Best ways to get cash overseas
"Each person needs to check with their own bank and just be prepared for it," says Brice Gosnell, a regional publisher for Lonely Planet, a travel information and guidebook publishing company.
Because you'll pay a fee with each ATM withdrawal, it's a good idea to limit the number of withdrawals you make on your trip. So take out a little extra cash with each withdrawal, pocket what you need for the day and put the remainder in the safe at your hotel.
Some banks have caps on the amount of cash you can withdraw from an ATM per day. Contact your bank and find out the daily ATM withdrawal limit for your card. If the daily cap is too low for you, call and request the cap be increased before your trip.
"If you're in good standing with your bank, it shouldn't be an issue," Gosnell says. "I've done it. It's a two-minute process."
Despite the fees, withdrawing cash at overseas ATMs is still an excellent deal. It's easier and cheaper than exchanging U.S. dollars at an overseas bank or exchange counter.
While Visa and MasterCard charge a 1 percent fee for currency conversion services, a bank or exchange counter is likely to charge fees of 5 percent to 8 percent or even more.
Use exchange counters at airports and train stations sparingly. Because of the high fees, it's a good idea to limit the amount of money you exchange at kiosks in airports and train stations.
"The rates are never in your favor. You get a better rate walking into a bank or going to an ATM," Lytle says.
Still, these kiosks can come in handy for exchanging small amounts of money, say $100 or $200, when you first arrive in a country. But before you walk up to an exchange counter, be sure to look around for an ATM first.
"I've always found you get more for your money if you hit the ATM at your destination," Banas says. "Every major airport has one."
Leave the traveler's checks at home. To avoid payment hassles while you're traveling, it's best to leave traveler's checks at home.
"I don't really recommend them in this day and age," Banas says. "They're a hassle to get and a hassle to use."
And many merchants flat out refuse to accept traveler's checks as a form of payment. "A lot of places don't take traveler's checks even though it's valid currency," Lytle says.
Consider a prepaid card. Travelers who liked the safety and security of traveler's checks may want to consider purchasing a prepaid card such as the Travelex Cash Passport card.
Let's say you plan to vacation in Europe. You'd load a Cash Passport card with euros and then use the card as a debit card to make MasterCard purchases or cash withdrawals from MasterCard ATMs while traveling in Europe. A prepaid card from Travelex is also available in British pounds.
"Your name is not on the card so if it's lost or stolen, there's no risk of your identity being stolen," says Annie Jensen, vice president of business strategy and implementation for Travelex Americas. "It's completely safe and secure, and we replace it anywhere you are in the world within 24 hours."
But you still need to watch out for fees. You'll be charged 1.75 euros for each ATM withdrawal you make in Europe and 1.25 British pounds for each ATM withdrawal you make in Great Britain.
The $9.95 load fee on the card will be waived if you purchase a value pack of $250 or more at a Travelex retail location.
As for leftover cash on the card, be sure to visit a Travelex store. If you close your card by contacting the Travelex call center, you'll be charged a $20 administration fee.
You can also cash out your card at a U.S.-based ATM. If you do, you'll be charged a 5.5 percent fee to convert the euros or British pounds on the card back to U.S. dollars.