There is one thing all travelers need to think about: whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, you need to know how to wisely carry your money overseas. Today, there are undoubtedly more ways to pay for things than there were before, but when it comes to traveling with money, it pays to be well-prepared.

Safety and convenience are the two major concerns most travelers have in terms of accessing their funds. Here, we will look at the benefits and disadvantages of each of the three Cs — cash, cards, and checks — that act as options for dealing with your currency internationally:

1. Cash

It’s often a good idea to carry some cash in the local currency, converted at home before you embark on your journey. That way, you won’t be stranded and strapped for money as soon as you land, and you can use the cash to pay for basic necessities that you might need right away, like a bottle of water or a cab to your hotel. Local currency houses and currency conversion kiosks at tourist areas and the airports tend to give you the worst conversion rates, resulting in a financial loss. Thus, it is better to go to your bank at home and get some dollars converted to the currency you need well before your trip.

Be wary about converting too much; carrying large amounts of cash can make you a target and threaten your safety. Even though cash is the most universally accepted mode of transaction, it is also the most easily stolen. From pickpockets to muggings, cash is the least secure of the three Cs — if it gets taken from you, it’s usually gone forever.

Some travelers combat this by withdrawing cash only when they need it from local ATMs through the duration of their travels. This way, they always have a small amount of cash on them to pay for smaller everyday items; and in the unfortunate event that the cash gets stolen, they will have only lost that small amount. While this approach works for some travelers (especially those traveling to countries where most transactions are done in cash), the downside is that local ATMs tend to charge hefty fees to withdraw money using an international card. So if you’re constantly using ATMs to withdraw local money as you travel, you’ll soon start to see those ATM fees adding up.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using cash as your mode of transaction is the ability to properly budget. It’s easy to lose track of spending when using cards to pay — especially when there is currency conversion involved. With cash, however, there’s never any doubt about what you’ve spent and what you are left with; enabling you to stick to your budget and avoid overspending.

2. Checks

Back in the day, travelers’ checks were the most common way to pay for things during travel. As aptly stated in an article on USA Today, traveler checks, “may seem like a thing that went by the wayside in the plastic card rush of the 1990s, but believe it or not, traveler’s checks are still out there. They are great especially if you lose them because they are usually guaranteed 100 percent and can be replaced within 24 hours almost anywhere in the world.”

Traveler’s checks are paper documents that can be used like standard paper checks and cash. Traditionally, travelers carried these checks to get cash in local currency and pay merchants.”  Like cash, they can be extremely useful to budget your trip and have the added advantage of being able to be replaced if lost or stolen. Unlike cash, however, they can’t be used to pay for everything.

Additionally, due to the advent of other more digitized modes of payment, traveler’s checks aren’t widely available or widely accepted by vendors. Thus, you will probably have to “cash in” your travelers’ check at a local once you reach your destination. With that, you’re probably wondering: why bother with a check at all? Why not just withdraw cash with your debit card? In certain countries that lack infrastructure, ATMs can be few and far between or constantly broken. In these cases, traveler’s checks in low denominations gives you access to local currency without the risk of theft due to carrying around large amounts of cash.

Business travel is one area in which checks, albeit echecks, are especially beneficial. Rather than carrying large sums of money overseas, using an echeck for business transactions can save you time and fees. Echecks are great for transferring big amounts of money, have quick transaction times and offer exceptional security. However, they are not accepted by all companies, and are usually limited to bigger firms that typically do international business.

3. Cards

Credit and debit cards are a commonly accepted form of payment, and there are numerous advantages to using cards overseas. With the multitude of options pertaining to types of credit and debit cards, you will be spoilt for choice when deciding which card or cards you would like to use internationally. Different banks and cards have different restrictions, fees, rewards, and benefits, so be sure to check with your bank before swiping internationally.

Credit cards, in particular, are one of the safest ways to travel with money as they protect your bank balance from theft. There are multiple credit card options you can choose from, but the best international credit cards will usually offer additional travel-related benefits. These could range from travel insurance to no foreign transaction fees, reward points, and frequent flyer miles. In general, using a credit card can earn you many extra perks; a benefit that is unique to this mode of payment. Over time, these rewards add up, and can significantly reduce the cost of future travel. On the downside, it’s easy to overspend when using a credit card, so you need to be doubly careful about your expenditure. Additionally, credit cards often have hidden fees, and interest rates could really affect your bank balance if you don’t pay your bills on time.

Debit cards, on the other hand, don’t offer the same rewards and benefits; but they do ensure that you won’t be spending money that you don’t have. They are safer than cash, in that they can be canceled if stolen or missing as well as greatly reduce your personal liability if reported in a timely manner. According to Smarter Travel, “By U.S. law, as long as you report your card missing within two business days, your maximum liability for use of that card will be $50 — the same as for a credit card. However, if you wait any longer, you could be responsible for hundreds of dollars in unauthorized charges.” A major benefit of a debit card is that it enables you to withdraw cash in the local currency, unlike credit cards which charge very high fees and even penalties for cash advances.

So there you have it — the three Cs of international payments. Depending on the type of travel you are undertaking, a mixture of some or all of these modes of payments might work for you. The most important thing is to do a little bit of homework beforehand so that you can make the most of your money overseas. 

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is an experienced freelance writer from the Northwestern U.S. Coming from a marketing background, she centered her writing around business and productivity. However, she covers a wide range of topics and has recently taken a particular interest in covering topics related to Technology, Travel, Health & Wellness, and Money Management. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.