On a trip to Vietnam, I exchanged my hard earned $100 USD for some Vietnamese Dong at an established foreign currency exchange place in LA.
Taking the opportunity to crack as many dong-related jokes as possible, including, but not limited to: “What am I going to do with all these dongs? I know what I’ll do: Put it in my butt…pocket” (pervs), I watched as the money-exchanger pocketed 35% of my money.
This was the first and only time I would ever feel the pangs of the high exchange rate fee. It stung, especially since my dong jokes only got a smirk at best (“dong,” this stuff writes itself).
Looking back, I got really screwed by those dongs. I should have been more aware of how to keep and stretch my money while traveling. But, the joke’s on the dong, because I now know how to save, spend and exchange wisely. Here are tips that you can follow too:
Shortly before leaving on a trip, it’s best to exchange a little bit of money, so that expenses for transportation from the airport to the hotel, possible need for visas and possible emergencies are covered. In Los Angeles, we use the money exchange in the Century City Mall or the exchange in the World Trade Center in downtown LA because they have the best exchange rate (still high, though). Remember to save your original receipt from the exchange place because you can exchange your unused foreign dollars back to American Dollars with no additional fee.
Also, set up credit cards and debit cards to be used internationally before leaving abroad.
Verify with your bank about fees abroad. In the case of my debit card, my bank charges $5.00 per withdrawal from an ATM with no additional fees. However, the ATM may tack on a small fee of their own. Some US banks partner with foreign financial institutions and waive the fees all together. Check with your bank for the list of financial partners. An added bonus: ATMs most likely will provide you with a more favorable, convenient, and secured currency exchange rate and process than other currency exchange alternatives, such as Travelex.
Ensure your financial safety: use your debit card only for ATM transactions and use them like you would at home. You would not carry thousands of dollars in your wallet on a normal day. Unless you’re a baller, or a pimp, carrying around lots of money to randomly “make-it-rain” becomes stressful. What if you lose that wallet? What if you are robbed? Carry only what you need.
My example of a Real-Life ATM transaction in Taiwain: With a quick calculation in budget and financial need, we withdrew 8800 NTD (roughly $300 USD) from a national bank’s ATM. That amount is fairly ideal to last us for a week in Taiwan. You need to find a budget that works for you so you don’t have to keep going back to the ATM and so that you don’t feel uncomfortable carrying a ton of money.
Back at home, on our future statement, we will see a $5.00 charge for that ATM transaction, plus $1.25 from the foreign ATM—which notified us before the withdraw—along with the amount withdrawn. Find out and understand what will be on your statement before your trip to minimize the surprises and headaches after.
On credit cards, they will generally charge a foreign transaction fee every time you use your card abroad. However, some credit cards — such as my Capital One credit card — has no foreign transaction fees.
Never use your credit card for purposes other than purchases. Unless you want to deal with a cash advance high interest rate later.
Example: When I used my Capital One Visa at my new favorite store, Muji for a shirt and ten pens for $2000 NTD or $60.00 USD (no one said Muji was cheap). I’ll only see the $60.00 USD on my statement and nothing more.
You should not expect other countries to use cards as fluidly as we do in America. Even if it’s a very westernized or technologically advanced country. Many merchants refuse to pay a fee to the credit card companies and do not rely on sales from credit cards.
And, if all else fails, ask the front desk at your hostel or hotel to help direct you to the nearest bank for some universally accepted…. Cash.Do you think they take American Express?
How do you get the most out of your dong abroad? Ever had a money mishap?