The trip is all planned. The hotel is booked, sightseeing tours are arranged down to the hour and your bag is packed. Now you’re thinking about money. Do I go with the currency exchange option in the airport? Do I really want to carry around all that cash? Do I use my credit card? Can I withdraw from the ATMs there? What happens if my card gets stolen and a new wave of preparation looms on the horizon? Ultimately, the question is: Currency or credit card while traveling?
The answer depends on the answer to one critical question: Can you withdraw from ATMs where you’re going?
With ATM Access
If the answer is yes, you can draw from ATMs, then use a debit card and withdraw cash upon arrival. Your money will be exchanged at the interbank exchange rate, which is usually the best exchange rate available (it should be noted that withdrawal fees vary). Now you have cash in your pocket and cash eliminates two major threats. One, the threat of a dishonest business using your card information and sending you down a highly inconvenient credit card fraud rabbit hole. Two, the threat of losing your card and some local going on a shopping spree at your expense.
When traveling, cash transactions tend to be cleaner and safer. All you have to do is get familiar with the currency system and the rough exchange rate to make sure you’re not getting ripped off. So if you have ATM access, debit card cash withdrawals are the way to go and your problem is solved.
Without ATM Access
However, if you can’t withdraw from the ATMs at your destination, you have to make another decision: Do you suffer the financial loss and convert money at a currency exchange office or do you risk it and use a card for purchases?
Begin with some research to see if there is a strong pattern of credit card fraud in your destination. Then think about whether or not you are prone to losing your card. Has it happened before? Multiple times? Then don’t bring it! Take the conversion hit and trade for cash at the airport or at any currency exchange office.
If your country doesn’t seem to have any special trend of card fraud and your history of not losing cards is very strong, then go ahead and use it. However, no matter how safe you are with your cards, if robberies are common where you’re headed, you’re at risk.
To conclude, you have to do research and some self-evaluation, but your plan “A” should be to bring a debit card and withdraw cash. A debit card is also slightly safer in the sense that you can control how much is in your savings account in the event that someone takes it and goes out spending as opposed to the greater spending power of a credit card.
s a final precaution, be sure to notify your bank that you are going overseas so that when overseas charges pop up, the bank doesn’t go into panic mode and close your account.
A Good Alternative: Prepaid Cards
Revolut, a prepaid Mastercard-linked smartphone app, allows travelers to make purchases and withdraw from ATMs with the interbank exchange rate and with no fees. From a strict economic standpoint, this is the best option. The only cost is the time it takes to download the app and then the time it takes for the card to arrive by mail.