Foreign transaction fees can be eliminated by using card that waives those fees, sometimes even worth it if your card has an annual fee which is less than the 3% charge for transaction fees.
If you are given the choice of paying in local currency or your “home” currency, remember that the merchant and his processor charge a fee of 4-5% of the foreign currency amount. So choose the local currency.
For cash transactions (remember particularly in small villages and out of the way stores, credit cards are not accepted), use a checking account at a US bank and withdraw money as needed from an ATM. Select an ATM at a recognized bank and make sure that the symbols there match those accepted by your debit card. I recommend that you go in pairs with one person using his/her debit card and putting in the PIN, while the partner is looking out at others to make sure that there is no one lurking in the immediate vicinity copying the PIN. Also check the ATM to make sure that no one has tampered with it.
Almost everyone has a cell phone but few have experienced using them in foreign countries. Verizon allegedly has no international fees for Mexico or Canada (but I cannot verify that).
To use your phone in other foreign countries, there are several alternative choices:
- If you can get your phone unlocked before you leave the U.S., you can purchase a new SIM card in the country you are visiting. Unfortunately, this means a new phone number. Do you want to go through that hassle with all of your contacts?
- You might want to invest in a second-hand phone and get a SIM card for that.
- Use Google Voice, which is an internet phone service using your existing cellphone number. Pay $20 for initial transfer and then spend around $10 a month for calls. This is in addition to getting a SIM card.
- Traveling Mailbox is good for extended foreign stays. The annual cost is around $100, and your mail is forwarded to a box in Maryland. The service scans the envelopes and emails that information. Then you decide if you want that service to send contents by email.
- Although I have signed up for International service for the past five group trips, I have only used it once. Contact the international service at 1.800.711.8300 and get the details which allows phone calls.
- This brings up one of the other advantages of going in a group: most issues (other than those of a personal nature) can be handled by the Tour Manager that I always have with me (other than our trip to northern France a few years ago).
- When I select hotels, I make sure that they always have a substantial breakfast as well as working internet.
Information above is personal experience and “Money Tips From a Year Abroad: Practical lessons our family learned,” gleaned from Wall Street Journal, 4 Sep 18, p. R4, by Rob Curran