This one will surprise many because as crazy as it seems to me, nobody even thinks about doing this. Banks are some of the richest companies in the world, with billions of dollars of profit every year! how do they achieve this? With interest! Yes, they charge you an incredible amount of money that is extracted every time you take out money, pay for something, etc.
So what is my number one tip?
Get yourself a “No Foreign Exchange Fee Credit Card” in your home country!
Credit cards are an extremely useful tool for the traveler! they make cross-currency transactions painless and avoid getting tons of change in your pocket. I use it more and more now as Visa and Mastercard have done a great job expanding to even the most remote countries in the world. The only problem is that as soon as you buy something in a different country in a different currency, they will add a percentage on that exchange rate at their own will, that reaches up to 5%! They usually don’t even state this in their policy and after asking my banks they didn’t even know how much they charge. Most people just consider it a “mandatory fee” and choose to ignore it.
So one day while in the Czech Republic I sat down and created an excel sheet and registered every transaction during a few days of my different cards, and calculated the price paid, added the daily currency exchange and compared it with what appeared on my statements. The results were Mind blowing! I found out that my most used cards were charging my 3.5% on every transaction! My other card was charging 2%, and my last one was charging me 0%… When you are a backpacker and you travel on the cheap, that is a very significant amount of money you are throwing down the drain! imagine you buy even just a plane ticket of 1000$, that’s 35$ you just threw away!!
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Too many people just choose a card for Miles benefits only, but usually, they just get even 1% of the value of purchases. So for every 1%, they get back in miles, they might be wasting 3.5% in fees… fortunately enough, my card that gave me no FX fee is also accumulating miles so this is the optimum situation! the results of my research were to cancel that card that charged me 3.5%
Paying with a credit card is also even better than changing money in a Change Office. Usually, when changing money, you will pay in currency exchange fees between 2% and 6% and can go even higher if you add the conversion fee they might add (in Berlin, most charged about 4% off the regular rate plus 4 euros on every transaction under 200 euros…). That will add up fast! So by using a credit card, you are saving money and it is currently the cheapest means I have found to pay cross currency.
So before leaving, Go out there and go shopping around for a No Fx fee card. After finding that card, only then should you bother choosing a card that can accumulate miles. Once you find this card in your country, you will be equipped to enjoy the benefits of paying with a credit card without being ripped off by bank fees.