The most convenient and reliable way to transport and access funds while overseas varies a great deal from country to country. It is best for students to consult the specific information that their program has provided in the pre-departure materials regarding the recommended way to handle funds while overseas.
- Tip: Many countries still work on a “cash economy” more than in the United States. This means that students will need to have local currency cash with them and may not be able to use debit cards and/or credit cards for ordinary daily purchases.
How do students access money while abroad?
In most destinations students should use a multi-pronged approach in terms of accessing funds while abroad. This typically means that students will take:
- an ATM or debit card (with international PIN in numbers not letters) for periodic cash withdraws
- some funds in US dollars cash, and
- a credit card (if the student has one) for emergencies
How do students ensure that ATM and credit cards will work abroad?
Before departing it is essential for students to contact their banks by calling the number on the back of the debit and credit card to:
- Travel dates. Inform banks of the dates and countries where the student will be abroad, otherwise the use of the debit or credit card may be blocked. (Students should be sure to include any layover countries where they might fly in transit and any other countries they plan to travel to independently before or after the program.)
- ATM locations. Find out if the debit card will be acceptable at ATMs or banks in all destination countries.
- ATM fees. Ask what the fees are for withdrawing cash on your debit card when abroad.
- Credit card fees. Ask what extra fees may be charged for international transactions on your credit card.
- PINs. Request a PIN for your credit card, as this is often required for credit card purchases in Europe. Make sure the PINs for your debit and credit cards are numbers not words, as key pads abroad may not include the alphabet.
- Chips. Check to find out if the destination countries require a chip in debit or credit cards and be sure the cards the student plans to use conform to that
Do students need to exchange foreign currency prior to departure?
During the first few days abroad, the student may need a small amount of local currency cash (US$100 or so) with them in case it is not easy to find an ATM machine upon arrival. The easiest way to convert some US$ cash is to do so at a currency exchange kiosk at the international terminal of your departure airport in the U.S. SeaTac and most US international airports have these kiosks. If the currency of the student’s destination country is not available at the exchange kiosk in the US airport, we recommend that the student withdraw funds from the ATM at the airport in the local currency as soon as they arrive in their destination country.
Sending and Receiving Money
There are several methods of sending funds overseas, the most optimal of which will depend on a student’s location. If a student runs out of funds while abroad and needs their family to send money quickly, we suggest that student’s families check with the program about the most expeditious way to send funds to the student. Most students who are able to use their ATM card abroad find that this is the best way to access funds from home. If this method does not work, other common methods of sending funds include a bank draft, international money order, or bank to bank transfer. The advantage of an international money order is that (unlike a bank draft) it isn’t necessary to wait for the check to clear. In an emergency, students may be able to wire money directly from an American Express office in the U.S. to one of their offices overseas in less than 24 hours, for a small fee.