Consumer Alert

Plan ahead to avoid large fees when traveling abroad

Traveling outside the United States can come with many surprises for consumers.

Among the issues you’ll have to deal with are converting dollars to different currencies and managing your mobile devices. Whether traveling to Europe or Asia, or just driving to Canada, the same issues await.

To avoid having to convert money at the often poor rates offered at hotels or currency exchanges, consider getting some foreign cash before you leave home. You’ll often find you can buy Euros, Canadian dollars, and other currencies at better prices at local banks.


So pick up enough money to get you going (for cabs and tips, for example) when you arrive at your destination. Check online to see where other consumers have gotten the best deals. And consider using ATMs in foreign countries to get the local currencies.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Check with your bank to see what the fee for drawing money outside the country is. Even with a stiff fee per withdrawal, you could still get a more favorable exchange rate.

Using your credit card can work well, too. You’ll get a 1 percent to 3 percent fee tacked on top of the charge, but the exchange rates will usually be more favorable. Some cards geared to international travel waive those fees.

Not planning for bringing your mobile device can lead to even more stunning expenses than a bad exchange rate. International roaming charges can ring up potentially huge bills.

You have a couple of options to help avoid bill shock. Contact your carrier to see if it makes sense to temporarily add a rate plan that covers data use and calling abroad. The additional flat rate, typically for a month, can save money for someone who relies on their iPhone to call home, surf the Web, check e-mails, and serve as a GPS device.


If you’re more disciplined, you could turn off your data services and only use them when you’re on WiFi. But that won’t help you make phone calls or use the GPS features. You’ll have to do the math after talking with your carrier to see which strategy makes the most sense for you.

The key before taking the big trip is taking just a bit of time to plan to avoid these common traps.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.