Money Abroad


Key Points:

  • Watch the exchange rate
  • Try not to think in dollars, although when you first get there it is expected
  • Never exchange money outside of official banks or exchange offices

Suggestions on how to handle money abroad:

Have a budget and know what you can spend. Keep a daily expense account the first couple of weeks to be able to plan a budget for your entire stay. This will not only help you, it will help future students prepare and budget for their own study abroad experience.

Be prepared. You will probably spend more money than you intend, especially in your first few weeks. When you first arrive, you don't know where to find the best bargains yet and the exchange rate will take some getting used to, especially in the European and British Markets.

Investigate to see if it is wise to bring some of the local currency with you. Your program would know best and sometimes it can  easily be ordered through your local bank in Waltham!

Budget your funds carefully! The dollar's value fluctuates noticeably and can be weak in many countries, so if you are not careful you will spend much more than you intend. Be aware that food and other necessities may be much more expensive in your host country than in the United States because of the need to import them.

How to access your money:

Always check with your program or someone who has lived in your new host country to find out the best way of banking for an extended period of time. Here, we have compiled a general list of the types of ways to get money. Note: Not all of these options will be available in all countries.
  1. Credit Cards: Paying by credit card can mean a better exchange rate on your purchases, but check with your credit card company first to find out if there are any fees for international transactions on top of conversion fees. You also need to contact your credit card company to make sure your PIN will work abroad. Most credit card companies provide online payment methods, which is simple to set up and convenient whilst overseas.  Also check with your program to see if credit cards are widely accepted in your host country, in some places the use of credit cards is uncommon, even at grocery stores or movie theaters. If you decide to get a credit card, remember your credit limit!
  2. ATM/Debit Cards:  ATMs are probably the best, easiest, and safest way of accessing money in any foreign country. Usually this means obtaining a Visa/Master Card/American Express debit card that has international privileges: it is accepted at every bank, store, restaurant, train station, ATM, etc. that accepts Visa/Master Card/American Express. You may want to find a bank that does not charge you high fees for overseas withdrawals, which can be as little as $5 or a percentage of your transaction. Credit Unions sometimes offer cheaper international withdrawal rates than large banks. Make sure you set up your account so that your family will able to deposit more money in the account for you while you are away. Note: Be sure to inform your bank/credit card company that you will be abroad so that they do not put holds on your accounts due to suspicious activity.
  3. Local Bank Account: In some cases, you can set up a bank account in your host country. This can be a lengthy process. If you set up an overseas account, you may not be able to gain access to your new bank account abroad for several days, so plan accordingly.
  4. International Postal Money Order: This can be purchased at a local post office, and then sent to your account at a foreign bank. This takes time, since the check must be mailed to you abroad.
  5. American Express:  Anyone can send you money care of  American Express. There will be a fee. You do not need an American Express card to take advantage of this service.
  6. Cable transfer:  U.S.. banks can telex money to foreign banks. This process can be completed in a matter of hours/days, but there is a fee. 
  7. Personal checks:  Personal checks from a U.S. bank will be honored by foreign banks but only after it has cleared the U.S. bank. This process can take weeks. Note: Never have anyone send you cash, traveler’s checks or certified checks through the mail.
  8. Traveler’s Checks: Traveler’s checks are probably the safest way to carry money with you abroad. If they should get lost or stolen, they are easily replaceable if you have the recorded serial number of the checks with you, separate from the checks themselves. Traveler’s checks in some countries even offer better exchange rates than your bank or credit card company can offer you, and you always have the option to shop around for the best rate. Feel free to purchase (there is typically a 1% fee for purchasing traveler’s checks) traveler’s checks in any currency, although U.S. dollars are pretty much accepted everywhere (although in some places they can be denied, so check with your program before purchasing any!)