Avoid ATM fees and poor conversion rates with a good travel credit card or debit card. We share our travel credit card system with you so you can get the best rates and maximise your money when travelling.
Managing Your Finances when You Travel
It’s one of the most common questions we get asked when people find out we live a life of long term travel, ‘How do you deal with money whilst you travel around?’ People seem to think that it’s massively different from living in one fixed place, paying bills and using a bank account.
Well, you’ll be delighted to know that out of all the aspects of travel this should be the most straightforward if handled well. With a little planning you can have a slick and easy money management system which means you can enjoy your travels without stressing about your finances.
Travel Spending – Cash or Travel Credit Card?
Whilst the world slowly heads towards an inevitable cash free future it’s not quite there yet. In most places around the world cash is still the way to go although credit cards are becoming more widely accepted day by day.
We’ve found that it’s best to always have some local currency in our pockets when we travel anywhere. It’s useful for small purchases if nothing else but many restaurants, shops, food stalls we’ve encountered just don’t do credit card payments.
We pay with our travel credit card if paying for anything over $20 or booking things online but try and keep our card payments to a minimum.
Our Travel Credit Card System
We’ll explain the system we use when travelling to give you a few pointers. You can copy or adapt it to fit your needs, country and destination.
Our banks are UK based so we picked the best travel credit card or travel debit card on offer before leaving. This was the Halifax Clarity Travel Credit Card (MasterCard) which Charlie applied for well in advance. It offers the best conversion rate of any of the UK travel credit cards when spending or withdrawing money abroad.
So this means we can get cash from an ATM wherever we are and get the best conversion rate on that currency from British Pounds. We then login to the credit card account at the next available chance and pay off the balance meaning we avoid any fees.
This has worked well for us so far and as Charlie sets a reminder after withdrawing any cash to pay it off 2 days later, the time it takes to show up online.
We still encounter fees from the bank that runs the machine but this is very difficult to avoid. Even if you bank with HSBC in the UK for example they will still charge you for using their machines in other countries, and that’s the same bank!
Picking the Right Travel Credit Card
So you’ve seen that our system depends on this and so should yours. Besides ATM fees you should not be paying any extra fees to withdraw your hard-earned money, it’s a waste of your travel fund.
If I used my regular bank UK account (not our magic travel credit card) to withdraw £100 from an ATM in Vietnam the bank would charge me a 2.75% ‘non-sterling transaction fee’ PLUS a ‘non-sterling cash fee’ of up to £5 per transaction. Put simply, withdrawing £100 I actually get charged £107.75, what a rip off!
So pick a low or preferably no-fee card from the providers in your country wherever possible. It might be a bank debit card (current account) or a credit card like us. It won’t matter which as long as you pay off any balances as soon as possible to avoid the evil fees!
If your bank is in the USA checks out this page on NerdWallet for the best travel cards.
If your bank is in the UK check the brilliant Money Saving Expert for the best travel cards.
If you live elsewhere do a search online for ‘best travel credit cards’ and check the rates and fees.
As a final point, it’s worth carrying a card from both MasterCard and Visa if possible. One will always be accepted if the other isn’t. American Express isn’t so widely accepted and mostly charges higher fees so retailers worldwide are more reluctant to take it.
Look out for Bonus Offers or Airline Points
You can pick up some serious points for air travel just by using the right travel credit cards and offers. There’s also the possibility of cashback and discounts for using certain credit cards and accounts for your regular spending.
This works if you are going to spend the money anyway i.e. booking a flight. You might as well get rewarded for parting with any money from that hard saved travel fund tin.
Just to clarify we are not advocating getting yourself a wallet full of cards to spend on. To us, credit cards = debt and can easily lead to financial issues if not managed correctly.
So use caution when spending on credit cards and ALWAYS pay off the balance in FULL when it shows on your card statement to avoid any evil fees or issues!
Apply for Your Travel Credit Card Now!
Charlie missed out on having a second 0% fee account to back up our regular travel credit card because he applied for it too close to leaving the UK.
Research and apply for the best travel accounts and cards to suit you now, don’t leave it too late like we did to avoid paying unnecessary fees whilst travelling.
Keeping Your Money Safe on the Road
We’d recommend acting just like you would at home when it comes to cash, ATMs and payments. We’ve never understood why travellers are so intent on using money belts tucked into their under-crackers or on full display at groin level.
Charlie tried to use one but found it was so fiddly to get any cash out of it that everyone started staring at him as he rummaged around in his shorts. Do yourself a favour and use a simple wallet or purse as you would at home to keep paying for stuff discreet and hassle-free. You’ll look a little more normal!
Equally, use caution at ATMs as you would anywhere at home. If there’s a lot of people hanging around very close by maybe use the next one you find.
If you have just withdrawn lots of cash divide it upon your person or in your pack. That way if your wallet is lost or stolen you’ve not lost it all.
- Cash still rules in most places, make sure you’re set for a life of ATM visits
- Copy and modify our travel credit card system if you like, we don’t mind one jot!
- Pick the right kind of travel credit cards or accounts to avoid silly fees
- Look out for bonus offers, cash-back cards and points to make your spending go further
- Apply for travel credit cards and accounts now as they can take several weeks to arrive
- Keep your money safe whilst travelling, act local and spread your cash out
If you know someone who would find this post useful please share it via the social links. What are your top money tips? Do you have a special travel credit card? Let everyone know in the comments below…
Understandably but frustratingly a lot of Nomadic Matts posts are aimed at the American market. It is nice to find some UK specific information.
Hey Ross, we found exactly the same issue when were were looking around for some info before leaving the UK. Martin Lewis is a mine of info and always has the latest offers compared unlike the more commercial sites 🙂
You guys should check out Revolut! It saved us after not being able to get the N&P card. No charges and live amazing exchange rates…fully functioning bank account now too!
Thanks for the tip, we just had a good look into it and it seems like a really good option as an ewallet. We might just sign up when we are back on the road 🙂
Hey guys 🙂 We are literally about to embark on a nomadic life and had to do a lot of research on this before we left the UK. We found the Norwich & Peterborough have an account where we don’t have to pay any ATM withdrawal fees overseas – winner! In some countries like Thailand it’s unavoidable as the Country charges (apparently) and there’s nothing that can be done about that but for the majority of the world, its free so that should save us some charges. Thought I would let you know in case you needed this information for anything 🙂 We took out a Virgin Airmile credit card at the start of the year in the hope that will get us free flights and what’s great about this card is it’s a dual American Express & Visa so you get both in case one place doesn’t accept AMEX (which we know is a lot!), you just get more airmiles if they do take AMEX over Visa. We are hoping to start learning the art of Travel Hacking soon so wish us luck! Pinning this for the future!
Hey Angie, that’s a great tip. We missed out on getting that account before we left but the Halifax Clarity card is doing us proud as long as we remember to pay it off as soon as! I also looked into the Air Miles cards but I think we get a raw deal in the UK compared to the US or Canada when it comes to loyalty schemes and points. The ATM fees will always get you but if you can find a CitiBank in Thailand there’s no fee so that saves $3-5 per withdrawal. It might be a struggle to find one outside Bangkok though 🙂 Keep us updated on your new life and we’ll be in touch soon about a collaborative post in 2017! C&K