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Money Matters


Individual expenses vary greatly, but you probably will spend more money overseas than at home.  The cost of living  and currency exchange rate at your destination will affect costs.  Places with a lower cost of living and spots that are less popular tourist destinations will be cheaper.  It is important that you understand what items and services are and are not included in your program.  The International Programs Office will provide you with a cost estimate that will include an estimate for personal spending for such things as travel and excursions, dining out, entertainment and souvenirs.  This figure is an average estimate only.  Your personal spending habits will greatly impact your overall cost.  We recommend that you develop a budget for your time abroad, and work to stay within that budget to avoid running short of funds.  It is important that you first determine how much money you can afford to spend while abroad.  You can't develop a budget without knowing how much money you have available!  Students tend to overspend during their first month abroad.  After the first few weeks, look carefully at what you've spent and adjust your budget accordingly.

Following are some suggestions for saving money while abroad:
  • Go grocery shopping instead of eating out.
  • Plan your excursions in advance.  Advance purchase tickets are often significantly cheaper.
  • Check the currency exchange rate frequently. When the exchange rate is low, take advantage of it!  Consider buying some souvenirs, purchasing tickets for weekend excursions, and withdrawing some cash.
  • Take advantage of student discounts.  Student discounts for museums, retail establishments, entertainment venues and transportation are common so be sure to ask.
  • Use Skype to talk with family and friends back home OR purchase a calling card.  Calling directly from a cell phone is very expensive.
  • Weigh your baggage to avoid baggage fees at the airport.
  • Work to keep ATM and currency conversion fees to a minimum.
Accessing Your Money Overseas
The International Programs Office recommends that you use more than one option to access your money while abroad (ATM/Debit cards, credit cards, traveler's cheques, ISIC card).  If you are staying for a full year in the same location, you may want to consider opening a local bank account to which your parents or guardians can directly send or wire money.

It is important to remember that every time you change money from one currency to another, you lose money in the exchange.  If you are traveling from one country to another, this means you should try to get only as much of a particular currency as you think you'll use.  When changing money, keep in mind that banks usually give much better exchange rates than the currency exchange services found in railway stations and airports.

ATM/Debit Card
An ATM/debit card is highly recommended.  ATM machines are numerous in many countries. Many ATMs in the United States and abroad are connected to international networks such as Cirrus or the Plus System.  A debit card (with a MasterCard or Visa logo on front) is more useful abroad than a regular ATM card because the Visa or MasterCard logo allows the card to work at more machines.

Be aware that every time you use an ATM card, most U.S. banks charge a fee every time you use the card.  These fees can add up so when you withdraw cash, withdraw a significant rather than a small sum. 

The International Programs Office recommends contacting your bank before you go abroad to:
  • Inform them of your locations and dates of travel.  As a measure of anti-fraud protection, many banks will freeze your account if you have not informed them of your international travel plans.
  • Inquire about fees associated with international transactions.
  • Check to make sure your card and PIN # can be used overseas.  If your PIN is a word, be sure you know the numeric equivalent because many key pads on ATMs abroad have only numbers on them.
  • Ask for details and restrictions about your account and about accessing funds abroad (e.g. daily withdrawal limits).
It is important to keep in mind that in some countries, the use of ATM/debit cards may become more problematic if you travel far from major cities.  Plan your travel accordingly to make sure you don't run short of cash!

While abroad, you can locate the nearest  MasterCard ATM or  Visa ATM online.

Credit Cards
Major credit cards such as MasterCard and Visa can usually be used all over the world.  When you make a purchase abroad, the amount that you spent is automatically converted to US Dollars and a currency conversion fee is charged by your bank. 

Prior to departure, contact your credit card issuer to:
  • Ask about fees/currency conversion charges for transactions abroad.
  • Confirm your PIN can be used overseas.  Some countries require that you enter your PIN when using your credit card.
  • Ask for a customer service telephone number that you can use to contact them while you are abroad.  Most companies have a collect telephone number that clients may use to call for reporting lost/stolen cards or for resolving credit card problems while abroad.
  • Register your locations and dates of travel so that the credit card company's fraud services division does not freeze your account when they notice unusual international transactions.
For safety purposes, keep a list of your credit card numbers or make photocopies of the cards.  Leave this information with someone at home in case your cards are lost or stolen.

Finally, be sure to have someone at home paying the monthly minimum on your credit card for you if you're away for more than one month.  You don't want to come home to unwanted fees and bad credit!

Prepaid Cash Cards
You can order a prepaid reloadable MasterCard or Visa for use while traveling abroad.  If lost or stolen, your money is replaced.  Parents can load money to the card from the U.S.  The International Student Identification Card (ISIC) will offer reloadable MasterCard capability for Spring 2016.  The International Programs Office can order your card for a fee of $25.  You will be given the option to purchase an ISIC card via your StudioAbroad portal after you have been accepted to your program. 

Travelers Checks
Traveler's checks are probably the safest way to carry money.  If lost or stolen, traveler's checks are replaceable at no charge by the issuing company within a short period of time. Traveler's checks do not expire and are available in a wide range of denominations.  Traveler's checks are redeemable at the current rate of exchange at most banks around the world for no fee.  Other businesses, such as hotels or restaurants, may accept the checks for a fee.  You will need your passport to cash your checks. 

Be sure to keep the receipt for your checks and a record of all transactions in a separate place from your checks to verify the remaining check numbers if lost or stolen.  WE also suggest leaving a list of your check numbers with someone at home.  When you purchase your checks, be sure to ask for details about what to do if your checks are lost or stolen.

Important:  Traveler's checks are NOT the best option if you are traveling in remote, rural or third-world locations because it can be difficult to use or cash the checks in such spots. 

Traveler's checks can be purchased through American Express, AAA, and usually through your bank. 

For safety reasons, you should not carry large amounts of cash.  We suggest ordering $100-$150 in your host country's currency from your local bank prior to departure so that you will not be empty-handed and have to get to a bank immediately upon arrival.  This can be helpful for taxis, phone calls, tips, snacks and other incidental purchases.  Your local bank will likely have to order the currency for you, so allow 10-14 business days prior to departure for processing your request.