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Budgeting & Accessing Money Abroad

Plan your budget

The amount you will spend abroad varies greatly and will depend on your traveling and personal habits. The best way to prepare is to talk to returnees from your program about how much they spent abroad, consult country guidebooks, and review the estimate of costs of food, airfare, and other necessary expenses in your host country given to you by your program. If this hasn’t been provided, ask for it.

With these figures you can use our interactive budget calculator to estimate total costs.

Additional tips:

  • Be sure to include travel, entertainment, and other incidentals, such as laundry, postage, toiletries, phone and internet time, etc.
  • Expect some of these items, especially toiletries and goods imported from the U.S., to be more expensive than they are at home.

Accessing money abroad

Whichever method you decide is best for you, it’s important to have a backup in case one way fails. We suggest bringing a small amount ($100 or so) of foreign currency in cash when you leave the U.S. to cover expenses like bus/taxi fares, snacks, and phone calls for the first couple days.

  • ATM and Credit Cards
    ATMs are the best way to access money abroad and are increasingly available overseas. Although it varies by country, “Plus”, “Star”, and “Cirrus” systems seem to be the most widely used abroad. Your bank or credit card company may charge fees for withdrawals overseas and may also have a limit on the amount you can withdraw daily, so be sure to consult them about this. Some U.S. banks have “sister banks” abroad that don’t charge fees for use – ask about this!

    Credit cards are less widely accepted for purchases abroad than they are in the U.S., and some banks and credit card companies charge very high fees for international transactions. Contact your bank in advance to find out about any applicable fees. You may want to limit use of your card for purchases and/or plan to use cash more often, if necessary.

    IMPORTANT: Notify your bank and credit card company that you will be abroad for an extended period of time and will be using your cards. Verify your card and PIN number’s compatibility with machines overseas – some machines don’t accept PINs over 4-digits.
  • Traveler’s checks
    Although becoming less common and more difficult (and more expensive) to cash abroad, traveler’s checks are safer than carrying cash, are valid indefinitely, and can be a good backup. If you do use traveler’s checks, they can be purchased in either dollars or some foreign currencies.
  • Cash
    Many stores, restaurants and hotels in other countries (especially in smaller towns and cities) do not take credit cards, especially for small purchases like coffee. For that reason, you should try to have a small amount of cash (local currency) with you at all times.
  • Personal checks
    It is virtually impossible to cash personal checks abroad, so you should not depend on them as a means of acquiring money.
  • Getting money from home
    In case you find yourself short on money (or your wallet was stolen and you have no means of getting cash), the best way to obtain money from the U.S. is to have a parent or guardian deposit money into your bank account directly (this takes planning so they can access your account). You can also have someone wire you money via Western Union or another currency exchange.