Best Money for International Travel

“Taking cash on international trips is the worst option”, I responded when she asked whether to take cash, debit, or credit cards.

Have you ever wondered whether to bring cash, debit, or credit cards on international trips?

We were in the AirTrain to JFK, and the young woman mentioned how on her last trip she had taken $5,000 in cash. She exchanged it at the airport in London, at a loss of 10% (the spread, or difference between the buying and selling rate). Her wallet was then lost or stolen (she wasn’t sure). A friend got on an Uber ($60) and sent her another $5,000 through Western Union, which cost her another $383 ($160 fee plus $223 on bad exchange rates). The spread by both Visa and Master Card is 0.5% for the Pound.

“For international trips, the best is to take debit cards (more) and credit cards (more). Debit cards will get you the best exchange rate and minimize the cash that can get lost or stolen”. I added.

“How about ATM fees on debit cards?” she asked, as other travelers stopped looking at their phones and started to listen to our conversation

“The debit cards I use give me a full refund for ATM fees anywhere in the world, have no foreign transaction fees and I can use them at any bank for free.”

I could see that she was doing the math on her head. Then she said:

Do you work for a bank?

“No I don’t, I work for companies,” I replied. “But I travel internationally all the time. What I recommend is what I do myself.”

“You mean you never take cash on international trips?”

“Actually I do. I always carry $50 or €50 with me; sometimes more. There are advantages on taking cash on international trips (more). When I travel to hyperinflationary countries or those where the US has imposed sanctions, I bring cash. But those are a minority. I have traveled to over 180 countries and those where I brought cash were fewer than 10. There is an ATM even in Antarctica.”

“Which credit cards do you use?” she asked

“I prefer credit cards with no fees of any kind, 2% cash back on all purchases and 50,000 miles to sign up.”

She then realized it was her terminal, thanked me and got off the bus.

The lady next to her then said,

“You know, I looked up your name on your luggage tag and Google you. I thought you worked for a bank. You don’t. Thanks for sharing those tips. Now I know when to take cash, debit cards and credit cards on international trips”.

“Happy to do it”, I replied. “When I travel, many people go out of their way to help me out”.

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