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Preparing to Travel with Cash


Cash access and international travel – planning tips for a safe trip

When travelling, cash should always be on your list of necessities, but bringing along the right amount of cash, and withdrawing it at the right time, requires a bit of simple planning.

With ATMs accessible worldwide, having the cash you need when traveling has never been easier. All you need to do before you leave home is quickly figure out how much to withdraw ahead of time.


The global availability of ATMs means that the days of traveling with a trip’s worth of cash in your suitcase or backpack are long gone. However, for peace of mind, we would suggest you have enough money in your pocket to cover some of your early expenses. 

1. What are your immediate cash expenses?

At a minimum, you should leave home with enough cash to cover your expenses on arrival, as you may quickly be in a situation where cards are not accepted. Having the right currency in your wallet ahead of time will give you time to get your bearings before finding the most convenient ATM.

In calculating your immediate expenses, calculate immigration fees, taxi fare, food, and tips – enough to get you from home to your destination hotel plus a first day or so of travel. Then, add a small buffer for the unexpected. If you have a known large cash expense early in your trip, like a cash-only excursion or tour, bring the money you will need to pay for this as well. 

If your home currency is readily accepted, such as US Dollars in resort towns in Mexico, get your cash at home and get going. If you need to exchange currency, you may find that exchange rates at bureaux de change at international airports are often uncompetitive and you may get a better deal by buying some currency before you go.  Just remember if you plan on getting your cash on arrival to have enough to get you on your way at the start of your trip – you may need cash to tip porters at the airport, pay for a taxi, etc. 

2. Do you want an emergency stash of cash?

An emergency stash of cash means that you always have a little money tucked away for unanticipated cash-only expenses. The exact value of this stash varies with each trip, and should be reflective of your daily budget. Two day’s worth of expenses is a good starting point. You should keep this money with you while traveling, and then stow it safely upon reaching your final destination.


When it comes to your daily purchases, ATMs allow you to quickly and safely access money as you need it. However, it is still a good idea to consider what your daily budget will look like ahead of time – and how much of it you can pay for with cash. 

Think about a typical day: meals, activities, souvenirs, tips, accommodation, etc. How many of these expenses can you pay for in cash? Are any cash only? And, will any merchants offer discounts for cash transactions? Start to map out the cash needs for your trip, and consider whether there will be days where accessing an ATM isn’t possible. And remember, cash is a great budgeting tool to keep your trip costs on budget – if you pay for most of your trip expenses in cash, you can’t overextend yourself. 

TIP: Once you know your daily budget, consider setting daily or weekly cash withdrawal limits on your credit or debit cards. This is a nice bit of added security [LS2] for you bank account in the event of a lost or stolen card.


1. How available are ATMs where you are going?

If your travels take you to large cities or towns, you can expect straightforward ATM experiences. If, however, your travels take you off the beaten track or out into the wilderness, do a little pre-trip research into ATM availability relative to your daily spending, and plan your cash flow accordingly.

Activities like safaris or scuba diving trips may begin and end in areas that do not have ATMs. In these cases, be sure to bring enough cash for all anticipated costs – and tips! 

TIP: If your bank or credit union participates in a surcharge-free ATM network, such as Allpoint, ATMs are available in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the United Kingdom – over 55,000 in all.    check the network locator or download its app to see if there are surcharge-free ATMs where you will be traveling and plan to use them! Allpoint

2. How do your credit or debit cards work abroad?

Virtually all credit and debit cards are accepted at ATMs worldwide; however, some offer more favourable exchange rates and withdrawal fees than others. Given that ATMs are the safest place to keep your money, it is worth investigating the fees associated with your card, and weighing them against pre-paid travel cards that do not charge for cash access.

Also consider card feature compatibility – many European nations are using more tap-and-go style cards, which are not common in the United States. If you plan to use a card for transportation in a foreign country but do not have the tap feature, it may not work – plan for a little extra cash for transportation just in case.

3. What’s the local currency, and can you access it at home? 

The last step in the planning process is to actually get the money you need before departure. If you are traveling to a place that uses a major global currency, such as the US dollar, Euro, Japanese yen, South African rand etc., you can likely purchase this currency at your local bank or a foreign exchange bureau. Simple enough.

If, however, you are traveling to a country that does not accept a major foreign currency, or an area within the country that does not, more forethought is required. Virtually all international airports will offer a currency exchange, but watch the fees and ensure if you plan to use this service that you have enough time planned before your flight. If you are traveling by car, train or ship, you may need to visit a currency exchange prior to departure. You can also access the ATM on arrival in international airports to grab some local currency.

TIP: Many ATMs in airports and border areas now offer currency conversion services that let you see your withdrawal costs in your own home currency, making it easier to understand how much is coming out of your account and what the total exchange cost is.

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