You want to know my number one fear when traveling?
To get stuck in a foreign country with no cash or working bank cards. That’s a scary thing.
And let me tell you it happened to me once. Many years years ago, I took a trip to Bucharest, Romania. Due to stupidity and naivety, I didn’t bring any cash. I just assumed I could withdraw money from the ATMs at the airport. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The airport ATMs locked all my cards and I got stranded at the airport with no money. Lucky for me, I found a friendly family that gave me a ride to my hotel, where I could call my banks and unlock all my card. After this scary event, I always travel with cash on hand.
The above example is just one of the banking issues I have encountered abroad. But there are many others. Since I don’t want my readers to find these out the hard way, I have decided to share three very essential banking tips when traveling. Let’s go!
Notify BOTH your bank AND Visa
By now, we should all know that we need to notify our banks of our travel plans. But did you know that Visa and Mastercard have their own security layer that can lock your card too? And that your bank can do nothing about this? Not many people know. Let me explain how I found this out the hard way.
Several years ago my ATM card got locked, and I had to call my bank. I was a bit upset since I did notify them of my travel plans. The friendly customer service representative explained that my bank was not at fault here, it was actually Visa that had noticed some irregularities and locked my card. Wait what?!
I had never heard of this before, so I naturally asked what can be done to prevent this in the future. Well the answer was not that encouraging. It’s not much the banks can do. But she explained there’s one thing we customers can do: withdraw money at the airport, either when you leave or depart. This will let Visa know we are traveling, and it’s less likely they will lock you.
So I started doing just that. After I pick up my luggage at the airport, I directly go and withdraw money. And since that day I never had any of my bank cards blocked.
Use VPN to Prevent Online Banking Lockout
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a piece of software that encrypts your Internet traffic, thus protecting you from potential hackers. It’s especially beneficial when using public wireless networks.
In addition, VPN will also prevent you from being locked out from your online bank when you are abroad. Let me explain.
In summer of 2016 I was living in Ukraine. It’s a wonderful country which is worth a visit. The trip was not without issues though. Shortly after I arrived, I couldn’t login to one of my Internet banks. When I called them, I was told that the issue was caused by me being in Ukraine. For some reason Ukraine had been blacklisted by my bank. As long as I was staying in Ukraine, I would be locked out.
Damn I badly needed a solution.
The solution was using a VPN. With a VPN you can select what location you want to give to the web sites are are visiting. In technical terms, the VPN provider uses an IP address that originates from the country you selected. If your bank is in the US, you select a US IP address. This will trick your bank into believing you are still physically in the US even though you are abroad. Great right?
After a lot of research, I found a VPN provider called ExpressVPN which is reasonable priced, fast and reliable. I have been using it for over 6 months now, and so far I have not been locked out from any of my online banking accounts! In addition, I don’t need to worry about using public networks anymore.
Use Bank Cards with no Fees
In the United States we have a myriad of credit cards to choose from. Many with excellent benefits. However I still see some of my American friends using cards that charges international fees. This is really unfortunate since you just give your money away. I have not paid any international transaction fees for years with my cards. Let me tell you what ATM and credit cards I am using.
The only ATM card I own is from Charles Schwab bank. Schwab is a great bank, not only for checking but also for investment. Their stock screening tool is one of the best I have seen. But the big benefit with Schwab is they reimburse all incurred ATM fees. Even from abroad. At the end of every month, I see a big chunk of money credited back to my account. This is by far the best ATM card for international travels!
My favorite credit card is Chase Sapphire Preferred. It has some great benefits such as free airport lounge access with Priority Pass, 50k points when you meet the minimum spending requirements, 2x points on travel and dining etc etc. And no international transaction fees. This is really the only credit card you’ll ever need!
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