Protect Your Money While Studying Abroad

A magnet for students regardless of the country -- but be sure to protect your credit cards when studying abroad. Photo: The LEAF Project

A magnet for students regardless of the country: Be sure to protect your credit cards and cash when studying — and eating — abroad. Photo: The LEAF Project

Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but you need to take steps to protect your money during your travels. Here is what to do before, during, and after your study-abroad adventure:

Before You Go

Bring the right card. Choose a credit card that’s widely accepted where you’re going. If you’re not sure, call your credit card company to check. Even better, opt for one that offers minimal or no foreign transaction fees and a form of traveler’s insurance. Don’t take every card you have. The more you take, the more hassle you’ll have if they get lost or stolen.

Know the fees and limits. Once you choose the card or cards you’re bringing, understand the fees and restrictions associated with using them abroad. According to the U.S. Department of State, some countries consider it a crime to go over your credit limit, so be sure to know your limit and balance.

Save your card’s international number. Each credit card has an international phone number. Store this in your phone in case your card gets lost or stolen abroad. Do the same for your bank. And while you’re storing important numbers, add the number to the local police and the U.S. Embassy in the country you’re traveling to. Also, write these numbers down wherever you’re keeping pertinent information in case your cellphone gets stolen – a piece of paper you have in safekeeping, or an e-mail to yourself, for example.

Tell your credit card company and bank about your travels. Alert the company that you’re headed abroad. If you don’t, they may freeze your account once purchases abroad start popping up.

Make copies of your card. Make a copy of the front and back of any debit or credit card you’re bringing. Keep these in a safe place. If your card gets stolen, this can help with your report to the U.S. Embassy and the local police.

Take cash, too. Some people dread carrying cash while traveling; if it’s lost or stolen, it’s gone forever. However, cards get stolen, machines can eat your card, or you may find yourself somewhere that only accepts cash. Better yet, keep your cash and credit cards in separate areas. That way, if your wallet gets nabbed or you leave it behind, you’ll have that other source of money.

During Your Trip

Stay safe. A lot of keeping your money safe is keeping yourself safe. Avoid sketchy, unsafe areas and shortcuts. Stay away from areas associated with high crime or scam artists. And it’s always a little safer to travel with a friend.

Read about what areas to avoid and common crimes in the State Department’s info on each country. You can also get a good idea of what areas are safe and popular scams by researching reputable travel blogs on that region, asking people who have recently traveled there, and following updates from the State Department.

Be alert at the ATM. Protect your code while you’re entering it at the ATM, and watch for suspicious behavior while you’re taking out money.

Don’t be too fancy. The State Department recommends avoiding “dressing like an affluent tourist” since it can make you more of a target for thieves and scams. Consider leaving your valuable, irreplaceable jewelry at home.

Carry a secure bag or purse. Many people traveling abroad swear by a money belt — a slim bag you wear under your clothes — for safely storing your passport, identification, cash, and credit cards. At the very least, be sure your purse or bag has a solid strap and goes across your body so it’s harder to grab. If you carry a wallet, keep it in a deeper front or side pocket, where a pickpocket will have a harder time nabbing it unnoticed.

Get to Know the Currency. Foreign bills can seem like Monopoly money, but you should get acquainted with your new currency so you can tell whether you’ve received correct change and to avoid overpaying with the wrong banknotes. And many countries use coins for their dollar equivalent, which are more easily lost than a dollar bill. In Britain, for instance, a £2 coin is currently worth more than $3. Know what they look and feel like, because you don’t want to lose a couple of those in the seat cushion!

When You Come Home

Be sure you met requirements. Confirm that your coursework abroad is transferring over to your college correctly. The last thing you’d want is for it not to count toward your graduation requirements.

Monitor your bills and statements. When you return, continue to monitor your credit card and bank statements to spot any fraudulent activity that could occur if your cards got in the wrong hands abroad. If you spot anything you didn’t charge, your credit card company and bank’s fraudulent department immediately.

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