Foreign cash

Do you typically get foreign cash from your bank before you travel abroad, or do you wait until you arrive at your destination? Why?

  • Depends on where you are going. I have used an ATM in India, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica to get cash with my debit card. I did notify my bank ahead of time, and that helped but was not foolproof. In Colombia in 2017, it worked only about half the time even at airport ATMs, and the max was about $120 (and twice that per day) which was not enough to pay for a event I was attending or a week's lodging--which I could not pay ahead of time with a credit card online. Several places in Colombia would not or could not accept a credit card, even when the amount of cash was nervewracking to carry around. In my other travels (post-eons-ago traveler's check days in Europe, and when I lived 30 miles from the Canadian border it wasn't an issue), the ATMs worked ok but had a limited amount of cash available and some did charge relatively high fees, but I thought it was worth it to avoid carrying lots of cash around. I have not paid a lot of attention to the relative difference between getting cash in the states and abroad because I've had to have the equivalent of hundreds of dollars to pay for lodging and travel, and there wasn't really a choice. If you order cash from my bank, it comes in the largest denominations, which were often not usable until they were split, so that wasn't a great choice either. However, if you are on a Road Scholar trip, the amount of money needed is a lot less. On our Costa Rica trip, we mostly bought ice cream every other day or so, and it wouldn't have mattered what the exchange rate was. We stayed longer than the RS trip, and that was when it was necessary to have some cash, but many places accepted dollars.
  • I usually wait to use an ATM upon arrival so that I don't carry a lot of cash in airports. I found that any remaining foreign money can be added to my Starbucks card-usually at the airport. It is converted to US by the time I get home, with no fees.