Travel Banking 101 for Americans

US Dollars

Cash is king.

No one likes paying bank fees, especially for taking out your own money. If you’re armed with the right plastic and information though, you can get away with never paying any fees.

ATM / Debit Cards

There are a few banks and credit unions that offer no fee checking accounts such as TD Bank and Charles Schwab. Personally, I use TD Bank’s Premier Account. As long as you maintain a minimum balance of US$2500, you never pay any fees. TD won’t charge you for international withdrawals and if the local bank charges you a fee, TD will reimburse you for that fee. Over the years, I’ve had a few hundred dollars in ATM fees reimbursed and never paid a fee out of my own pocket.

Pre-Paid Travel Cards

The cards are offered by almost every retail bank and offer customers the “ease of accessing your own money anywhere”. In reality, these cards are cash cows for the banks and are terrible for consumers. You get charged fees for the card itself, for using it at ATMs, for not using it for over a month, for reloading it, and for lots of other things. In other words, don’t throw away your money with these.

Credit Cards

If there’s one card you need, it’s Capital One. No annual fee, no international transaction fees, very good exchange rates. And you get rewards points too.


Cash is still king. In some countries, only cash is accepted. It’s always a good idea to carry some globally traded hard currency such as Euros, Sterling, or US Dollars in small to medium denominations. And despite the march of globalization, there are still many remote towns which don’t have ATMs (such as Capurgana, Colombia or Lanquin, Guatemala).

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