11 Smart Money Tips for International Vacations

11 Smart Money Tips for International Vacations

Have you been saving up for a globe-trotting summer vacation? Planning an international excursion sometime soon? At Sound Stewardship, we remind our clients that an ocean-hopping trip isn’t an excuse to take a break from wise personal finance practices. In fact, smart financial planning combined with a few key travel money tips can help you truly relax on your time off. 

photo of Jonathan in Ireland

My wife’s family is from Ireland, so we cross the Atlantic to visit often. The foundation of responsible international travel is having a clear budget and saving up for your trip’s costs. But there are many other ways to be wise with your dollars while on the road (or on the plane, train or ship). Here are 11 travel money tips that have saved our budget and stress levels.  These will apply to most European Union countries but may need to be tweaked for other parts of the world, such as less-developed destinations.

  1. Consider travel insurance. Travel is more chaotic since the pandemic era. Look for insurance that covers travel disruptions, re-booking if you get sick and can’t travel, and medical expenses while out of the country. If you’re traveling somewhere you’d rather not be for long-term medical care, you may also want medical transportation included in your coverage. 
  1. Have a phone plan. There are a lot of options for how to use your smartphone overseas—some more expensive than others.

    Most carriers offer an international data plan; know what yours is before you go. Our plan allows us to turn our data roaming on at any time in Ireland, and we’ll be charged $10 a day for full usage on our normal U.S. phones. Although we rarely use this option, it is nice knowing it would work in an emergency. (You might want to spend some time looking for reviews of your plan’s international coverage in your vacation location. When fellow advisor Matt went to a more remote location in Costa Rica, his advertised international plan never worked).

    When we travel overseas for a long time, we switch our U.S. phones to Wi-Fi-only, which still allows us to call, text and access the internet over Wi-Fi. We also get an unused phone from an Irish relative and set up a pay-as-you go account to access local data and maps. If you have an unused, unlocked phone of your own, bring it and buy a local SIM card for a simple solution. Here’s an international iPhone primer that could be helpful. 
  1. Make sure your credit card has no foreign transaction fees. It’s easier than ever to find a credit card or bank card that doesn’t charge you additional transaction fees when used overseas. Read the fine print before you go, so you’re not getting charged every time you swipe your card or use an ATM.
  1. Let your bank or card issuer know where you’ll be going beforehand. This tried-and-true travel rule is still a good idea, even though many institutions don’t do much with the information these days. It can’t hurt to have your travel plan on-record with your financial service providers.
  1. Before you go, save digital copies of all your important documents somewhere accessible and safe. Save images of your passports, visas, travel insurance details, credit cards, etc. in a password-protected photo library, for example. If you have secure cloud storage (Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc.), make copies and save there as well. Make sure you know how to access these files if your device gets stolen.
  1. Get cash before you go, if possible. If you can convert cash to your destination’s currency at your local bank, you may save significantly compared to the conversion kiosks in the airport. Some locations in the Caribbean or Latin America may actually prefer U.S. dollars, so, again, do your research before you go.
  1. Look up tipping etiquette for your destination and budget accordingly. What is expected varies widely and is often very different than in the U.S. 
  1. While traveling, use tap-to-pay when available. Devices that use ApplePay or Google Wallet are more secure than credit cards, because they obscure some financial data. Most places I’ve traveled in Europe have more tap-to-pay availability in stores than in the U.S.
  1. Always pay in local currency. When using a card, you’ll be prompted to pay in U.S. dollars or the local currency. Selecting dollars sounds convenient, but vendors usually charge a convenience fee to do the conversion — and the conversion rate is not usually that great. If you are using a no-foreign-fee credit card (as you should be!), let the credit card handle the conversion, which is usually lower than the vendor’s, and skip the fee.
  1. Claim your VAT refund when leaving the EU. Visitors to the EU pay a “Value-Added Tax” on purchases. As non-residents, we’re usually able to receive a refund for most of this tax. This can add up if you are doing a lot of shopping or making a significant purchase! Here’s a good VAT refund explainer.
  1. Watch your transactions carefully. On your trip and after you return, continue monitoring transactions to confirm nothing is out of place. Traveling is always an opportunity for your data to be stolen, and the further you are away from home, the harder it can be to catch identity theft. If anything is out of place, report it to your credit card company immediately. 

Are you looking for financial planners who understand your life goals (including international travel)? Make an appointment with one of our advisors to see if our approach to financial contentment and confidence is a fit for you. 

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