Today’s technology is making it easier for consumers to plan a trip overseas. With just a few mouse clicks, you can book the best flight deals, find accommodations, scope out the local attractions and even map out a detailed travel itinerary.
But even with so many resources to consult for travel advice, consumers may overlook important financial considerations in the trip planning process, says Art Rice, the VP and Manager of International Operations and Product Development for FirstMerit Bank. For anyone planning a trip overseas, Rice offers the following financial tips:
Do your homework
Rice counsels first-time travelers to first do as much research as possible in advance of an overseas trip. Take time to learn about the country you’re visiting, including the differences in the culture and financial marketplace. Where is it safe or wise to use a credit card? How much pocket change should you carry?
"It’s just being aware of the culture, who you are with and how you account for transactions,” Rice says. Doing research up front is useful in identifying unforeseen costs and fees. How much will you need to pay for courier and insurance expenses or premiums on credit card purchases? You may also find ways to save. Are there opportunities to barter in the country? Factor this into the overall trip cost to anticipate how much money you’ll actually be spending.
Monitor exchange rates
Exchange rates for foreign currency change daily, so travelers should recheck every few days to get the most updated figures. But it’s also important to understand where you’re getting the exchange rates, Rice says. Many people will check the newspaper or Internet to monitor exchange rates for hard currency; however, these numbers can be off as much as 10 percent in either direction.
The rates seen in The Wall Street Journal are meant for multi-million dollar electronic transfers, and most website quotes are averages of current buy and sell rates. Instead, consumers should ask their bank to get the most accurate exchange rates.
Hit the bank
An easy way to save money on overseas travel is to order foreign currency before departure. Some banks, such as FirstMerit, supply popular foreign currencies to their local branches at no charge to the customer and on short notice. Exchange money at one of these banks to avoid service fees and ensure that you have some pocket money to spend when you reach your destination.
Credit cards are definitely convenient for overseas purchases, but make sure you find out what fees you may be charged in addition to the exchange rate.
Fill in your credit card company
While consumers should never be without an international credit card overseas, carrying one makes you more vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. That’s why some credit card companies turn off the ability for cards to work outside of the cardholder’s local area. To ensure any overseas transactions are approved without a hitch, it’s critical that travelers keep their credit card companies in the loop about their travel plans, especially extended trips.
“You don’t need to clear your trip with your credit card company, but to make things go smoothly when you’re out of the country, it is nice to alert them that you’re going to have non-traditional transactions posting to your account,” Rice says. When making any purchases, you’ll also want to keep track of receipts as well as the name and number of the vendors. This information will help you refute any illegitimate charges on your statement after you return.