This post is all about the MONEY! We want you to feel comfortable with leaving home to explore new places and we know a lot of people find the idea of exchanging money stressful. Most of these concerns center around HOW. How should I carry my money? How much money should one bring? How do I access money abroad? How do I convert money into local currency? Do not worry, ExperiencePlus! is here to help you through these ‘hows’ with a few tips, hints, suggestions and a bunch of useful knowledge. Also, just remember, you can always take a quick course on how to sell ice cream should you need to refill your coffers mid trip!
First off, the ATM is your friend! We recommend using the ATM for your cash needs rather than banks. Bank hours in foreign countries vary greatly depending on the country, town, cultural norms, festivals, siesta, people’s moods and a variety of other things that as a tourist you may never be able to wrap your head around. It’s another fact that many banks in Europe will not readily be able to assist with exchanging non European currency you bring. Don’t bring your home currency with the expectation to exchange it into Euros at any bank. Larger and more touristic cities will have foreign exchange offices but they charge high commissions.
Even though you may pay a fee for cash withdrawals, you usually get the best exchange rate using ATM machines for ready cash. In most cases, you can get cash at an ATM right at the airport after you land. Before you travel, check with your bank to be sure that your standard PIN number will work, as some cards require an international PIN. We also advise letting your bank know that you will be traveling. On our European tours, most towns and even smaller villages will have an ATM. Tour Leaders on tour can give you exact information on where to find them. On our South America Tours, you will find ATMs in larger towns. As your Tour Leaders so you can plan. To give you an idea of frequency of withdrawals, most of our customers withdraw money two or three times during the trip.
Most hotels, restaurants and stores accept credit cards, but it never hurts to carry a little cash around as well. Credit cards may not be accepted by smaller shops and restaurants, or for smaller purchases. Be aware that many credit card companies charge a foreign transaction fee – check your card’s policies before you leave home. Also make sure to notify your credit card company of your travels to make sure your card won’t be locked down. VISA is most commonly accepted, followed by Master Card and American Express.
Chip & PIN
Europe tends to use the chip & PIN type of credit and debit cards, meaning each “smartcard” contains a microchip that automatically authenticates the card with the use of a PIN at the time of any transaction. Most credit and debit cards issued in the United States are of the Chip & Signature or the magnetic strip type. Some self-serve vending machines or kiosks such as those at train or metro stations, luggage lockers, toll booths and fueling stations will not accept the magnetic strip or the Chip & Signature cards common in the US. Having cash on hand for these transactions is advised. The majority of hotels, restaurants and shops accept a magnetic strip or the Chip & Signature cards.
The Euro has made traveling throughout Europe fairly easy, but it never hurts to know the current exchange rates for all the different locations you’ll be on your trip abroad. Oanda has a simple to use currency converter that can tell you the most up-to-date information, plus a wealth of other currency-related information. As mentioned above, we recommend using ATMs to obtain local currency – see more details under ATMs below.
Value Added Tax is collected on purchases and is included in the price you pay, BUT there is a system that allows tourists to receive a refund. The refund process must be started before you fly home, and completed at the customs office in your departure city’s airport. VAT does vary per country and sometimes per shop. If you want more information on your VAT refund check out Rick Steves’ article, How to Claim VAT Refunds, and Reid’s Guides Getting the VAT Back.
Commas and Decimals
In Europe, and most of the “rest of the world” commas are decimals and decimals are commas. One thousand units of an item is written as 1.000. For example, five euro is written as € 5,00.
Wallets & Money Belts
When traveling through large transportation hubs, as in any large city, be careful of pickpockets and purse snatching. Do not wear valuable or showy jewelry and keep your wallet somewhere safe. Use common sense as you would in any large city. Keep a watchful eye on your personal belongings; never leave your luggage unattended. It takes seconds for someone to steal your things. Keep important documents such as passports, licenses and money in a waist belt or passport holder around your neck. You can purchase these from most local travel/luggage shops and outdoors stores.
It’s always a good idea when traveling abroad to carry a photo copy of the front and back of each credit card, ATM card or any other important cards you’ll bring and to leave another copy with someone at home just in case you lose one while traveling.