Mar 182012

There are many different options available for a backpacker to carry money for an international travel. It may be in the forms of Cash, Credit Cards, Debit Cards, Traveler’s Cheques and Prepaid Cards. This blog will try to explain a backpacker’s situation with each source of money and try to explain their best use while travelling abroad.

Carrying Cash:

Best Use: Right after your arrival at destinations, Visa Fee, Bus and Taxi Fare

Carrying Cash is the best way while travelling abroad. However, it is prone to theft always. But anything can be stolen. It always depends on the duration of travel that how much cash one should keep. If you are going on a short vacation to any South East Asian countries, you can carry cash in the form of Dollars. You will require around 500 USD to live in South East Asia for 15 days. So, just carry five 100 USD notes in different places of backpack, in your pocket and in your valet and that will be enough for you.

Carrying cash will help you to avoid long queues in Banks or ATMs. Carrying the sufficient cash will also help a backpacker to satisfy an immigration official at the destination about the living expenses in that country. But if you require a lot of cash for your trip, then carrying a large amount of cash is not advisable.

Always try to convert the money in USD when you left your place for International travel. USD can be easily exchanged anywhere.  Suppose, you are going to Thailand from India, it is advisable to exchange your Indian Rupees in Thai Bath in India itself to get good exchange rate, but if Thai Bath is not available at your exchange dealer then convert your Indian currency in USD. Converting Indian Rupees in Thai Bath in Thailand will cost you more.

Airports counters always offer the worst exchange rates. Try to exchange your currency with authorized dealers located in the city markets and before exchanging find out the rates with 4-5 dealers. In this way, you can get the best exchange rates.

Always carry some cash in local currency of your destination to pay any airport charge or taxi or bus charges to your hotel. If you are intended to use public transport at your destination after getting out from the airport, it is better to carry some notes in small denominations or some coins of the local currency to pay the bus fare.

Sometimes, It is not necessary always to get the local currency in destination countries, unless you are planning to stay in the remote areas or intended to use public transport heavily. For Example, Hong Kong Dollars are widely acceptable in Macau in addition to Macau Patacas. Similarly, US Dollars are widely acceptable in Cambodia in addition to Cambodian Riels.

Traveler’s Cheques:

Best Use: In case of emergency like an unserviceable ATM or secure alternative to cash

Generally speaking, traveler’s cheques have been the safest and most convenient means of carrying money with you, and are accepted nearly everywhere. If lost or stolen, they can be replaced, provided you have kept an accurate record of the serial numbers in a place separate from the cheques. Traveler’s cheques are available through banks, credit unions, American Express offices, and other locations, so shop around for the lowest commission fee. However, traveler’s cheques also often subject you to higher exchange fees and less in practice now.

ATM Cards:

Best Use: Getting cash in local currency at best exchange rates in easiest way

ATM cards are now being used by International Travelers frequently on a wide scale. They often give you the best exchange rate, but be sure to find out how much your bank will charge you as a fee per transaction. The best practice is to withdraw as much as possible in a single transaction to avoid repeated bank charges.

Make sure that you are the owner of an international debit card. Some shopping cards which can be used in ATMs across India may not work abroad. For Example, my State Bank of India shopping card works in All India, but does not work abroad. So just make sure that your ATM card is an International Debit Card.

Debit cards interact with your financial institution via a system of computer networks. Maestro and Cirrus, two of the largest ATM networks, belong to MasterCard. Similarly, Visa owns the Plus network.Take out your debit card and look at the reverse side. You should see a group of ATM network logos. Write them down. You’ll need to check each foreign ATM machine before you use it to see if it is part of your financial institution’s network.Take a few minutes to research ATM availability. Both Visa and MasterCard offer online ATM locators. In some countries, ATMs are everywhere, but you won’t find any Maestro or Cirrus ATMs in Turkmenistan, and Plus doesn’t service Serbia. If you can’t find an ATM in the cities you plan to visit, you’ll need to find out about exchanging travelers checks or cash at local banks.

At least two weeks before you plan to travel, call your bank or credit union. Tell the representative that you plan to use your debit card abroad. Ask if your Personal Information Number will work overseas. Typically, four-digit PINs work in most countries. Remember your personal withdrawal limit to avoid any problem abroad. Be aware of the charged imposed by your bank on each ATM withdrawal. In many places, local banks also charged some fee for using their ATMs. For example, In Cambodia, National Bank of Cambodia ad ANZ charges USD 4.00 per withdrawal just for using their ATM, while Canadia Bank does not charge any fee. So do some research before any withdrawal to save that extra money.

Credit Cards:

Best Use: Large transactions such as Airlines Tickets, Hotel Bills, Huge Shopping Bills etc.

