Monday, May 20, 2013

Getting the $$ in order

An important "to do" before traveling, particularly overseas, is to make sure your finances are in order.  These are some things we consider:

  1. Schedule bill payment for those accounts that must be paid during the time of travel. Any that can be set up to auto-pay should be handled so that you don't have to find wifi to send a payment or worry about connecting via an unsecured network.  Look ahead to what is due when and sort it out before you leave.
  2. Notify your bank and credit card companies that you'll be traveling overseas and include the dates and locations that you'll be. This will keep them from blocking access to your accounts when you are legitimately using them to access cash or purchase that only-found-in-Italy item that you absolutely must buy. 
  3. Write down your account numbers and the contact information for your credit card and bank should you need to call them from overseas.  Most have a "call collect from anywhere else" in addition to their toll-free US number.
  4. Ask about foreign transaction fees.  Some credit cards have none, but most charge 3% regardless of the currency that they purchase is made in. So if you're in France and the merchant will charge you $US rather than Euro, you will still pay the foreign transaction fee.  These fees are generally added to your account at the end of each billing cycle, so if you have a small credit line available, be sure to keep track of that extra fee so it doesn't cause overdraft or over-the-limit issues for you.
  5. Ask about ATM withdrawal limits per day / month, particularly if you aren't already a regular ATM user.  Some banks limit the number of transactions per month before charging hefty fees, others limit the amount of cash per withdrawal. Some charge fees in addition to what fees are charged by the bank whose ATM you are using, so you want to watch out for those double-dippers.
  6. Take enough cash to get you where you are going and then some. You don't want to arrive in a foreign country without some cash, and if you can have some local currency, that's even better. Sure, you can hit up the ATM when you get to the airport, but what if your ATM card doesn't work there or if it's all out of cash at the end of the day?  It's better to have at least enough to get you a cab to your hotel where the concierge or clerk can help you or direct you to another ATM.  We had an issue in Canada where our bank-issued ATM wouldn't work; there was apparently some restriction on the use of them in Canada, but our bank failed to inform us of this even when we notified them of our travel plans. Thankfully we had some $US on us and were in Vancouver where pretty much everywhere accepted it.  We had planned to get $Canadian after arrival so as to avoid the foreign transaction fees from using a credit card for purchases, but we were foiled.  We called our bank from Canada to find out what was going on; that's when we learned that Canada and the US had some weird thing that kept us from using our ATM there.  When we returned, we saw that our bank had put up new signs asking customers to let them know when they would be traveling overseas so they could find out if their ATM cards would work.  We like to think that our experience led to the bank better informing their customers.
I'm sure there are other things related to finances that need to be taken care of before traveling, but these few things should get things started.  Don't wait until the last minute to take care of these because you might find that you want to order a newer credit card that has a chip in it for use in Europe, or you might want to order some foreign currency, or something completely different.  Whatever you do, don't neglect to consider the best way for you to handle your money and your transactions both at home and away so you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

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