Heading abroad soon? Don’t leave home without getting your accounts in order, literally! We have put together a list of our top banking tips for travelers that we have learned from being on the road for two years straight. Some of these have saved us hundreds, if not thousands. Others we learned the hard way and cost us a bunch of money. These banking tips are good for the round-the-world RTW travelers and for someone planning a shorter trip too.
1. Get a Charles Schwab Account
This is hands down the best Debit card you could have while traveling. Imagine getting back EVERY single ATM fee at the end of the month, and no international fees…yes this is possible! Last year alone we got back $271.69 in ATM fees. At the end of every month, you will see a credit to your account for the entire month’s ATM fees. Plus at every withdrawal you won’t pay any international fees, most banks charge 1-3%.
Charles Schwab has a great APP and almost everything can be done online. You do have to phone in your travel plans, but I have had nothing but great customer service over the phone. (We are in no way affiliated with this card, it’s just awesome and you need to have it in your travel life.)
2. Have A Back-Up Account & Card
Imagine this… A night out on the town and you lose your wallet in Bangkok – OR – Your account gets hacked and you have to close your account while you are in Africa. What will you do?
Well, you can call the bank and have them cancel you a card and figure out how to get it to you wherever you are in the world… This will take days if not a week and most often will cost your $100+ in shipping fees. It will cost you nothing extra to open up two accounts, so just do it and thank me later.
Adam and I had 3 accounts, and we each had cards. So in total, we had 6 debit cards, just in case something ever happen. We primarily only used one of them, so that if something were to happen we would only have to cancel that card. The same goes for credit cards too. If traveling as a couple add your travel partner as a second user, the cards will have a separate number and if one gets compromised the other one will still work. Also, Visa cards seem to be the most accepted cards everywhere we have been, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have maybe a Visa card and a Mastercard in case one or the other isn’t accepted by a machine (which does happen).
This trick worked for us when somewhere in the world someone got our debit card numbers and cloned Adam’s card and withdrew $4900 in 5 days while we were in Zanzibar. We found out when the ATM read “Insufficient funds.” Thankfully Charles Schwab refunded all of the stolen money. Having the second card allowed us to continue using the account with Hannah’s card after the theft.
3. Add Someone At Home To Your Account
This will be key if you run into any problems abroad. Remember the above story of our card getting cloned and we were on an African Safari in Zanzibar, well thankfully we had my mother on the account. The bank was requiring us to get a notarized letter, which is nearly impossible when you are on a moving vehicle in Africa. Having someone on your account will give them the authority to deal with any problems that may arise.
4. Keep The Daily Withdrawal Low
Keep your daily withdrawal allowance under $500. We keep ours at $250, but when our card got cloned it was $1,000. The thieves emptied out $4,900 in 5 days. Had our limit been $250 it would have been a quarter of that. If you need to up the limit for a day or two just call the bank and they can make the change very easily.
5. Don’t Carry High Balances
We tend to keep $500-$1,000 in our account linked to our debit cards. This is just another precautionary thing to do, just in case someone does clone your card the less you have available the better. We carry checks and when we are low on money we write ourselves a check from another bank account at home (that we don’t carry the cards to while traveling) and use the mobile app to make the deposit.
We also left a handful of blank signed checks with Hannah’s mom at home that can make the deposit for us.
6. Take Out Less Money And Go More Often To The ATM
If you are traveling to cheaper destinations you should be able to survive on $100 for several days. Having less money on you will make you feel better when walking down the street or late at night. For us, it’s a piece of mind that if we were to be pick-pocketed or robbed, they wouldn’t get much.
Remember if you get the Charles Schwab account you will get all your ATM fees back, so it won’t cost you anything. In most of our RTW trip we took out the local currency equivalent to $100, and we just went to them ATM several times a week if needed.
7. Inspect The ATM Machine
When possible only use ATM machines that are located inside banks, airports, or just inside a safe building (mall, hotel, etc). Try and avoid the ATM’s that are on the street if possible. One of the most common thefts while traveling happens when someone steals your information from the ATM machine. Thailand is rife with ATM scams, as are many places in the world. When choosing an ATM look it over to see if it appears to be tampered with, look at the card reader especially.
How to tell if an ATM has been tampered with:
It can be hard to tell if a machine has been tampered with that’s why it’s best to use one inside a secure location. If that’s not possible then look the machine over before inserting your card. Generally, criminals will attach a card reader to the part of the machine where you insert your card. Look at that piece and see if it looks like it doesn’t fit with the machine. You may also want to grab the reader and pull on it, if it’s not secure don’t use it.
Secondly, look around the underside of surfaces above where you enter your pin for a camera that could be used to steal your pin. Cameras can also be placed inside the room. Take a second and look for anything that look suspect.
Even if it passes all of these tests cover your hands well as you enter your pin. Then, when you are finished with your transaction press all of the number buttons on the machine. One of the latest trends is to use an infrared camera to see which numbers you pressed to steal your pin after they have your card information. Pressing all of the buttons will make it harder for them to guess your pin.
8. Use RFID blocking wallet or cards
Not all information thefts happen at the ATM machine, criminals can also scan information from your cards while they are in your wallet. Block them by putting your cards inside a special RFID wallet or add some RFID blocking cards to your own wallet.
We hope these banking tips for travelers will help you keep more of your money for having great travel experiences and not go to fees or to the bad guys. Stay safe and travel far!
Tuesday 30th of August 2016
We had always used etrade but switched to Charle Schwab this year after Etrade put a fee on transactions. I generally take out more than $100 as I am concerned about finding a good ATM at times. I let my wife carry part of the money. I would hate to miss gelato because I was low on cash.
Steph of Big World Small Pockets
Tuesday 25th of August 2015
Good call on checking to see if the ATM has been tampered with. I know Guatemala is notorious for this problem. I suppose it's also a good idea to go to the ATM frequently, but this will incur a greater number of charges being incurred from your bank and possibly others. Generally, I take the risk and withdraw a lot of cash each time in order to save more money.
Friday 7th of August 2015
Some nice tips here, thanks! Unfortunately, we as Finns can't utilize the first tip, but we always check the ATMs we use, especially when we just were in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Better safe, than sorry. ;)
Saturday 15th of August 2015
Yes the Charles Schwab cards are only for U.S. citizens currently. Yes always be better safe than sorry, take your time picking out and inspecting those ATM machines. Safe travels!
Wednesday 5th of August 2015
I have had a Charles Schwab account for 3 years now, and it is great! You can now send in your travel notifications online, though. It's like sending them a message through the online banking system. No need to phone in! They'll reply with a confirmation that they've received it.
Saturday 15th of August 2015
Thanks for letting me know about the travel notifications! This must be new in 2015. I suggest always watching your card, because we had our notifications all set and while we were in Africa someone was in Poland taking out $1,000 a day for 5 days straight until the account was drained....they should have stopped the thief or called me! Thankfully in the end I got all my money back, just a headache!
Tuesday 4th of August 2015
I wish I had known #1 before my recent trip to the U.K. When I lived in Japan, France and the U.K., I established bank accounts in all three of those countries so I never had to worry about using my U.S. credit/debit cards.
My bank charges 3% for all foreign currency transactions - regardless of what country I'm in. I didn't realize that until several weeks before I went to the U.K., when I had to make a bunch of payments. It might have done me good to get a Charles Schwab account then.
Wednesday 5th of August 2015
The Charles Schwab account has saved us so much money, can't recommend it enough!