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Helpful banking tips before you travel

Before you go on a trip, you have a lot on your mind: remembering to pack everything, setting your house at the right temperature, arranging for someone to take care of your dog…the list goes on. But you’ll want to add one more thing while you’re at it: making sure your finances are in order.

Whether you’re traveling to the coast or heading overseas, here’s how to get your money and accounts into vacation mode.

Let your bank know

Banks often have security measures in place that alert them to suspicious activity, including transactions made out of your home state and abroad. This is helpful if your card falls into the wrong hands, but when you’re just trying to buy something beachside and your card declines? Not so much. 

That’s why you should always contact your bank to let them know where and when you’ll be away from home. This keeps them in the loop of your travel plans so your out-of-state or out-of-the-country purchases aren’t declined solely based on location. Be sure to give your bank enough time to process the information and complete any steps as needed.

Look up your ATM network

You’re probably familiar with the ATMs near home that you can access free of charge, but you’ll want to scope out ATMs near your vacation spot – either those branded with your bank or within your ATM network. That way you’ll know where you can get cash withdrawals with your debit card free of charge or at a low fee. 

While you’re looking into your ATM network, you should also see if you have a limit on daily purchases and cash withdrawal amounts. The number of withdrawals you can make per day may also be capped, especially internationally, but you may be able to increase the limit if you talk to your bank ahead of time. Also take into consideration that you may be charged a 1% to 3% foreign transaction fee when withdrawing cash with a debit card overseas.3  

One very important thing to note – depending on where you travel, you may not be able to use your debit card at all, so definitely find out well in advance of your trip.

Traveling overseas? Consider your currency options

If you’re traveling anywhere around the world (outside the U.S.) we suggest exchanging currency before you board the plane so you won’t have to worry once you arrive. We’ve outlined your currency options and the benefits and downsides of each.

Using cards

Major card companies expect that your debit and credit cards will come along with you on your trip. They’re a simple way to pay for almost anything, especially big purchases, and can be a reliable standby in most countries. Some cards carry a foreign exchange fee while others are free of these fees, so you’ll want to check all the cards in your wallet before you go. You should also see if you can pay for anything ahead of time, such as your accommodations or activities on your itinerary, to make your stay that much easier. 

Carrying money

In many cases, you’d want to carry some cash when traveling abroad. It’s a smart idea to exchange U.S. dollars for the foreign currency before you leave. You’ll often be able to find better exchange rates through your bank, credit union or a private retailer than at an airport currency exchange (which is convenient but usually has steep service fees).1  

What about traveler’s checks?

Traveler’s checks were crucial before ATMs came onto the scene: You’d go to your bank before your trip and get checks issued for a set amount, meaning you didn’t have to fret about carrying large amounts of cash with you.2 Generally, you could use them anywhere as you would cash. 

Nowadays traveler’s checks typically aren’t necessary, and they’re not as readily accepted either, so you’ll want to have a backup in cash. In a few instances though, traveler’s checks will come in handy: for people without a credit card; in countries with ATMs that are not a part of the international network; in nations where your debit card isn’t accepted; or in places where you expect safety to be an issue. Definitely look into these issues before you go. 

Taking a trip? Keep us posted!

If you bank with Nationwide, please give us a call at least one business day before you leave and let us know when you’ll be out of town. You can reach us at 1-877 I BANK NW (1-877-422-6569) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. 

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