Traveling outside the U.S. requires more research and preparation than traveling close to home. You can’t exactly pack a bag and hop on a plane. For starters, you’ll have to get a passport to leave the U.S., and some countries require you to apply for a Visa ahead of time.
And there are other logistics to consider when you travel to a country with different customs than your own. Do you need to learn some key phrases in the local language, for example? Do you know how to get around, either by local bus, high-speed train, or car? How much can you pack, and how much should you pack?
Of course, there are also financial issues to prepare for — some of which you should take care of before you depart. As you prepare to travel abroad, consider this financial checklist of to-do’s. (See also: Follow These 5 Credit Card Rules When Traveling Abroad)
1. Exchange some currency ahead of time
While you may not know how much cash you’ll need during your international trip, it’s smart to have at least some of the local currency before you arrive to your destination. You’ll probably want to get out of the airport quickly and need the cash to pay for a taxi or bus fare, for example. Or, perhaps you want the security of knowing you have money if your bank cards or credit cards don’t work. It never hurts to be prepared.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to get currency for nearly anywhere in the world if you plan ahead. Reach out to your bank or credit union early and you can get your hands on international currency within a few days, most of the time. Generally speaking, you will get a better exchange rate from your own bank or credit union than if you exchange currency at the airport currency exchange desk. Just don’t carry so much that you end up with load of cash on you. (See also: How to Evaluate an Exchange Rate)
2. Find out how much it will cost to use your ATM card abroad
You can also wait until you arrive to get local currency out of the ATM. However, you should find out what fees you’ll be charged for making a foreign transaction, if any.
Keep in mind that you may be charged more than one fee to use your ATM card abroad. First, your bank may charge you a fee for using an out-of-network ATM. Second, the bank that owns the ATM could tack on their own fees. Finally, you will likely be charged a foreign transaction fee for using an ATM outside the U.S.
If you’re traveling for a long time, staying in one place, and you plan early enough, you can also consider opening an account with a bank that offers ATM usage with fewer fees or no fees. You may not want to open a new checking account before your overseas trip, but it’s an option to consider if you’ve been thinking about getting a new checking account anyway. (See also: 11 Ways to Avoid Bank Fees While Traveling)
3. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
In addition to figuring out how much you’ll pay to use your ATM card abroad, you’ll also want to figure out a way to avoid foreign transaction fees on purchases made with credit. The foreign transaction fee is a fee levied on purchases made abroad with many credit cards, and it’s usually around 3% of your purchase.
The best way to avoid paying this fee altogether is by signing up for a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. There are many cards that fall into this category, including ones that don’t charge an annual fee.
Apply for one of these cards and bring it with you on your trip, and you’ll be glad you did. Better yet, get two cards with no foreign transaction fees from two different card issuers. This way, you can have a backup card to use in case you have trouble with your primary card for any reason. You may even want to carry one card with you and leave the other in your luggage in case the card you’re using gets lost or stolen.
4. Call your bank and credit card issuer
Purchases and ATM withdrawals made abroad may be flagged as fraudulent if your bank doesn’t know you’re traveling. In that case, you may not be able to use your debit card or credit card until you get the situation worked out.
Since you probably want to avoid banking snafus on your big trip, call your bank and credit card issuers before you depart to let them know where you’re traveling and when. Doing so will give your bank the time to update your account to reflect your upcoming travels.
5. Record your credit card information and stash it away
You need to protect yourself in case your belongings are stolen abroad. While using a safe and locking up your luggage are smart ideas, there are additional steps you can take to protect your credit card numbers.
One step to take is writing down all your credit card and ATM numbers separately in case your physical cards are stolen. Also make sure to write down customer service numbers that can be found on the back of each card. Keep a copy with you in your luggage and separate from your wallet.
If your cards are stolen or lost, you’ll have your account numbers and customer service details on hand. This will make getting ahold of your bank — and getting those card numbers out of service — infinitely easier. Your bank may even be able to expedite a new credit or debit card or to your hotel. (See also: How to Avoid Theft While Traveling)