many restaurants, especially smaller restaurants that cater to locals may only accept cash. And if tipping is customary, you’ll want foreign currency. Your taxi driver? They want cash, not a credit card in many places. Want to experience buying your food at a local farmer’s market? You probably should have cash on hand since many small artisans and purveyors don’t use other forms of payment.

Yes, you’ll find credit cards in more and more places, but especially if you plan on shopping at smaller, local establishments, you need cash. And there’s no reason to wait to exchange your American dollars for the local currency when you touch down. It’s better to visit a foreign currency exchange store at home, where the signs and exchange rates are clear and in the language you speak.

Avoid Credit Card Fees and ATM Charges

Did you know that many credit cards charge you fees to use them internationally? These are called foreign transaction fees and they can add up to extra money you could be spending on souvenirs and more vacation fun.

Not only that, but there is also another potential hidden charge for using credit cards abroad. The local merchant may offer to charge you in your home currency on your credit card. That may sound fine, but they have the option of setting the currency conversion rate. The issue is that the merchant has no incentive to get you a good conversion rate. So you lose money.

Thinking of using an ATM while abroad? You can do that, too. But there’s a whole host of other fees you will probably pay. And that’s if you can find an ATM. The convenient ones often charge big rates and other ATMs may not even be located in the area you want to travel in.

The solution to this is to carry some amount of foreign currency on hand safely and responsibly while traveling.

Your Card is Temporarily Suspended

If you’re using a credit card abroad, you should always let your credit card company know your travel dates, so when you use your card in a foreign country the card isn’t suspended, locked, or even canceled.

Credit card companies have gotten better at this than in the past. But it’s still a possibility especially if you aren’t sure of your itinerary. You may decide to make a side trip to another neighboring country on the spur of the moment, but you didn’t add it to your travel itinerary with your credit card company. You could be out of luck if that flags your card. If this happens, it’s important to have cash on hand until you can fix things with your credit card company.

You can stop by any Currency Exchange location and get the currency you need for your next vacation. Just back from abroad and still holding on to some foreign currency? You can exchange foreign currency back to the currency of your choice, also.


With over 350 locations, many open nights, weekends, and holidays (and several stores with 24/7 availability), you can rest easy knowing your financial needs can be taken care of when you need them most. We’re in the heart of every community. Don’t believe us? See for yourself.