Money and Banking Internationally

Tips for Accessing Money Abroad

Debit and Credit Cards Abroad

By far the most convenient and preferred method of obtaining cash abroad is by using a debit or ATM card to withdraw money from U.S. accounts. Students around the world have found this method to offer many benefits, including favorable exchange rates and greater accessibility and security. ATMs are now located in almost every corner of the world, most of them adhering to systems widely available in the U.S. such as PLUS and CIRRUS.

Machines are usually available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unlike many foreign banks, which close early in the afternoon or have limited weekend hours. Furthermore, the machines issue cash in the local currency, eliminating the need to exchange dollars or pay exchange commissions. Be sure to check with your bank at home, to ensure that your Personal Identification Number (PIN) is valid overseas and to clarify what sorts of charges will be applied. Your PIN should be a four-digit code.  

Although this way of accessing money is convenient, please note that service fees can add up. A listing of ATM locations worldwide can be found at: 

Credit cards make foreign currency transactions easy, and they are invaluable in a financial emergency. We suggest taking a credit card along but use it wisely. Service fees and interest charges can be costly, and the loss or theft of a card abroad can be a serious inconvenience when you’re traveling. Check to see if your card has a grace period for payments. 

Banks and credit card companies often have policies to minimize the risk of identity theft and these can involve cutting off access to the card if charges suddenly begin appearing overseas. Notify your bank ahead of time that you will be using your account in certain countries abroad so that when your overseas charges appear, they will not freeze your card account. 

Make a list of your credit and debit numbers, expiration dates, and customer service numbers and leave copies in a safe place at your residence abroad, as well as with your family back home. Having this information together in one place will make canceling your cards much easier if they are lost or stolen. 

The amount charged to your credit card bill is based on the exchange rate on the day that your bank or credit card company processes the transaction. If the merchant is slow in submitting your charge slip, the bill could be a bit different from what you might have expected. 

With many credit cards, you can obtain a cash advance against your account from a foreign bank. However, they begin charging a high-interest rate on the amount advanced immediately. 

Not all businesses will accept credit cards. Depending on the country, you may need to show your passport or other identification for financial transactions such as exchanging money or using a credit card. 

Recently, banks in most of the world outside the U.S. have switched their credit card security system from the “stripe and sign” system to a “chip and pin” system. The merchant or machine gets data from a chip embedded in your card and you verify by entering a PIN, instead of getting data from the magnetic strip and having to sign. Check with your credit card vendor and/or bank to see if this new chip and pin card is available to you. 

Before you leave the U.S., you should try to get accurate and timely information from your current bank and from credit card agencies. You can also discuss this with returned study abroad students who have been to your anticipated destinations. 

Currency Exchange

Although we recommend withdrawing local currency via a debit card (see above), currency can be exchanged at most international airports prior to your departure, at the international airport of your destination, and at most major banks and railroad stations abroad. In general, exchange rates are unfavorable at airports and train stations. It might be wise to exchange a small amount of money prior to your departure, either at your home bank or in the airport, in order to have some cash on hand upon your arrival abroad. 

Banks abroad afford you the fairest exchange rate available, but you can expect to pay a commission (which varies from country to country) every time you exchange currency. 

Currency exchange rates are updated daily at https://www.oanda.com/currency/converter. 

Transferring Money

Should you run short on cash while abroad, money can be sent from home in a variety of ways. A quick (and expensive) way is by cable transfer from your home bank to a bank abroad. You might want to visit your hometown bank before your departure to obtain a list of the overseas correspondent banks to which money can be transferred by cable and to let the bank know who is authorized to initiate cable transfers on your behalf.

To pick the money up at the overseas bank, you will need identification (e.g. your passport). It may be necessary for your hometown bank to process cable transfers through a major, internationally recognized bank, which will in turn probably have to deal with a comparable internationally recognized bank overseas. The correspondent bank abroad can then complete the transfer to a local bank at your study abroad location. 

Western Union has offices throughout the world and is a convenient way to send money if the situation is urgent. Be aware of the transaction fees involved (as well as any limits to the maximum amount of money allowed for transfer) which may vary depending on where you are wiring the money to and the method you are using to send the money. Western Union allows online wiring as well as the more traditional method of visiting the agent’s office and wiring money overseas from that location. 

You will not be able to use personal checks abroad.