Finance and Money Management On The Road

Lots of people ask us how we get money while travelling, and whether we carry a lot of cash, etc. Here's an attempt to answer your questions.

Money is obviously a big issue. You want to have enough, but not so much that you might lose it all at once.

These days it's just tremendously easy to get money from ATMs. The only exception to this that I know of is Cuba, and that's a whole different story. But everywhere we've been we're just a few days from an ATM. There are times the ATM doesn't work or won't dispense the amount of money we want, but the ATM has completely put away the use of travellers' checks (a waste of time and money) and the need to carry large amounts of dollars. (FYI: There are actually a number of machines in Latin America where you can withdraw dollars in addition to the local currency.)

Some tips:

  • Use a debit card. It costs LOTS of fees to do a cash advance against a credit card.
  • Find out from your bank how much it will cost to use your card at an ATM in Latin America. Some banks charge 2% of the advance and perhaps an additional transaction fee. Our bank (Fidelity) charges nothing. (The ATMS/Banks themselves sometimes charge a fee, but usually not. Sometimes there's a US$1.00 fee tacked on the statement. Sometimes there's a fee added at the ATM. Often there's no charge.)
  • Carry at least two different debit cards, from different banks. Carry them in different places. Sometimes your bank will (for no reason or for a good reason) just stop letting you get money off of a card. Then you're in trouble until you can figure out how to call them. (Note that they shut down cards for good reasons, like fraudulent use, as well as arbitrary reasons and by mistake.)
  • Make sure to contact your bank or card provider before you leave and let them know about your trip. They'll make a note of it on your account. Lots of banks assume that charges from Peru, for example, are probably fraudulent, so may shut down your card.
  • Carry some dollars. They can be changed nearly anywhere if you're willing to work at it. Sometimes it's not at a good rate, but you can get somebody to buy your dollars and get you out of trouble.
  • Remember that many banks can give a cash advance on a Visa card even if they don't have an ATM. It requires a little paperwork, but it can work out, and there's no additional fee. Any bank that has the "visa" symbol can theoretically do a cash advance for you.
  • And of course, follow the standard advice about money. Don't show it. Don't carry too much. Keep it in a secure place. Etc.

We have also been able to handle our home finances pretty well from afar. We do all our banking over the internet, being careful with passwords and how we manage them. We haven't had our account hacked to now, but it's a concern, and a fair reason to carry your own laptop.

We have paid taxes on our meager income each year by downloading Turbotax and doing it all in an internet cafe. Having less income makes it all easier, of course...

The BIG DEAL, and the hardest thing of all, was getting ready to leave in the first place. Everything else pales in comparison. Getting things sold, stored, and getting all our affairs in order was far harder than anything else we had to do.