Next week I leave for France for more than nine months, and it's high time I change my international money management strategy. For too long I have been the victim of budget-killing $5.00 international ATM fees and 3% foreign transaction fees- so I started doing some research to find the best travel credit cards out there.
When I began my credit card search I knew I needed both a credit card and debit card with no international transaction fees. I first went after the credit card that other travelers seemed to adore – the Capital One Venture Rewards card. After my application was promptly rejected, I was terrified (and tearing up a bit).
Luckily Chase accepted my application for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card soon after and now I'm breathing again. Here is a list of all the credit and debit cards I'm taking with me this year, and the ones that best suit my backpacker budget.
Best travel debit cards
Charles Schwab debit card – This card is the hands-down the best debit card for travelers. It has no international transaction fees, no currency conversion fees, no monthly maintenance fees and no annual fee. While you will still be charged by other ATMS for taking out money, Schwab will reimburse you for the charges at the end of the month.
Note: by opening a Charles Schwab debit account you automatically open a brokerage account, but it's no hassle and you don't have to use it.
Chase debit card – This is my go-to card I've used for the past four years. This card probably won't see much action in France considering it charges a 3% international transaction fee and foreign ATM withdrawal fee, but I'll keep it with me in case of emergency and resume using it when I get home.
Best travel credit cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred – This is a great travel credit card because it charges no international fees of any kind. It also gives you with a killer 40,000 points upon sign-up if you spend $3,000 in the first three months (which translates to about $500 in airfare). And finally, it rewards you with two times the points on travel and dining purchases.
I know the initial $3,000 limit seems high, but three months of backpacking, including the flight, will certainly add up to $1,000 a month, or $250 a week. The only downside? There is an annual fee of $95, but it's waived the first year.
While abroad I would advise carrying at least two debit cards and one credit card. When I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires I was pick-pocketed and ended up waiting three weeks for a new debit card. It was a huge hassle and if I would've had a back-up I could've avoided the whole situation.
The money management do's and don'ts of traveling abroad:
- DO call your bank to alert them that you will be traveling outside of the country.
- DO have at least two debit cards in case one gets eaten by an ATM or is stolen.
- DO have your bank's number handy (like on a piece of paper in your backpack) as well as scanned copies of all of your cards in case they are stolen.
- DO enroll in online banking so you can check it from anywhere in the world. And be careful about accessing your account in sketchy internet cafés – consider bringing an smartphone or iTouch to check your balance more safely.
- DON'T use traveler's checks.
- DON'T wear a moneybelt.
- DON'T exchange money at the airport, the rates are always the worst. Wait until you get into town.
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