There are many things to consider when traveling internationally. Beyond the broader issues like speaking the language and understanding local customs, you will need to know what form of money you’re going to bring. This is something you don’t need to consider within your own borders, but bringing the wrong currency abroad would stop you in your tracks.
There are a few options in front of you, some more expensive than others. Each has its trade-offs and advantages depending on the situation you’re in. The ideal option would give you convenience without startling fees. Let’s explore them further to find out which you should choose.
Ways to Travel With Money Abroad
Pre-paid Travel Cards: This option works so well because pre-paid cards are usually dispensed by major international credit card companies. This means they are accepted almost everywhere, giving you the freedom to spend your money where you want.
Exchange rates fluctuate constantly. Using a pre-paid card means you don’t have to worry about changing rates during your travel. It’s locked in when you put your money on it.
The disadvantage with these is that you have to know ahead of time how much you are going to spend. If you don’t judge correctly, you could wind up not having enough. There also may be times you need some cash. If you don’t think ahead and bring some with you, you’ll wind up paying a fee for withdrawing money from your card.
Credit Cards: This is another simple and convenient option. You can choose to spend now and make your payment once you are back home. Depending on your credit card company, you again have the advantage of being able to use it nearly anywhere.
If you have a travel-friendly credit card, you can use your points for future trips. You also often get insurance protections with your bigger purchases. Chances are you will be footing the bill for some pricey experiences.
But credit cards can allow you to get caught up and spend way more than you planned. With piling interest on top of your charges, you might end up paying this trip off for a while. There is also a risk with bringing a small card as your only form of payment. If you don’t have any backup options like cash, having it stolen will effectively end your trip.
Debit Cards: Debit cards have similar advantages to credit and pre-paid cards. The distinction is that you don’t have to worry about spending more than you can pay for, like with a credit card. You also don’t have to play a guessing game with how much to load onto your card because it’s coming directly from your bank.
If you aren’t able to get a credit card, this is a solid option convenience-wise. You can withdraw cash as you need it without getting slammed by interest fees. Still, this is not a cheap option. Using your debit card abroad means you are at the mercy of steep debit fees and withdrawal charges.
Cash: Bringing cash on your trip has some of the advantages of a pre-paid card without the pitfalls. You lock in your exchange rate on the day you convert your currency. You also have more control over much you want to spend in the beginning, rather than experiencing buyer’s remorse once you’re back.
When you have physical money, you don’t have to be as concerned that someone won’t accept your payment form. Very few places are card-only.
What is lacking with this option is convenience. Carrying a bulky wad of cash can be annoying. More concerning is that you are at increased risk of theft, so storage options have to be brought into the equation.
How to Choose the Right Card For You
If you’ve decided a card is your best option, you now need to find out what will work best for your needs. Just like when deciding what form of money to use, there are pros and cons for each one. There are a few key things to consider.
Compare cards to see what kinds of charges they will have internationally. How much does it cost to withdraw money? What is their foreign usage charge? What is their interest rate like?
Some of these costs might be more important to you than others. For instance, if you plan on bringing cash rather than having to withdraw when you’re there, you may not care what the ATM fee will be. If you don’t plan on carrying debt with your credit card, then interest may not matter to you.
This is a highly individual decision with no right or wrong answer. You will need to weigh the facts against your own travel needs. Once you figure out how to spend your money, then you can move on to brushing up on your French.