Handling Money Abroad

When you travel abroad, you will need to think about the overall cost of your program, but also how you will handle your money while in another country. We hope that this page will provide you with some helpful information!

Accessing money while abroad

First of all, it is important that you don't just rely on one way to access money or pay for things while you are abroad. So our first suggestion is that you have at least two ways to access money. This could be a debit/ATM card and a credit card, local currency and a credit card, etc. 

Cash/Local Currency

Let's start with the most basic form of payment: cash. Depending on where you study abroad, you could be paying in Euros, Pounds, Australian Dollars, Thai Baht, or Ugandan Shillings. The first thing you need to know is what currency you will be using. Secondly, some countries are still very much cash societies, meaning most transactions will be in cash. This will be covered in your pre-departure orientation or you can feel free to ask your study abroad advisor. This information will be good for you to know as you plan how you will access your money while abroad. 

Ways to get cash:

  • Your bank: See if your bank can order you some foreign currency prior to you leaving. It can be a relief to arrive in the country already having at least $100 worth of the local currency on hand. Please be aware your bank wil likely charge you a fee for this service and it is best to give ample notice (2 weeks or more). Smaller banks may not be able to provide this service, and likewise less common currencies may not be available through your bank.
  • The airport: While at international airports, you will typically see currency exchange offices. This will allow you to change US dollars, for example, into Japanese Yen. Some of these offices will claim that they do not charge a commission. Theortically, they might be telling the truth, that there is no separate fee/commission for exchanging the money, instead they usually use an exchange rate that favors them more than it does you. You can ask them for a quote and compare that with the "real" exchange rate by doing a Google search or using a currency exchange app such as XE. Less common currencies may not be available.
  • ATMs: Likely a common way you will access local currency is by using the ATM. You can even visit the ATM as soon as you arrive at the airport in your study abroad country. ATMs will often offer a variety of languages, especially if the ATM is located is located inside an airport. The ATM will ask you how much of the local currency you would like. Be aware of your daily ATM withdraw limit, plus the fees your bank charges for an interntional ATM withdraw. In addition, the local ATM may assess you a fee as well. For safety reasons, when possible, we suggest using an ATM that is located inside a bank rather than on the street.
  • Coins: Some countries have coins that are actually worth something! For example, the 2 Euro coin and 2 Pound coin can be worth $2-$3 depending on the exchange rate. Use your coins up while abroad. Do not bring them home with you unless you plan to add them to your coin collection. US banks will rarely be willing to exchange your coins from abroad. 

Opening a Bank Account

If you are abroad for a semester or longer, you may want to investigate the option of opening a local bank account. It may not be an option in all locations, but if you are able to open a bank account, it could result in paying less in fees for withdrawing funds from your home bank. In some countries it can take a few weeks to establish a new bank account. In some cases your program may require you to open a bank account. Another perk of having a bank account abroad is that if you happen to lose your ATM/debit card, it is much easier to replace if you can just walk in to a local branch office. If you do open a bank account abroad, be certain you close it and withdraw remaining money prior to leaving. 

ATM/Debit Cards

One of the forms of payment you bring with you abroad will likely be your home bank ATM/debit card. It provides a convienient way to withdraw money from your home bank account while you are aborad. Be sure to talk to your bank before you leave and let them know you will be abroad and plan to use the card. Many banks allow their customers to set up these travel notifications online or through their app, but you may like calling in order to ask questions. While you have your bank on the phone, it is a good idea to confirm the international ATM withdraw fee. Some banks charge a percentage fee such as 3%, while others may charge a flat fee such as $5. Other banks will charge both a flat fee and a percentage for every ATM withdraw you make while abroad. Also ask your bank about your daily withdraw limit and then convert that dollar amount into the currency you will use abroad so you know the maximum you can withdraw at one time. Finally, ask your bank the fee for using your card as a credit card for purchases in stores. 

Credit Cards

Credit cards can also be a convenient way to make payments abroad, though they may not be accepted in all countries. If you know credit cards are widely accepted in your study abroad location, it is best to get a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees as this will save you money in the end. As with an ATM/debit card, you will also want to notify your credit card company of you intentions of using the card abroad so they do not block charges or freeze your card due to expected fraud. Some credit cards have features through their app that notify you each time a purchase has been made, or they ask you to verify that you made the purchase. Credit cards are convenient, but you should still plan to stick to a budget and make sure you are able to pay your card off each month so that your charges do not accrue interest. Some credit cards may also offer you a sign up bonus of points, miles, or cash back. 

Apple Pay/Google Pay

Some locations will have the option of paying via Apple Pay and/or Google Pay for example. This can be a safe and convenient method of payment, however, it is difficult to know just how much you will be able to use these payment methods until you arrive in country.