Armed with a credit card, you won’t really have to deal with converting currency, which means no more worries about converting just the right amount of money, and you will automatically get one of the lowest conversion rates possible. In addition, pick pockets will be less of a threat not only because credit cards are easier to conceal and keep safe but also because even if your card is stolen, you won’t actually lose money. Just report your card missing and you’ll be off the hook for any unauthorized purchases.

But, credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee of 3% per purchase. If you pay for all of your hotel stays and most of your meals and other expenses on a credit card while you’re abroad, those repeated 3% fees will add up by the time you get home.  In my opinion, it is better to use credit card only to book your air tickets or to pay bill in large amount while shopping. And avoid withdrawing any cash advances using the credit cards. Interest rate is very high on such withdrawals. Otherwise, use cash as much as you can to avoid any extra hidden cost.

Two weeks before your departure, call your credit card issuing bank. Inform them about your intended destinations and travel period so that they will not suspend your cards on suspicion of frauds, while seeing a transaction at an international destination. Also ask them an international helpline number, if available.

Always watch merchants imprinting your card and keep your receipts. After you get home, check your credit card statement. If you see charges you didn’t make, call your creditor and ask them to dispute the charges.

Prepaid Travel Cards

Best Use: To keep a tab on your expenditure as this is a prepaid card.

Sort of like a custom debit card; you load the card with money before your trip, then use it just as you would a normal credit or debit card. Examples are Visa TravelMoney, MasterCard Traveller’s Cash cards and the Post Office Travel Money Card. In India, almost all banks like SBI, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank etc. issue these cards. These cards can be reloaded from your branch by any relative in case of further cash requirement while you are in abroad. As with credit and debit cards, check the fees carefully. Using a financial software system like can definitely make it easier to keep track of your expenditures.

Tips for Safe Handling of Your Money:

  1. It’s best to have a combination of money sources: a small amount of cash, a debit card, two credit cards (in case one is declined or stolen!) and some traveler’s cheques. The easiest things to replace are credit cards and traveler’s cheques, and you’ll get instant cash and lower transaction fees on a debit card.

  2. Make sure you keep a record of your debit and credit card numbers and related customer care numbers on a separate piece of paper at separate place away from your cards. But don’t make your bank account details too obvious or record your pin number!

  3. Keep records of your traveler’s check numbers. If they get lost or stolen you will need this information to get them replaced. If the worst happens, call to cancel them immediately.

  4. Protect yourself from credit card fraud while you’re travelling by making sure you sign for a bill before they have a chance to take it out of sight. And try to avoid online banking from a public internet café.

  5. If you can, then always keep a hundred dollar note somewhere deep in your backpack which could not be searched easily. You can always take this chance to reserve emergency money back in your hotel. Just remember to lock your backpack properly.

  6. This is when you’ll be glad that you took out a travel insurance. Firstly, report any theft to the local police (and get written documentation if possible). Then, call the 24 hour emergency assistance line of your travel insurance provider. Depending on your insurance, you’ll be covered for the loss of both cash and plastic – including any losses on your account. You’ll also need to notify your bank immediately so they can cancel your cards.

  7.  Store your cash and cards separately to minimise the risk of them all being lost or stolen at once. A money belt is useful for keeping them safe and hidden on your person. If you have an in-room safe, keep one charge card locked away for emergencies. As for as possible, keep your purse in the front pocket at the crowded places. It may cause some inconveniences, but at last it will save your hard-earned money.

No matter what your budget, chances are that the local people of your host country manage on less. And they not only survive, they enjoy themselves. You can learn a lot about saving money simply by observing the lifestyle of the locals around you.

Have  queries to prepare for an international trip,  Ask here at Money Exchange and Travel Insurance Forum

  44 Responses to “How to Manage Money While Travelling Abroad?”

  1. Sir, I am going to china on my new job. Compny is ptoviding me visa and air tickets. As this is my first overseas job, what more things are necessarily required to carry with me like minimum maximum money to survive for first month, any papers required, id proof, luggage to survive there and most important the formalities required at airport after arrival in china.
    Pls help.

    • Hi, instead of carrying cash, better to carry an international debit card. You will be able to withdraw money in Chinese currency. one RMB is roughly equal to 9 INR, so you should carry at least . You can not carry more than INR 5000 in cash, while travelling abroad, but for USD this limit is USD 2000. You carry around 300 USD to spend for first few days and after that withdraw currency from the ATM. I generally carry 200 USD to spend for few days, and when I land at the airport, I withdraw the local currency. Always have your passport with you. That is the sufficient document for your identity. After landing at the airport, just walk towards the immigration counter by following other passengers and keep your passport and duly-filled arrival card (you will probably get in the flight) handy. Since, your visa is stamped on the passport, you can clear the immigration to enter in China. Have a nice trip.

