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Accessing Your Money Abroad

By: Jonathan Hedley - Updated: 23 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Accessing Money Abroad Accessing Funds

The question of how you access your money while abroad has much to do with where it is to start with, but you’ll be happy to know that the UK is a world leader in the financial services industry, which allows us Brits the luxury of security and convenience just about wherever we choose to go.

The general rule of thumb is to carry small amounts of cash – enough for day to day expenses – and have access to the rest of your funds in some more secure form such as travellers’ cheques.

If you’re going to a place where you’ll have plenty of easy access to ATM machines, which is most of the developed world, then it’s in your interests to use the more modern equivalent of travellers cheques – prepaid foreign currency cash cards.

Prepaid Cash Cards

Available from most major banks and exchange bureaus, these cards work just like your ordinary bank card, except in a currency of your choice. At the moment they’re really only available for the most widely used currencies - US dollars, Euros and, for visitors to the UK, pounds. They offer all of the security features of any normal card – a PIN number is required to draw on them and your signature on the back identifies it as yours.

If you have internet banking, you can top up the credit on your card online from anywhere in the world. This allows you to be flexible with your budget. If at the end of your trip you still have credit on your card you can either save it for the next time you go abroad or have the remaining cash transferred back into your UK bank account.

Ordinary Bank Cards

If you’re not well prepared enough to have a prepaid cash card in the currency of your destination, your ordinary current account card should work just as well, it’ll just cost you a little more. Most ATM machines worldwide have a set charge of anything up to about £5 for allowing you withdraw cash. In addition, your own bank will also charge you a similar amount.

Since you pay a set fee for every withdrawal you make, it’s in your interests to take your maximum allowance every time, however, given that there’s profit to be made, you’ll usually find that the limit per withdrawal is lower than it is in the UK.

Because of the ever-present threat of identity theft, banks are adding more and more security features to the cards they issue, and this can be infuriating if not incredibly problematic when you’re abroad. If you use your card several times in a relatively short period of time it’s liable to be blocked. Likewise, you may often find that it comes up invalid if you try to use it as a debit card. Advising your bank that you intend to use your card abroad should help avoid problems but if you travel a lot this can be a tiresome affair.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are useful for paying for things that your petty cash budget doesn’t cover. This includes travel tickets and accommodation, as well as restaurant bills and shopping trips. Drawing cash on a credit card can be very costly however, and therefore should only be done in an emergency (such as when your bank card gets blocked). Make sure you know the PIN number of your credit card so that you can draw cash on it if you have to.

The World Beyond ATM Machines

Of course, all of the above methods for accessing cash rely on the abundance of ATM machines, but in some parts of the world you may find such a thing hard to come by. In this case, old fashioned travellers cheques are your best option. On the bright side, it doesn’t cost much for a westerner to live comfortably in the developing world, so you still shouldn’t have to carry around excessive amounts of cash.

Internet banking is highly recommended for keeping an eye on your finances while you’re away, as is keeping you bank’s phone number handy in case you should need assistance urgently.

If the worst happens and you get robbed of everything including your passport, the only thing you can do is get to your nearest British consulate by hook or by crook, probably relying on the compassion of strangers to help you. If you have your passport, you can receive cash from friends or relatives via a long distance cash transfer, while a good insurance policy may just get you some emergency cash.

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