Counting on cash on the other side of the world

WASHINGTON — It’s expensive to spend money anywhere. And you’re always vulnerable to hacks, loss or theft.

Cash and credit troubles could ruin an overseas vacation or business trip, but journalist turned traveler Sabrina Sabbagh has found a couple of tips and solutions.

To avoid or minimize international transaction fees, shop around. “I use a Charles Schwab Investor Checking account because it refunds all international transaction fees at the end of every billing cycle. I just transfer money from my normal checking account into the Schwab and use it exclusively for international withdrawals,” Sabbagh said. Another possibility: Chase Sapphire, which doesn’t charge international transaction fees.

Set up the cash advance feature on at least one card. “Just in case your debit card gets flagged for fraud, you can get a cash advance on a credit card from any ATM,” Sabbagh said. “It’s expensive and not ideal, but sometimes it’s the difference between making your flight when the taxi to the airport will only take cash, and you can’t pull out anything with your debit card.”

Set up travel alerts with your card companies and banks. “Most banks offer this service online, but even if you have to call through Skype once you’re overseas, do it,” Sabbagh said. “Being stranded in another country with no money is honestly a nightmare.”

When you tell the companies where you’re going, include adjacent countries. “A lot of companies across Europe and Latin America are based in another place. If you are trying to make a reservation online, it might ping in a neighboring country and block you,” she said.

Take more than one credit card. Your less favorite card may be a pain, but it could bail you out if your primary card is lost or the account is frozen.

Finally, take a bit of U.S. currency with you. “Sometimes a tip, or even bribe, in American money goes a long way,” Sabbagh said. “And if you don’t end up using it for that, you have it in a pinch if your cards stop working.”

You can find more details on these tips, and more, in Sabrina Sabbagh’s new book, “Travel Trove: Gems for Every Journey.”


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