Traveling and Your Money – FAQ’s

One question that we always get about this time of year as people are planning their summer holidays is how to deal with their money (cash, credit cards, ATMs) while traveling.  What kind of currency, the use of ATM machines, what credit cards to take, should I exchange money before leaving, etc. I hope this article gives you information that might help you with your plans.
Credit cards and ATM machines have eased the challenge of spending and exchanging money on a trip overseas, but occasionally you will be in a country where the ATMs don’t work or they might reject your card since it doesn’t have a chip in it like most European credit cards do. US cards usually have a magnetic strip, rather than a chip, but some US card issuers are now making their credit cards with a strip and the chip.  Make sure to check this out with your card issuer or the bank.

Finally got cash out of the ATM in Syria!

Before leaving the US, make sure to let your credit card company know that you are traveling so they do not decline your card or block usage for “suspicious” activity.  They usually want to know what countries you will be traveling to.  When traveling to Iran you can use a credit card, but not American Express, for a large purchase such as a carpet.  The Iranians have set up a program where they are using merchants in Dubai or Abu Dhabi to get the transactions to go through, because of the sanctions.  So remember, if you are traveling to Iran, be sure to include the “UAE”, “Emirates”, or “Dubai and Abu Dhabi”, when you notify your credit card company of your travels, otherwise they might not give the authorization code for the purchase.  They do not have ATM machines in Iran that can be used with American cards so you will have to travel with cash so make sure to figure out your budget before departing.

You can check out the exchange rate for your destination before you leave for your trip.  There are numerous websites that will give you a quick conversion and one site that will create a “cheat sheet” for you – listing different quantities of currency and the equivalent in US dollars, and vice versa. That site is http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/. This is handy in case you are trying to pay for something in dollars that was quoted in the local currency. 
Cheat Sheet from the for-ex site OANDA
 Also, make sure to only exchange the money that you will need for the next couple of days. It is more difficult to exchange back to US dollars and you will lose money on the exchange.  It takes some planning, and you don’t want to be in a situation where you run out of local currency and then have to try and find an ATM or exchange office at the last minute. Most hotels will exchange money, as well as banks and exchange offices. So if you are getting low, its best to stop at the front desk on your way out for the day and exchange some more money, rather than have to interrupt your sightseeing with a trip out of the way to find an ATM or bank.  On the other hand, a lot of merchants will take US dollars and you will be amazed at how quickly they make the conversion in their heads! But remember, not all places will take US dollars, so be sure to ask your guide about this. Generally they will not take dollars for small purchases like a soda or sandwich, but will for the more expensive items.
When planning your cash to bring with you, be aware that particularly on the larger bills like $50s and $100s that they may be too old to be acceptable. If the issue date on the bill is prior to 2003, it may not be accepted for exchange. There are new security measures in place on the US currency and prior to that there was a lot of counterfeit money being exchanged. Naturally the merchants, banks, and hotels don’t want to get stuck with a counterfeit bill and lose their money. Also make sure the cash is clean and not too worn or damaged, even if it is after 2003.
Sometimes your guide will also exchange money for you (and may add a small percentage to do it). It will be a convenience to you that helps, but generally do this on the bus, but do not let officials see you to do this – it is usually not considered legal. 
Make sure to check with your bank and see what fees they will be charging you for using the ATM machines and your credit card overseas – it might be higher then you think.  With the new laws out that all banks and credit card need to list all the fees that they charge their customers it is easy to look this up on line.
Have a great trip and enjoy your summer bouncing around the world! Let us know if you have any questions ~ we are here to help and make it an easier trip for you!
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