Money Matters

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Hong Kong - Assorted 20HKD notes

Hong Kong - Assorted 20HKD notes

© Gelli

What's the best way to carry my money? How do I get local currency?

This page is not about exchange rates, but rather to illustrate how travellers deal with money matters. If you are looking for current exchange rates, check out these popular currency conversion sites:



Carrying Money

Some tips for keeping your money safe when traveling:

  • Carry money in multiple places to deter thieves. This could include hiding money in your luggage or having a money belt;
  • Never access a money belt in public;
  • You can carry a false wallet to give to muggers;
  • Carry small denominations of local currency in your front pants or shirt pockets for easy access for small purchases;
  • Never open your wallet in public rides or even in taxis. Better have a spare in your bag's outer pockets where you can easily take them out;
  • Separate your credit cards. In many places, cards can mean prestige thus you can be identified as someone who has a lot of money;
  • Do not put your bag on your side when you are taking a nap at the airport or in a public place. You might wake up with your bag gone.



Getting Local Currency

Exchanging Money

International currencies can be exchanged for local currency at a number of places, including banks, bureaux de change and the "black market."

Banks generally give stable exchange rates, depending on the current foreign exchange market. But you usually get a bit less from the bank compared to when you exchange money at other places. The clincher is the black market can have better rates, but the chances of being taken advantage of, either with counterfeit bills or poor exchange rates, is high. Especially if you are exchanging a bigger amount, you need to go to the bank. But make sure you have your passport and other documents to show as a requirement. The processing can also take longer.

In many countries, there are privately run, licensed bureaux de change. The offered rates for the local currency are usually much better than what you could get in your home country, so it would be a good idea to exchange most of your currencies only when you arrive.

Try to spend your coins or exchange them for banknotes before going back home. Neither banks nor exchange offices will accept foreign coins for exchange.

Automated Teller Machines

As Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) proliferate around the world, withdrawing money using debit cards is becoming more popular. Using a debit card at an international ATM often offers better exchange rates than most money exchanges. Unless you have an account or bank plan that explicitly indicates no international banking fees however, most international withdrawals will have an international ATM network fee assessed. In addition. In some countries the local banks charge an extra fee (for example in the USA where most banks charge $2-3 extra).

Travellers should ensure that they have a minimum 4-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) code for all cards, as some countries will not accept PIN code of fewer numbers. See individual country entries for information on money for details regarding specific countries.

Money can be withdrawn from ATMs using credit cards, however costs are usually high and interest may start accruing immediately. Check with your credit card issuer on the terms of withdrawing cash from ATMs.

As much as possible, avoid withdrawing at night or weekends when banks are closed. If something goes wrong with the ATM machine and your card is swallowed up, you might not be able to get it back for days. Also choose a machine in a safe area. If it is a bit isolated and dark, it is better to avoid it. In case the machine does not immediately dispense your money, never leave immediately and let the security guard know what happened. Make sure you get the money receipt that comes out so you have something to show when you complain to the bank.

There are two main interbank ATM networks, PLUS and CIRRUS. PLUS (also known as Visa PLUS) is an interbank network that covers all VISA credit, debit, and prepaid cards, as well as ATM cards issued by various banks worldwide. CIRRUS links MasterCard, Maestro, Diners Club credit, debit and prepaid cards.

Use the following ATM locators to check the availability of ATMs at the places you are travelling to.

Credit and Debit Cards

Credit cards provide an exchange rate better than debit cards when paying directly, and allows a traveller to delay payment. It is also safer than taking cash. However, credit cards are not always accepted, especially in remote locations.

There are usually two ways in using credit cards. Either you affix your signature or you enter a Personal Identification Number (PIN) code. But in most cases, you can only use local (country) credit cards using the PIN code because in some countries the PIN code contains less or more than 4 digits. In those cases you can still use the credit card by using your signature. This might apply to, for example, automated petrol pumps.

Many banks have a default block on overseas withdrawal and transactions. Before leaving home, travellers should inform their banks of their travel plans to ensure uninterrupted use of the card whilst traveling. Make a copy of the credit card number and the contact information for lost and stolen cards, and keep them separate from your credit and debit cards. Money can be withdrawn from ATMs using credit cards, however costs are usually high and interest generally starts accruing immediately.

Prepare a list of telephone numbers (which can be dialled from overseas, not those 0800 or 1800 numbers) of your card issuers in case of emergency. For credit cards, MasterCard and Visa provide local toll-free contact numbers worldwide:

Traveller's Cheques

A traveller's cheque (also travellers cheque, traveler's cheque, or travelers cheque) is a pre-printed, fixed-amount cheque. One of the major issuers of traveller's cheques is American Express. In the event that a traveller's cheque is lost or stolen, they can be replaced if the owner still has the receipt, issued together with the purchase of the cheque. Traveller's cheques should be obtained in a variety of small and large denominations.

To make replacement easy, record the numbers of all your cheques. Keep this listing and the purchase receipt separate from your cheques, and keep track of what cheques you have cashed.

As use of credit and debit cards becomes more common, many businesses no longer accept traveller's cheques. You may have to go to the local bank to cash your cheques.



On-line Banking

On-line banking on a public computer is fraught with risk. Your login details can easily be intercepted with a keylogger, and also more sophisticated authentication methods (which require a one-time code that you can only generate with your debit card, for instance) can be circumvented.

Having your own laptop with you provides a much greater level of security and is an acceptable way around this. If you have a phone or an iPod with an internet connection, that would also be vastly preferred over a public computer. At the most basic level, always ensure that the bank's site is protected by SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology. The browser will show a lock icon in the address bar or in the status bar to indicate whether this is the case. Of course, any bank worth its salt will have this functionality. And a final note of caution is to always ensure no-one can be looking over your shoulder while you are entering your critical information.



Travel Bank Account

If you travel for a longer time, it may be a good idea to set up a secondary bank account to cover your travel expenses. Besides helping you to keep your financial affairs organised, it has an added security benefit: if you separate your travel expenses from the rest of your money, any card abuse will only affect the former and not the latter.

All you need is someone trustworthy back home, whom you can ask to transfer funds (preferably small portions at a time) from your regular account to your travel account as needed. You don't make any transactions to or from your regular account while travelling, nor take with you any cards relating to the account. That way, you avoid all security hazards connected to public internet places, card theft, etc. And, if something happens you would only lose a small amount of your money, plus you can freeze the entire account without it creating all sorts of practical problems with periodical bills you need to pay back home.


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