Using money abroad can be tricky if you do not know what to expect. Please review the following considerations when planning how to manage your funds abroad.
When traveling abroad, it is strongly encouraged to create and follow a budget for your personal finances. It is important to allocate your money accordingly so you have enough for the full duration of your time abroad.
The estimated program budget provided by the Study Abroad Team accounts for personal expenses, but does not account for extra travel and recreational activities. As each individual has unique spending habits and available funds, the Study Abroad Team is unable to estimate these expenses. If you anticipate eating out frequently, shopping, or partaking in weekend sightseeing and/or travel, you should plan accordingly. For example, if you have bucket list destinations you would like to visit, you should do adequate research to ensure it is financially possible.
When planning finances, it is wise to think backward. Start counting back from your return date to determine the number of days you will be traveling. Separate expenses into categories (e.g., meals, hotels, activities, etc.) and research the cost of those items for your desired destination(s). Then, multiply how much each category costs per day by the length of your stay. One of the best methods for organizing this information is to create a spreadsheet and continually update it as you spend money.
Be cognizant that not every study abroad participant has the same financial capacity and thus may go about study abroad and prioritizing their finances differently. When making plans, keep this in mind and refrain from pressuring others into spending outside their financial means. No student should feel obligated to spend beyond their financial capabilities. There are often free or low cost activities to take part in on your host campus, in your host city and surrounding areas, or in your host country that do not require expensive travel.
Remember, there is no "right way" to experience study abroad.
We recommend you take at least $200 worth of your host country’s currency to help you get by for the first few days as not all countries abroad accept U.S. Dollars as a valid form of legal tender. The best exchange rates are usually at banks and they can often order foreign currencies if given several weeks notice. It is not recommended to exchange currency at airports or train stations as they often have the worst exchange rates. You should exchange only what you plan to spend as converting back to U.S. Dollars will often cause you to lose money, especially as coins cannot be converted back into home currency.
In additional to local currency, you may want take some U.S. Dollars with you. However, make sure the bills are crisp as they may be rejected if they have any folds, tears, stains, creases, faded color, worn spots/edges, or pen marks. Any cash you plan to use or exchange should be in small denominations (no larger than $10-$20). It is also a good idea to take some U.S. Dollars abroad and save them for your return home to be used in the airport or for transportation purposes.
Once abroad, you will have access to ATMs and banking institutions for withdrawing local currency, and many countries accept debit/credit card payments. Please note, if you arrive on a weekend, holiday, or late at night, banks and ATMs may be closed.
ATMs are typically the most convenient way to obtain local currency. However, keep in mind that ATMs have service charges and often limit daily withdrawals. Your home banking institution or credit card provider may have agreements with international institutions that reduce or eliminiate service charges. It is recommended that you check with your bank or credit company prior to going abroad so you can be prepared to locate these ATMs.
If you are not able to locate an ATM with reduced service charges, you may be inclined to withdraw larger sums of money so you are paying less service fees over time. This is not a bad idea, but you should only do so if you have a safe and secure place to store your money while it is not in your posession.
As a reminder, all ATMs are different and some international ATM machines will require different processes than you are used to. For example, you may be required to tap the screen at the end of your transaction in order for your card to be returned to you. This particular requirement has resulted in many forgotten ATM cards!
Research your country to see if cash is the primary method of payment; if so, credit cards may not be readily accepted. In such cases, pay special attention to the information provided above.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted card types worldwide. Some companies will charge conversion fees for each transaction you make abroad on your credit/debit card to convert the local currency. Be sure to inquire about these fees before you use your cards abroad, as these charges can add up quickly.
Many countries now only accept cards that have the chip and/or tap-and-go functions. If your card(s) does not currently have one or both of these features, we recommend requesting new cards prior to your departure. Be sure to order these promptly so there is ample time for them to arrive to you by mail.
Don't forget to ensure that your card(s) will not be expiring during your term abroad. Your banking institution will typically only be able to send new cards to your permanent home address and thus you would not be able to access any of those funds for the remainder of your time abroad.
In general, you should always contact your banking institution and/or credit card company prior to long-distance travel in order to place a travel alert on your account(s). We recommend doing so about 2-3 weeks prior to your departure; if you have online banking you may even be able to complete this through your bank's mobile app. Most financial institutions will ask for your travel dates and a list of locations that you plan to be in during that time frame. Alerting your bank and/or credit card company will help prevent your accounts from being frozen due to suspected fraud. You should also check your bank statements regularly and contact your bank immediately if you have questions about unusual purchases.
When notifying your bank, be sure to provide them with updated contact information should they need to reach you while you are out of the country. You should also confirm which accounts you can access from abroad (e.g., checking, savings) and if there are any restrictions.
It is highly recommended that you have emergency funds available and know how to have money sent abroad. There are a number of options to send money from the U.S. to someone abroad. See the U.S. Department of State website for more information.