Preparing Your Finances for Study Abroad

Semester abroad on the horizon? Before you go, make sure you have all your financial ducks in a row at home.

First, you should notify your bank and the providers of any credit or debit cards you plan to use overseas that you will be out of the country—be ready to provide your destination and travel start and end dates. This will prevent your cards from being frozen for suspicious activity, which could happen if your card issuer sees a string of charges suddenly made in a foreign country when it believes you to be in the United States.

Verify that you will be able to use your cards in other countries, and make arrangements for paying your bills electronically. Ask the card issuers how you can contact customer service at no cost—most will give you a way to call them collect. Be sure to write down all these phone numbers, as well as all your card numbers and your passport number—keep them in a safe place at your destination and don’t carry them with you.

Make sure you have a way to bank online, because your local bank probably won’t have a branch abroad. If you plan to make withdrawals at a foreign ATM using a bank, credit or debit card, check with the card provider to see if they charge any fees for international withdrawals, or if there are any restrictions or withdrawal limits. If you plan to make a foreign cash withdrawal with a credit card, ask if there is a different (usually higher) interest rate for those transactions.

If you plan to use a card to make purchases overseas, you might want to carry your passport with you. Cards in Europe now use superior security technology called EMV, which uses embedded microprocessor chips to verify identity and prevent fraud. Foreign retailers will likely require you to verify your identification if you’re using a card that has the less-secure magnetic strip, as do most U.S.-based cards.

Don’t take vendors up on an offer to let you make charges in U.S. dollars rather than the local currency. This practice, otherwise known as “dynamic currency conversion,” usually involves both fees and a poor exchange rate, so you’ll be paying more than if you just charge in the local currency.

Do some research on the most affordable way to obtain money in the local currency—using an ATM to make a cash advance in the local currency vs. bringing U.S. money and changing it into the local currency there; currency exchange at a foreign bank vs. a “bureau de change,” etc.

If you do plan to change U.S. money, be aware of exchange rates. They can change daily, and the rates offered can vary dramatically depending on where you change money—bank, hotel, change bureau, post office, America Express office, etc. Places that change money will either post their rates or tell you if you ask, so know what rate you should be getting (make sure you’re looking at the “buy” rate, not the “sell” rate if you’re exchanging dollars for local currency. Also ask if you’ll be charged any fees for the exchange. Check for current rates.

Usually, you’ll get the best exchange rate if you change money in the destination country, but you might want to have small stash of local cash when you arrive, so you aren’t scrambling to find an open bank or stuck with the long lines and high fees at airport exchange kiosks. Ask your bank, or any large bank in your area, about exchange rates and whether they have access to the currency you need.

Bon voyage! Preparing Your Finances for Study Abroad

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Showing 2 comments
  • Joan Adams

    Thank you, the information was great. Joan.

  • josh

    Thx for the info