The Best Way to Carry Money when Travelling Abroad

It’s every traveller’s nightmare: being overseas and suddenly locked out of all of your accounts, unable to pay for anything while you’re stuck in a foreign country. But with a little planning, you can avoid the worst-case scenario – keeping your money accessible and secure.

“The No. 1 thing is to spread the wealth,” says Nikola Berube of AMA Travel. “Don’t rely solely on one form of currency. Instead, anticipate issues, such as potential theft or loss, and have your plan in place. That’s going to give you a worry-free vacation.” As well, make sure you have access to all of your information, especially emergency contact numbers and account numbers. If you choose to upload the information online for safekeeping, make sure you’re aware of the site’s security features. Alternatively, leave it with someone back home who can send it to you in an emergency. Read on for the pros and cons of four money-carrying options for travellers:

Cash
Pros: You can use it almost anywhere. It’s a good idea to carry two to three days’ spending money, and have $100 to $150 in your destination’s currency prior to departure to cover immediate expenses. Pick it up from one of the Foreign Currency ATMs at select AMA centres. These machines debit directly from your bank account or credit card and offer U.S. dollars, U.K. pounds and euros.
Cons: If you withdraw foreign currency from an ATM abroad, you’ll pay exchange, transaction and network fees. Plus, if cash is lost or stolen, there isn’t much you can do – it’s gone.

Traveller’s cheques
Pros: If lost or stolen, they can usually be replaced within 24 hours.
Cons: Not as widely accepted or secure as they once were. Some retailers in foreign countries will not accept them, or will charge service fees as high as 15 per cent of the cheque’s value.

Pre-paid money cards
Pros: More secure than traveller’s cheques. Pre-paid money cards, such as MasterCard Cash Passport, come pre-loaded with a limited amount of cash, and there’s no link to your personal details. If the card is stolen, the only thing lost is the balance on the card – and there’s no impact on your credit history or rating. They’re available in multiple currencies, and you can reload them 24-7 and lock in the exchange rate at the time of purchase. Another great feature, especially for parents, is the ability to monitor spending of the card online. You can purchase MasterCard Cash Passports at AMA centres.
Cons: Small fees for activation and reloading.

Credit cards and debit cards
Pros: Secure, quick payment. Not every country has implemented Canada’s extra-secure chip-and-pin technology. Your card will default to the magnetic stripe if chip technology isn’t available – just pop by your bank and confirm that the stripe is working before you leave. Also be sure to call your credit card company and give them your travel dates, so they don’t lock your card, thinking a purchase made overseas is fraud.
Cons: Some smaller businesses are still cash-only, especially in remote locations.

The best way to make your travels hassle-free is to make sure you know the currency options for your trip. Visit your nearest AMA Centre to learn more.

Written by Justin Bell


Westworld is the award-winning magazine of the Alberta Motor Association. It offers a mix of travel features, auto trends and special member savings.