It is highly recommended to divide your money into several different funds while abroad. It is wise to have a least 2-3 of the following options: cash, debit cards, and credit cards. While you should never carry large sums of cash, it is prudent to have some in case your credit/debit card does not work initially overseas. You can exchange this money in the airport in order to make necessary phone calls, pay for a taxi, etc.
Debit cards are now widely used overseas and you should not have a problem accessing an ATM. Credit cards are widely acceptable in Europe and in most nice restaurants and shopping centers elsewhere. Please consider taking at least one form of plastic. Debit and credit cards can be invaluable during an emergency.
Before leaving, contact your bank to let them know where you will be traveling and for how long. Your bank may assume your card has been stolen and block access if they do not know you are abroad. You may want to have a credit or debit card linked to a separate account that is only to be used for emergencies. Also, consider giving a parent or relative access to your bank account. If something goes wrong with your account, it will be easier for them to sort things out with the bank in person than for you to try to reach your bank by phone or email—especially if you are in a different time zone.
Although a debit card often offers the best exchange rate, cash is very important in many places of the world for day-to-day transactions. You should not expect to be able to use ‘plastic’ for purchases in stores and restaurants everywhere as you can in the United States.
Remember not to keep all of your cash and cards in the same bag. If your bag is lost or stolen, you could lose everything. Consider dispersing your money through your belongings, and you might consider buying a money belt when carrying large amounts of cash. Remember to be sensible and cautious. Traveling abroad is not unsafe or more dangerous than traveling many places within the United States.
In case of emergency and you need money fast, MoneyGram and WesternUnion allow you to transfer money to locations across the globe instantly—for a fee. Since this is normally more expensive, do not do this unless it is absolutely necessary.
To check the value of the United States Dollar (USD) in any country, you may use an online currency exchange calculator:
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Exchange rates change constantly, and you should check the rate often. ATMs usually charge higher fees when used internationally, but they still often offer the best exchange rate. Do not exchange money with unauthorized dealers in the street. Banks and foreign exchange shops will give you a better rate than hotels, restaurants, or shops. If you are going to be abroad for an extended period of time, you may want to consider opening a bank account in that country.