How to keep your money safe overseas

Holiday money that has been stashed away, waiting to be used.

Travelling is one of life’s greatest joys. You get to explore every nook and cranny of a totally fresh destination, experience new cultures and of course form fond memories that will last a lifetime. But your dream holiday can quickly turn into a nightmare if your hard-earned holiday funds are stolen or you find yourself the victim of identity theft.

In this guide, we’ll outline some of the things you can do before you travel and also while you’re on the road to make sure that your hard-earned cash and bank cards are kept safe and more importantly, to be used for your travel enjoyment only.  

Before you leave...

Choose the right travel money mix

Choosing how you’re going to pay for your day-to-day expenses, whether it be dinner at a lush Parisian restaurant or a family ticket to Disney World in Japan, takes some planning and there are a range of security factors to consider.

To start with, travel cards come with a range of security features so even if they are lost or stolen, your holiday won’t necessarily be ruined. For example, if you opt to use a travel credit card or debit card overseas, your money is PIN-protected and most providers have some form of fraud protection. This means that you won’t be liable for any fraudulent purchases made on your card as long as you’ve reported it as lost or stolen in a timely manner.

If you’d rather the convenience of a prepaid travel card, you’ll have the added benefit of a second backup card in case the original is lost or stolen which means you won’t be left without a way to access your money. The last big security factor to take into account with your travel plastic is that you’ll have access to the global merchant network of American Express,  Mastercard or Visa.

While using a foreign exchange service and converting your Australian dollars to the local currency could well be a perfect travel money tactic for you, it isn't always the safest, especially when you’re in an foreign environment. Carrying large amounts of cash could make you a target of pickpockets, and while it’s always handy to have some of the local currency with you as part of your travel money mix, it’s a good idea to keep this on the lighter side where possible.

It’s always a good idea to take more than one travel money option with you when you are travelling, especially as you can never guarantee that the airport ATM won’t be undergoing maintenance when you land and so having a backup credit/debit card or some cash can be a life-saver!

Notify your bank

If you’re planning on using your everyday credit card or debit card overseas, it’s a good idea you inform your bank of your upcoming or imminent travel plans. Some providers proactively freeze card funds if they notice a series of foreign transactions which could be seen as potentially fraudulent (i.e not actually you). So to avoid that happening when you’re midway through a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive, simply contact your bank and let them know where you’re heading and for how long.

The good news is that with online banking you can usually do this through an online banking portal or mobile banking app rather than having to take the time to visit a physical branch. 

Document your card details

In the event something does go awry on your travels and you have to report your card lost or stolen, it’s really handy to have a copy of your exact card details. Write down your card number and details like the CVV and expiry date - or send them to yourself in an email - so that you can quickly and easily recall them if you need to contact your bank when you are overseas. Just make sure you keep these details in a separate place to your actual card, like your hotel room, so that you don’t lose everything all at once if your wallet or purse is stolen.

Download your bank’s mobile banking app

Our smartphones are almost as important as our passport these days when it comes to travel. Not only are they useful for posting a great pic on social media but downloading your bank’s app on your phone can also be really useful in keeping track of your balance, paying bills or making a transfer. Another great perk is that you’ll be able to contact your bank quickly and easily if something goes wrong.

While you’re overseas…

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

When you’re getting ready to leave your hotel or hostel in the morning, it’s a good idea to split up your travel money options on your person and not just keeping them all in one spot like your wallet. For example, keep a small amount of the local currency in an easily accessible pocket close to the front of your body to make small purchases with keep your credit card or debit card safely stashed away in a money belt or a zipped area of your bag.

Avoid public computers

Bookworms across the country might have a series of must-see libraries on their itineraries but even they should avoid using public computers for money management while on holiday. It is best to use your own smartphone to check any transfers or balance checking in the privacy of your hotel room, but if you do have to use a computer or go to an internet cafe, make sure you don’t leave your log-in details filled in and that you actively log-out before closing any internet banking portals.

Secure all of your devices

Like we’ve reported, mobile banking is booming in Australia, so the chances are you’ll be managing your travel money companion via an app while you’re overseas. If that’s the case, it’s super important to make sure all of your devices - whether that be a smartphone, tablet or laptop - are password-protected so that if you lose one (or all) of them, your bank accounts won’t be compromised as well.

Never let your card leave your sight

You might feel comfortable enough to hand your card over at your favourite restaurant or the local shopping mall here in Australia, but doing so overseas could make you the victim of a card skimming scam. Most restaurants these days have mobile payment terminals so be sure that the waiter rings up your bill in front of you. But if they don’t, it’s okay to insist that you pay at the counter or reconsider paying for your meal in cash.

Always use your PIN

Always opt to use your PIN rather than sign for any purchases or transactions while overseas because a signature can be easily copied and potentially used to commit identity theft.

Other money safety tips

  • Lock your money up - If you’ve withdrawn a largish amount of cash, rather than carry it on you, either use the hotel safe or keep it in your padlocked luggage. If you don’t have the luxury of a hotel room and you’re staying at a hostel, there are some other crafty ways to keep your money hidden like stashing bank notes in your socks or even concealing your cash in your dirty clothes that are waiting for a wash.
  • Choose your ATM carefully - Look out for for ATMs at bank branches or in well-populated and well-lit spots to minimise the risk of falling prey to a card-skimming scam.
  • Don't count your cash at the ATM machine - Wait until you’re back in a safe and private environment, like your hotel room, to make sure you’ve collected the right amount of money.
  • Limit the amount you withdraw in one go - While you may have to pay extra ATM fees if you have to visit the ATM frequently, having a large amount of cash and losing it could do more damage to your bank account than a $6 ATM fee. Unlike a credit card, if you lose cash or have it stolen, it can’t be recovered so better to be cautious.
  • Make sure you're covered - If you are going to be carrying around cash then it makes sense for you to look into a travel insurance policy that includes cover for lost or stolen cash. Just be aware that the limits for cash are usually on the low side ($250) and you’ll need to have an accompanying police report for any claim.

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