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Managing Money in a Foreign Country

If you’re heading overseas for a semester of school, read these tips for managing foreign money before you depart:

  • Budget: Create a spending plan so you can estimate how much money you’ll need for the semester. This will help you decide how you want to access your money while overseas. Your school’s international programs department should have some helpful suggestions.
  • Local currency: Understand exchange rates and how the local currency compares to the U.S. dollar. Use this online currency conversion table as a starting point.
  • Cash: Have some local currency in your pocket before you leave. Either visit your bank or an exchange service at the airport. You can also change currency when you arrive, but you may get a better exchange rate in the United States.
  • ATMs: Automated teller machines (ATMs) that use the PLUS or CIRRUS network are a popular option. Open a U.S. checking account to hold the money you’ll need while you’re away. Foreign ATMs work the same as ATMs do in the United States, but you’ll be charged a service fee and receive the current exchange rate. Check with your bank about fees, and notify them that you’ll be overseas so they don’t freeze your account because they suspect fraud.
  • Credit cards: Most credit cards are accepted abroad, but they’re not usually accepted as widely as in the United States. Contact your credit card company to ask about fees and exchange rates, and to notify them you’ll be using the card abroad. You can also purchase prepaid credit cards that you can load with enough money for your trip.
  • Money transfers: Another option is to have a parent to add you to a U.S.-based checking account that you can access via an ATM abroad. If that’s a problem, however, your parents can transfer or wire money to you from home. Transferring money is a more expensive and slower option, but it can be done successfully through money transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram.
  • Bank accounts: Securing a foreign bank account can help you avoid ATM fees. If you plan to be in the country for a year or longer or if you know ATMs won’t be available locally, a bank account might be your best option.
  • Traveler’s checks: Traveler’s checks are not accepted everywhere, but it’s smart to have some in reserve if you lose your ATM or credit cards. If you don’t use your traveler’s checks, you can cash them in when you return home. Traveler’s checks are not as common as they used to be, but might still be a viable option depending on your destination.
  • Protection:  Make sure to always be discreet when handling money, and be careful of pickpockets. Also, write down all your credit card and ATM card numbers plus all the phone numbers to call in case your cards are stolen or lost.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by CashCourse or the National Endowment for Financial Education. These courses and related resources may be used only for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. CashCourse makes every effort to keep the information in these courses current, but, over time, new developments as well as legislative and regulatory changes may date this material. If you discover inaccurate information, please contact us.]

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