Money Matters

Excerpt from It’s Your World: Student’s Guide to Education Abroad, sponsored by ©Copyright 2003 Educational Directories Unlimited, Inc.

Buying and Using the National Currency

To live in a foreign country, you will need to learn how to use the new currency. Start by learning the exchange rate between the U.S. dollars and the local currency before you leave home. Then try to think in the local currency. Prior to departure, you can find out what the latest exchange rate is in your host country and other countries you plan to visit by contacting or any of the many currency exchange websites. Remember that there will be daily fluctuations.

U.S. dollars can be exchanged abroad for local currency at banks, ATMs and exchange bureaus. Exchange rates vary slightly or significantly, from place to place and over time. In Europe, you can get acceptable exchange rates at railroad stations, and in some Asian countries, hotels may offer the best rate. Shop around for the best rate in your area. Don’t be tempted by people who offer to exchange money on the street, or “black market.” This is illegal in most countries.

If the U.S. dollar is strong, you can save money by exchanging all your money at once. As you near the end of your time abroad, remember to exchange only as much money as you’ll need. In some countries, hard currency restrictions limit the amount of foreign currency that can be changed back into U.S. dollars, particularly if the original exchange receipts have been misplaced.

*Exchange enough money at the airport exchange bureau (or withdraw enough from the ATM machine) to get you through the first few days. The exchange rate may be less advantageous than at a bank, but the convenience is well worth it.


ATMs Abroad

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in an ever-growing number of locations throughout the world, especially around Western Europe, connecting ATMs with those abroad. If your bank is part of an international network, (check on this in advance) you can use your ATM card to obtain cash in the local currency from your bank account in the U.S. Generally, the exchange rate is favorable because it’s the same rate the banks get when exchanging

In order to use ATMs abroad, your PIN code must be no longer than four digits. Be sure to memorize the numbers as well as the letters—some ATMs abroad have number pads without the letters. Ask your bank for the worldwide directory of its ATMs. You can also get information on whether your host country has ATMs on your network by contacting: or


Getting Money in an Emergency

If you run out of money, or an emergency comes up while you’re abroad, there are several options for getting money from home:

  • Wiring Money – Cash or Traveler’s checks can be wired to you through companies such as a Western Union or American Express office (located in major cities). This service is fast, but
  • Postal Money Orders – A family member or friend can buy a money order from a U.S. post office and send it to you. You’ll be paid the amount of the money order at your local post office. Postal money orders have the advantage of being inexpensive, but the disadvantage of being slow: they take as long to get you to you as an airmail
  • Credit Cards – Credit cards are good for emergencies or major travel expenses. They also offer good rates of exchange. Before you go, find out what privileges cardholders with your credit card have when
  • Debit Cards – If a family member also has access to your bank account that your debit card is connected to, then they can deposit money into your account. As soon as the deposit goes through, you will be able to either use the debit card to pay for the item or go to the ATM and get


Lost or Stolen Money

Record the toll-free service numbers for your Credit Card Company and your bank. If you lost any of them, or they are stolen, you can immediately contact the issuing company for instructions on how to get them replaced. Find out if your credit card company has offices in your host country, so you can get a replacement locally if necessary. If not, you may want to choose a credit card company would have offices in your host country.

Theft can happen at a moment’s notice, and the damage can be quite costly. The crucial thing to remember is that you want to limit the damage in the case that this happens to you or someone you know:

  1. If stolen, report and cancel your credit cards as soon as The key is to have the toll free numbers and your credit cards handy, so you know whom to call. Keep copies of this information in a place where you can find them.
  2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, were stolen. This proves to credit providers, and your bank, that you were diligent, and this is the first step towards an investigation (should there need to be one).
  3. Lastly, call the 3 national credit-reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and social security number. Here are some helpful numbers that you may need to contact in the event that your wallet is lost or stolen:
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
  • Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
  • Social Security Administration (Fraud Line): 1-800-269-0271

To keep the money as safe as possible, take the following precautions:

  • Exchange money only in banks or other authorized exchange bureaus. NEVER exchange it on the black market.
  • Carry only as much money as you would need for a
  • Use the same precautions when using ATMs abroad as you would at The safest units to use are usually those located inside banks or inside other buildings.
  • Don’t leave your purse/bag/wallet unattended, even for a moment. Tuck it firmly under your arm; if it has a long strap, wear it across your chest rather than let it dangle off your shoulder. In some areas, a waist pouch or money belt, may be the safest way to carry money, especially, if it is worn under your

Attorney’s Advice—No Charge!!

As you continue planning for your study abroad program, here are some tips that can help you, safeguard, your identity, and finances regardless of where you go.

  1. When ordering checks, have only your initials (instead of your first name) and last name on If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or with your first name; however, your bank will know how you sign your checks.
  2. Do NOT sign the back of your credit cards; instead, put “PHOTO I.D. REQUIRED or “SEE I.D.” on the back. This should prompt cashiers and tellers to ask for ID.
  3. Make copies of the contents of your wallet. Make copies of your driver’s license, credit cards, and keep these copies in a safe place. If your wallet ever gets lost or stolen, you will be able to report what’s missing as well as contact any credit card companies to report or cancel your credit cards. For travel purposes, make a copy of your passport and/or visa as well. Leave a copy here and keep a copy with you (in a safe place) while you are traveling.