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Cash is king, no matter where you go. Of course, in most cases you'll need local currency. You can get currency before you go, or after you arrive, at a bank or currency exchange bureau.

At banks and at bureaus exchange rates vary, so it pays to shop around. You'll probably get a better deal at a bank than at a currency exchange bureau, since exchange bureaus tend to charge higher fees or commissions. Of course, not everyone keeps bankers' hours, so exchange bureaus can come in handy. Recently, automated currency exchange machines have cropped up in airports, train stations and major tourist haunts. So if you're dashing through the airport at 4 a.m. and need a quick buck (pound, euro or yen), exchange machines can be very convenient but will cost you a less favorable exchange rate.

Carrying too much cash can be dangerous. If you lose it (or it's taken from you), it's gone for good. Also, changing cash requires making an extra trip to either the bank or exchange bureau.

Travellers Checks:

Although use of travellers checks has declined with the advent of ATMs and debit cards, there is still a time and place for them. The biggest benefit of travellers checks is that if they're lost, they can be replaced, usually within 24 hours.

As long as you're using a major issuer (American Express, Barclays, Visa, Citibank and Thomas Cook are a few), travellers checks can be exchanged for cash at any exchange bureau or bank, as well as at many hotels.

Depending on the type of account you have, some banks will give them to you for free, while others will charge a 1 percent fee to buy the checks, plus the normal exchange fee when you exchange them for local currency.


Thanks to conveniently located, (almost) always-working ATM machines, you can access cash in just a few minutes. In addition to being convenient for quick withdraws, ATMs carry out their transaction at the wholesale banking rate. This means you will typically get a better exchange rate by using an ATM than you would with cash or traveler's checks at a bank.

As long as your card uses one of the major ATM networks (Plus, Cirrus, STAR, Visa and EuroCard are a few), you'll be able to access cash from machines at most major tourist destinations. However, it's best to check with your bank ahead of time about ATM availability and restrictions on access to your money.

Fees, fees, fees. The inevitable user fees of ATMs may offset the good exchange rates they offer. If you are withdrawing money from an ATM machine not operated by your bank, expect to pay the typical user fees. You will most likely have to pay a $1.50 to $2 charge levied by the machine operator as well as a fee levied by your bank. But help might be on the way. The Bank of America recently announced a Global ATM Alliance with Barclays Bank PLC, Deutsche Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia and Westpac. Under the alliance, the banks offer their customers free use of one another's combined 20,000 ATMs. Still, you may be hit with other fees. Some banks have begun charging as much as 4 percent in additional "transaction" or "conversion" fees for ATM use outside the United States. Check with your bank before you depart to find out what fees apply.

Credit/Debit Cards

Even if you don't plan on using a credit card, it's a nice thing to have along for peace of mind. First, it's safer than carrying too much cash. Second, it's also a great backup plan for paying bills should you get into an unexpected bind. Besides saving your credit card for emergencies, you might consider using it for basic purchases. Using your card will also let you take advantage of the wholesale banking rate. In addition, some credit cards offer valuable travel-related perks. American Express, for example, offers its cardholders help finding an English-speaking doctor, accident insurance and car rental insurance. Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club offer similar perks. Check with your credit card issuer about cardholder travel benefits.

Visa and MasterCard are accepted at over 20 million locations; there will be no problem finding a place that will take your plastic. Debit cards associated with either Visa or MasterCard can be used anywhere the two are accepted. You can also withdraw cash through an ATM, provided that you know your credit card PIN, or walk into most banks and receive a cash advance using your credit card. However, be aware of the fees or interest rates your credit card carrier charges for cash advances. A credit card cash advance is probably not the most economical way to acquire additional money.

When you use any credit card internationally you are charged a 1 percent fee by the Visa/MasterCard clearinghouse. Most people are unaware of this fee. It's imposed at the currency exchange level as part of the transaction. But in addition to the clearinghouse fee, some issuers have begun to charge an additional 2 to 5 percent fee for international credit card transactions. American Express charges a 2 percent fee for international transactions with its card. Before you lay down the plastic, check with your credit card issuer to learn more about its fees.

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