Keep Your Money Safe

How do we lose or waste money when traveling abroad? Here are some examples.
When you travel to a foreign country, you usually leave with a moderate amount of foreign currency, thinking that you’ll be withdrawing money there. Once settled in, you go to the local restaurants, you buy a few souvenirs and before you know it, you have to run to an ATM.

In general, all major cities have ATMs everywhere, at street corners, outside or inside bars, carved into the brick walls of random buildings, and even in laundromats. It’s hard to know which one to choose and be safe. Skimming has become increasingly popular among thieves, or at least that’s what media reports make us think.
The safest place to go to is to a bank which has an ATM inside. Even after hours, you can open the door by swiping your card on a small reader, so you should be safe. If you feel particularly jumpy, have a friend or relative accompany you.

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One of the latest trends that the so-called electronic pickpockets have made popular is the theft of your identity by scanning your credit cards. There are several articles explaining how that can happen and what kind of information the pickpockets can actually obtain. Unfortunately, the statistics are not encouraging. Tourists become victims every day and even in our own cities, it's become fairly common. Before we get ahead of ourselves and we envision a financial disaster however, let's remember that there are ways to protect ourselves. The same advice I've given before applies here as well: stay informed about where you go and the prevalence of crime in that area, petty or otherwise. It's hard to believe you walk into a grocery store in a residential neighborhood where your airbnb is located and your card gets scanned. It will most likely happens in areas full of tourists, while they're standing in line at a museum or the theater, on public transportation, and at concert venues or festivals. Another way to prevent this kind of theft is to buy an aluminum wallet. Or leave your cards at home and carry cash.

Now, even if you don’t lose money through fraudulent charges, sometimes your money goes down the drain because of conversion rates. It’s not uncommon for banks to hike up the conversion rate on high-value transactions, because they’re less noticeable. That’s one of the ways they make money. If you’re a frequent traveler, one of the best ways to save money is to sign up for TransferWise. They have transparent fees, offer free accounts and on top of that: discounts through their promo codes or referral system.

person holding dollars

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Also check what the different rates are for different amounts. I found myself in Europe and making a one-time withdrawal of $1,000 in Euros incurred a much smaller fee than making 6-7 ATM withdrawals of $150 each. Before you press that green button to confirm the operation, make sure you’ve determined that the amount you’ve picked is the best when compared with other amounts. Remember: ATM fees are generally higher than the conversion rates you look up on Google. Only reputable currency exchange offices and banks will give you a decent conversion rate that matches, more or less, the conversion rate you find on the Internet.

This next piece of advice is not new: never keep all your cash with you. If you have to, either carry a portable safe, split the money between you and your family/friends (if not traveling alone), or hide it in an inconspicuous place. There are shops who sell hollow boxes, specifically designed to look like a tube of shaving cream or a can of coke. A thief or burglar would not look for money inside something like that. Just be careful with hollow books: it doesn’t work that well anymore. I usually try to find something out of the ordinary, that no one would touch or want to touch, like a box of sanitary pads or my old slippers. Make sure you don’t forget about it though. You might throw your slippers away along with the cash hiding inside, because you’ve bought too many souvenirs and now you can’t fit them in your overstuffed luggage.