Between bank fees, local ATM fees and a currency exchange fee I once paid a $13 fee to take $100 out of an ATM in Rio de Janeiro. There goes the daily budget. And I had really been looking forward to eating.
You obviously can’t carry all the cash you’ll need for your entire trip. I spent about five minutes on my first trip wearing this secret under-the-shirt money hider thingy that I had read was a necessity for the paranoid American traveler. It was hot and ridiculous. You need to use ATMs along the way.
So how to keep the price gouging to a minimum? You need two things: a credit card with no currency exchange fees and a debit card with no international withdrawal fees.
One of my best discoveries was the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. This debit card not only does away with international ATM fees but they will actually REFUND back to you any fees that the local ATM charges.
This is excellent for so many reasons.
- The obvious: less fees means more money spent on actual travel and less unearned income going back to the top of the economic food chain. Yay!
- The ability to go to any ATM on an as-needed basis allows you to budget for upcoming currency exchanges. So if you know you’ll only be in Vietnam for another day before heading to China, you can take out a small amount of cash to get you through the day. Then take money out of an ATM after arriving in China. This kind of planning saves you a ton of gouging in currency exchange fees.
- This also lets you carry less cash on hand which prevents much unnecessary stress, paranoia and secret money pouch sweat.
So now I always carry a very small emergency stash of USD to exchange if needed, but use a credit card and ATM card as I go, taking out cash every few days.