While traveling abroad, I was surprised by how quickly the fees can add up when using my credit and ATM card, or exchanging money—I’ll explain how I managed to do away with these money woes, by saving hundreds of dollars, through the steps I’ve taken.

Use Foreign ATMs For Free

When I first started my travels, I was using my Chase ATM card for pulling cash abroad.  This was taking a huge toll on my bank account. 2.5% fee of the amount withdrawn; $5 flat fee for using a foreign ATM; plus any fees charged by the foreign bank for ATM use.  So if a foreign ATM charges $3 per transaction; each time I pulled $200, that’s a fee of $13 US!

What did I do?  I opened a checking account with a bank that does not charge foreign transaction fees for currency exchange or for use of non-branch ATMs.  There are quite a few banks that offer this.

I use BankDirect, for the following reasons:


  1. All banking needs can be handled online.  This is beneficial to travelers, as international calls can be a pain, along with time zone differences.  You can still reach someone over the phone if necessary though.
  2. No ATM fees, domestic or international.  Only international fees incurred are those charged by foreign banks (many times nothing, or less than $5 US)
  3. For an optional $12 a month, have a checking account that earns 100 AAdvantage Points for every $1,000 of funds held a month.  This is much more valuable to me than the low interest amounts offered these days.

Exchanging Money

Money exchange can be fairly costly.  There is usually a flat fee for any monetary amount; e.g. $10 or more; in addition to a percentage fee.  Not only this, but coins usually cannot be exchanged.  So kiss those handful of €2 euro coins goodbye, or lug them around for the rest of the trip.

Quick tips:

  1. Try to use all of your foreign money before leaving a country if possible.  It helps to do this, if you avoid pulling large sums from ATMs within a week or two before your departure.
  2. If you have to exchange money, try to avoid doing so at airports.  The exchange rates found there, are often the heftiest.
  3. Immediately after a currency exchange, always count your money before walking away.  Many exchange scams exist around the world, and mistakes can also happen.
  4. Before leaving a country with the local currency, use or exchange any torn bills, which could become worthless aboard.

Credit Cards: Never Pay a Fee

Many ordinary credit cards that I may use back home, will charge significant foreign transaction fees when abroad.  This is for no good reason—other then they can. In a previous blog post, I explained how to earn over 250,000 frequent flyer miles in three months through credit card promotions. Nearly all the cards mentioned in that article charge no foreign transaction fees whatsoever, and will additionally earn points with usage.

If you plan to use a credit card, I strongly urge that you signup for a travel card.  My personal favorites:


  • Chase British Airways Signature card - 50K Avios points after first $1k spend. 25K for each additional $10K spent, up to 100K points. Current offer link.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred - 40K points after spending $3k in 3 months. Current offer link.
  • Citi - AA Advantage Signature - 30K points after 1K spend in 3 months. Currently the offer is for 40K points.

If you have a bank, credit card, or another money saving tip that has worked well for you, please comment below!