Cash is king throughout most of the world when it comes to making purchases, but carrying wads of cash around foreign lands is typically not the wisest way to travel. If someone steals your cash, you have no recourse for reimbursement. Credit cards and travelers check both offer protection from theft, but they’re not necessarily accepted everywhere you may roam.
This is why we advise our travelers to come equipped with a mix of cash, at least two credit cards and, if it makes you feel better, an emergency stash of travelers checks. Here’s why.
Credit Cards vs Cash
Credit cards generally beat out cash for larger purchases, like airline tickets, car rentals and hotel bills – provided the country you’re in accepts them. While most big cities can easily accept credit cards, smaller town may not have the capabilities to handle them.
There’s always the risk that certain shops, hotels and restaurants may refuse to take credit cards in general, while others may refuse to take those with the old-fashioned, magnetic strip. The chip-and-PIN credit cards are largely the norm in Europe, South America and Asia. They’re also the only card option available at gas stations, ticket vending kiosks and other places with automated machines.
And even if retailers can manually swipe your card if you can find an attendant, some will refuse to accept them because they erroneously think they will be held liable for any fraud that may occur on your magnetic-strip card.
This doesn’t mean you should ditch your credit card altogether. It can still be useful for getting actual cash out of an ATM, as long as you’re aware of the high finance and other fees that typically accompany such a transaction. Credit cards do provide far more protection than cash if it’s stolen or for disputing purchases.
Credit Card Tips
Watch vendors carefully to ensure they’re completing transactions properly. Also call your bank in advance to ask about fees and let them know when you’ll be overseas to avoid them putting a stop on your card for out-of-the-ordinary transactions. And, if possible, always carry back-up cash to cover purchases if you’re faced with an establishment that won’t take your card.
Cash vs Travelers Checks
Travelers checks were designed to work like cash with added protection against theft. But traditional travelers checks may not work at all in certain areas of the world. Most places in Central America won’t accept travelers checks – even the banks. The same holds true across most of Italy and largely throughout France.
A more modern version of travelers checks is the prepaid travelers check card that works similar to credit cards for ATM withdrawals and purchases. You may still run across refusal to accept the form of payment, along with higher exchange rates and a handful of fees you wouldn’t get from a credit card.
Travelers Checks Tips
Do some research into your destination to see if travelers checks in any form are even a feasible option. Also keep your check serial numbers in a secure location, separate from your checks, in case the checks are stolen.
Having some cash at all times is a good idea, as is keeping your stash spread out throughout multiple pockets so potential thieves can’t get it all in one fell swoop. Start your trip with about $150 in cash, with local currency you can get from your bank or at the airport. Then restock as needed throughout your trip from the ATM.
Check out more travel tips on our blog, or feel free to contact us with any questions. We’re always happy to help!