Whether the dollar is up or down, the best way to get cash while you're abroad usually is the same as at home: by poking your bank card into the nearest automated teller machine.
A recent survey in 14 countries, commissioned by Visa/Plus, found that using a U.S.-issued bank card in an ATM cost an average 43 percent less than exchanging currency at an airport money counter and was 57 percent less than at a hotel. The reason, explains Plus, is that banks calculate ATM withdrawals at their wholesale exchange rate. Some don't even charge a service fee when you use an overseas ATM to get cash (which, of course, is dispensed in the local currency of the country you're visiting).Visa/Plus offers these tips on using a bank card abroad:
- Internationally, you may find ATMs that won't accept a personal identification number of more than four or sometimes six digits, so if necessary ask your bank for a shorter number before you go.
- Many international keypads have numerals but not letters, so if your PIN is, say, your pet's name, translate it into numerals - and memorize it that way - before you leave home. Don't carry your code written on a piece of paper.
- Check your bank's daily withdrawal limit before you leave home so you don't find yourself in a bind easily avoided by anticipating a major expenditure and withdrawing cash over a few days.
- Also check local ATM hours as soon as you arrive in a foreign country - around-the-clock service isn't common in many nations.
- Ask your bank for local emergency numbers in the countries you'll be visiting in case your card is lost or stolen.
Visa/Plus publishes an ATM locater guide to the 70 countries and territories it serves, which is available through member banks.
If your bank belongs to the Cirrus network instead of Plus, call (800) 424-7787 for automated information on how to find that network's ATMs in 50 countries and territories.
The costliest way to get money when you're vacationing overseas is via a cash advance on a credit card. But if your bank account is empty and there's no alternative you should be sure your credit doesn't also run dry.
The Federal Trade Commission cautions travelers to be aware of a common practice called "blocking." When you use a credit card to check into a hotel or rent a car, the estimated amount of the transaction usually is "blocked" from your credit line immediately if the amount is authorized by the card issuer when the clerk contacts the company electronically. For example, if you check into a $100-a-night hotel for five nights, at least $500 would be blocked upfront - perhaps more for incidentals such as room-service meals.
If you pay your bill with the original credit card, the final actual charge usually will replace the block within a day or two. But if you pay with a different card or with cash, the hotel or rental car firm might keep the block on for as long as 15 days after you've checked out or returned the car. The delay occurs, the FTC says, because the first card-issuer doesn't receive notice of the final charge and thus isn't aware that the transaction has been completed.