6 Ways to Save Money When Traveling Abroad

March 13, 2023
Don't let unnecessary expenses eat into your vacation budget.

Travel has become more expensive—a fact you're probably well aware of if you're taking a trip overseas. While you can't put a price on making memories that will last a lifetime, there's also no reason to spend money on fees you can easily avoid. 

Here are six tips for keeping costs low and managing your money during your next trip abroad. 

1. Steer clear of transaction costs

Most credit and debit card issuers charge foreign-transaction fees, which typically run between 1% and 3% of the purchase price, as well as ATM fees. That might seem like a minor expense per transaction, but all those extra charges can really add up.

Look into the fees imposed by your banks and credit card companies. (The overall fee is often a combination of two fees, one from the issuing bank and one from the card company.) And note that even if you have a fee-free card, ATMs or merchants may still charge a fee. Always check your card's terms and conditions to find out exactly what fees you're responsible for.

2. Find the best exchange rate

Airport currency kiosks may be convenient, but they also tend to be pricey, charging anywhere from $5 to $15 to exchange money. Even so-called no-fee exchanges tend to make a profit off their highly unfavorable exchange rates.

Cash withdrawals from ATMs are generally the best choice for day-to-day funds—but, again, beware of transaction fees. Some banks impose a flat fee per withdrawal, while others do not and may even refund those levied by others. 

If you anticipate needing cash, exchanging currency at your local bank or credit union before you leave may provide a lower rate. Once you arrive at your destination, you might be able to get a decent exchange rate at your hotel as well.

3. Watch out for "dynamic currency conversion"

Many travelers are enticed by the convenience and familiarity of receiving bills—at restaurants, for instance—in U.S. dollars. But this new trend, called dynamic currency conversion, often comes with an unfavorable exchange rate, transaction fees, or both. So, when asked if you want to pay a bill in the local currency or in U.S. dollars, go with the local option—unless you can verify that the cost is negligible and worth it, to you, for the familiarity factor.

4. Secure your information

Nothing ruins a trip like a lost or stolen wallet, so take a picture of the contents of your wallet, including the fronts and backs of credit, debit, and insurance cards so you can find all of those important phone numbers to call in case of emergency. Keep a copy on your phone—or better yet, in the cloud—along with pictures of your passport and any other important documentation. 

While you're at it, contact your cell phone provider regarding phone and data packages while overseas. Your plan may not work in your final destination, or you may find a cheaper, temporary option to use instead. 

Also, be sure to activate fraud alerts for all accounts that offer them so you're notified right away of suspicious activity. Sophisticated cybercriminals are often able to capture your financial information—even if your cards stay in your possession. 

You may be able to set up a travel notice to have your bank monitor your accounts for fraudulent activity when traveling. When travel monitoring is active, debit and credit cards are scrutinized for high-risk transactions.

5. Take advantage of built-in benefits

Before you book your trip, see if your credit or debit cards offer travel-related perks that can save you money or ease your journey. For example, many offer hotel and restaurant reservation assistance, free Wi-Fi access on eligible flights, and even discounts on certain types of accommodation and transportation. Review your cards' benefit terms, or call your providers for full details.

6. Opt for travel insurance to cover risk

Having your travel plans derailed is stressful enough, and the potential costs to get back on track can only add to your worries. You may end up spending hundreds to thousands of dollars due to disruptions (like cancellations, delays, missed flights or missed scheduled activities), lost baggage or theft, accidents, or illness requiring medical care. 

Your card may have coverage for some of these risks, but you can also get additional protection. The price of travel insurance is typically about 5%–6% of your travel cost, and while this insurance may not feel like a money saver at the time of purchase, it can be a life saver when you need it the most. Contact your insurance provider for more information.

A cost-conscious travel companion

The Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card (available to Schwab Bank Investor Checking™ account* holders) provides a wealth of benefits, even when you're traveling abroad: 

  • It's accepted at millions of merchant outlets and ATMs in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.1
  • You incur no foreign-exchange transaction fees for purchases made with your debit card. † 
  • It provides extra layers of protection like card lock/unlock, transaction and account alerts, two-way fraud text alerts, and travel notifications. 
  • Unlimited ATM cash withdrawal fees are rebated on a monthly basis. ‡
  • It offers additional travel benefits, including Fraud Protection for Unauthorized Transfers or Purchases, Travel Accident Insurance, and Travel and Emergency Assistance Services. It's linked to a Schwab One® brokerage account with no minimum balance requirement and free online transfers between accounts. 
  • Schwab Bank cards are also covered by the Schwab Security Guarantee. If an unauthorized transaction is made in your Schwab Bank account, you will not be responsible for that transaction or for any related interest or transaction charge. 

1Visa Inc.