20 Tips for Travelling in a Cash-Economy
Cash: you gotta have it, especially when traveling, right?
Of course, it all depends on where you go. Some countries are mostly cashless, in that they’re making the move to predominantly digital payments. Others are more cash-dependent, meaning they rely more on banks, currency exchanges and money physically passing hands.
Are you planning on visiting a cash-dependent country soon? Here are 20 tips for smooth transactions and happy travels.
Get Ready for Life in a Cash-Based Economy
Know Which Countries Are Cashless
Get information on the country you plan to visit before your trip so you can figure out which countries are digital and which are more cash-based. According to financial news resource Total Payments, some popular cash-free countries include Norway, Canada and Sweden. If you’re visiting one of these, bring your cards, not a lot of cash.
Take out Money Ahead of Time
Don’t wait until you get to a cash-dependent country to try taking out money. VirtualTourist.com contributors wrote about traveling in South America, where ATMS are scattered, few and far between. Other cash-dependent countries can be similar. Navigating a new country can be tough. Don’t make it more stressful than it has to be.
Know How and Where to Obtain Money in Other Currencies
You know you need cash in another currency, but where should you go? Sarah Schlichter at Independent Traveler suggests the airport or a bank, which “may waive fees for certain account holders.” You can also use an online money transferring service.
Learn Which Currencies Are Accepted Where
Some countries take multiple forms of currency, says APX Travel Management, a New Zealand travel agency. The company notes how US dollars may be used in Argentina due to the fluctuating value of the peso. Be sure to check currency rates before your trip.
Grab Cash Just for the Day Ahead
So you’ve just arrived in a new country and you have cash on you. Obviously, you’re going to be more on alert than usual because your surroundings are new, but you can take other precautions to travel safely as well. David Thyberg of USA Today’s travel section advises travelers to take out just as much money as you’ll need for the day.
Store the Rest
You may take out a large sum of money because you’re not sure how much you’ll spend on your trip. Do you need to keep all your cash on your person at all times though? Joe Bindloss at Lonely Planet says no.
“The golden rule for money travel is never keep all your eggs (money) in one basket (your bag or wallet). If you get robbed or misplace your stuff, you lose everything.” He suggests a hotel safe as a place for cash storage.
Know Where to Tuck Away Your Cash
If you absolutely must carry large sums on your person, at least keep the money out of plain sight. Allianz Travel Insurance suggests putting money in special underwear (made for that purpose with pockets), a zippered money sock or in a money belt that looks like a real belt.
Only Get Money from Safe Sources
As you wander around this new country, Bob Bales, The Travelling Fool, notes how you may see vendors and others who will transfer currency for you. However, Bales says “a lot of street money changers will give you counterfeit or currency that has since been replaced by a newer version.” As mentioned, a lot of cash-dependent countries have few ATMs. That’s why, again, it pays to take out money before the trip.
Pay with Small Bills
Helen Ochyra at Rough Guides suggests bringing small bills, such as $20 bills or the currency equivalent. “Make sure also that all bills are clean and undamaged,” she writes. While taking out money in small bills might mean a bigger wad of cash, Ochyra says that in many cash-dependent countries, “you won’t have much use for $100 bills.”
Avoid Traveler’s Checks
What about traveler’s checks? Chris Weber at travel blog My Final Frontier advises against these, noting how users often have to pay extra fees, both at the bank in their destination country and at home. These likely wouldn’t be accepted in lieu of a credit card anyway in most cash-dependent countries.
Ask about Potential Discounts
If traveling to Europe, Rick Steves notes that “because merchants pay commissions to credit card companies, small European businesses…often prefer that you pay in cash.” In fact, if you pay cash, vendors may sometimes be willing to shave a bit off the final price of an item, Steves says.
You May Be Declined When Trying to Pay by Card
In some countries, you may think you can just get by on your credit or debit card until you find an ATM. Not so, says Kathy Russo at Japan travel resource Izanau.
“Japan continues to be one of the few developed countries to remain heavily cash-dependent,” she writes, adding that “many stores, restaurants, grocery stores, and even bars do not accept any form of plastic cards — some airlines and hotels even prefer customers to pay with cash over credit/debit.” The same is likely to be true for other cash-dependent countries.
Set up Fraud Alerts
When you use your credit or debit card abroad, your bank will see activity on those cards in a foreign country. If you haven’t notified them of your trip, they may think someone is fraudulently using your card. That’s why, says Scott Mayerowitz at Travel + Leisure, it’s best to get in touch with both your card company and your bank. By letting them know you’ll be leaving the country, you’ll prevent the cards being proactively disabled.
Get Travel Insurance
Money is money whether it’s cash or on a credit card. No one wants to be robbed, but it could happen. Cathy Toogood at Travel Supermarket, a travel agency, says travel insurance is good to have just in case.
“To prevent any unwanted surprises, find out how much you can claim back for lost cash, luggage and cancellation cover, and check whether there is a single item limit on your policy,” she says.
Know the Cash Limits When Traveling
For some countries, the amount of cash one can bring when traveling is capped. That’s not so in the US. That said, travel resource AirSafe says “passengers who are carrying currency, endorsed personal checks, traveler’s checks, gold coins, securities or stocks in bearer form that are valued at 10,000 USD or more must report the amount that they are carrying to US customs officials.”
In Europe, it’s a bit different. According to the European Commission, “travellers entering or leaving the EU and carrying 10,000 EUR or more in cash…have to make a declaration to the customs authorities.”
If Necessary, Declare Cash or Other Valuables
Do you have to declare your cash but you don’t know how? According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a traveler who does will need FinCEN 105, a “Report of International Transportation of Currency of Monetary Instruments.”
In the UK, the form is known as C9011 according to GOV.UK. However, you don’t have to declare if you bring cash to the UK from another EU country. It’s only required to declare cash amounts of 10,000 EUR (or the equivalent in other currencies) or more when entering or leaving the EU.
Expect Questions from the TSA or Similar Authorities
In many countries, the Transportation Security Administration or TSA is in charge of checking that passengers and their belongings are risk-free before a flight takes off. According to the TSA’s blog, they may question passengers who have large amounts of cash on them.
Prepare for How to Handle Danger
World traveler Regev Elya believes in the power of extra pockets, and he says you should, too. He offers a useful tip for travelers who are being robbed: “just hand him whatever’s in your ‘real’ pockets and he’s likely to believe it’s all you got. I used to also put an inactive credit card in one of the real pockets, just to trick potential robbers and avoid being searched for a card.”
Go the Right Parties if Cash Is Stolen
If, unfortunately, your cash is taken at any time, you shouldn’t just let it go, even if a thief only got away with a small sum. On Call International, a travel assistance company, suggests getting in touch with police and opening a report.
Do mention if you lost more than just cash, such as your passport or credit card. The police may not be able to recover lost cash (although you never know), but they can hopefully at least find the documents.
Know Where and How to Transfer Unused Foreign Currency
If you did indeed have to transfer your currency for your trip, you may have some leftover money. It’s a cool souvenir to keep a few bills or coins, but if at the end of the day you want to convert the rest of the money back, what do you do? The UK Post Office suggests trading the money to currency exchange companies to get cash back in your home currency.