      • Sir, I have sbi debit card marked VISA on it. Can I use this in china? Also one more thing, my passport has my old house address. Later I shifted to my new home but couldn’t get the address changed in my passport because applying 4 this will take around 2 months and I hv to join in july.

        • Address at the passport will not create any problem. The passport is the indication that you are a citizen of India, which part of India doesn’t matter. Make sure your SBI debit card is an International Debit Card. It should mentioned at your card. Cards like ATM-cum-Shopping card will not work. You can use your SBI ATM pin in China also, wherever an ATM displays a visa logo.

  2. I Came to USA for a short visit. I have expended the dollars brought by me. I am having Andhra Bank Visa debit card. Can I draw US dollars here?

  3. In Bangkok , while withdrawing cash in ATM ,does it automatically converted in thai currency.
    service charges to convert USD to thai currency in bangkok
    now 2014 what is limit to take currency to take from india to thailand,

    • Hi, You can withdraw Thai Baht directly from the ATM using an International Debit Card. Equivalent INR amount will be deducted from your Indian bank account. The bank conversion rate will depend on that time exchange rate plus transaction charges. These charges are vary from bank to bank and generally in the range of INR 120 to INR 150 per transaction for Indian Banks. The exchange rates are generally set by the network providers i.e. Visa or MasterCard at the time of transaction. Bank also charges 3.5 % currency conversion charges generally. Sometimes ATM providing bank also charges for every transaction (Usually USD 4.00 per transaction, However, I found those ATMs in Cambodia, but not in Thailand). So, Withdrawing smaller amount several times is costlier than withdrawing the same amount in a single transaction.

      The amount permitted is INR 5000 while traveling to or from countries other than Nepal and Bhutan. There is no limit for these two countries. You can carry only INR 5000 in cash, but for USD this limit is USD 10,000.. You can carry upto USD 2000 in cash, while rest of the amount in the form of traveller’s cheque or banker’s draft.

  4. Hai,

    Many thanks for the detailed write up. However I would like to add as under, for the benefit of the readers.

    You have said … “You will require around 500 USD to live in South East Asia for 15 days. So, just carry five 100 USD notes in different places of backpack, in your pocket and in your valet and that will be enough for you.”…

    It is always wise to carry some small currencies also. In this particular case, I would carry 3×100$, 2×50$, 3×20$, 3×10$, 10×1$ = 500$. The conversion rates for small currencies might be less. But we will save lot of money specially at the fag end of the tour, by having smaller denominations. Let me explain in detail. Say I am going to Sri Lanka. And 1 $ = 130 LKR approx. I will use the 100$ in the beginning of the tour. And at the end of the tour, I might need only a small amount, say 250 LKR. In such a case, I can exchange only 2 $, otherwise I have to exchange 100 $ (13000 LKR) for the sake of just 2 $ (250 LKR).

    I also have a doubt. Kindly reply.

    I have an SBI international debit card. While abroad (say USA),

    1. Is it better to withdraw money at ATM and use it for shopping; OR; is it better to swipe the debit card while shopping?
    2. What will be the amount that I need to pay SBI if I withdraw 100 $ (@ say 62 INR per $) at any ATM… including all charges.
    3. What will be the amount that I need to pay for a similar exercise, if I swipe my card for 100 $ in a shopping mall?

    I tried to contact SBI, but could not get a firm reply. In case if you have done this similar exercise, can you give me the details.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi, Thank you for such a detailed explanation on this. I agree with this point of having money in smaller currencies also. I really never swiped my card for shopping. So, don’t have a clear idea on this. But what I knew from my experience on International Transactions, I can say that swiping a card is better than withdrawing money from ATM to use it for shopping. While withdrawing money from ATM, we have to pay for the exchange rate as well as some transactions charges also. For example, Apart from the currency exchange rates and currency conversion charges (generally 3.5 %), SBI charges additional INR 150 per transaction plus INR 15 as service charge per withdrawal at any ATM abroad for its INTERNATIONAL ATM-CUM-DEBIT CARD. But while swiping a card, we have to pay the currency exchange rates (plus 3.5 % currency conversion charges) only. There is no transaction charges on card-swiping at POS.

  5. hi,
    I have to travel malaysia , and i want to use my debit card for cash withdrawal at atm , is the debit card must be chip based according to RBI rules ?

  6. Dear Avnish,
    I am due to travel to Melbourne and my query is regarding the usability of my SBI classic card. Its a VISA Debit card cum shopping card. I had a Maestro shopping card and that I am sure was not usable abroad. This is a latest replacement card that I have been given. It is not an international card, but being a VISA card would it still be usable? To draw cash or to swipe and shop?

    • Hi Shravan, I doubt if it works for the said purposes. Better to check with your customer care. I also have a Maestro Debit-Cum-Shopping Card from SBI, but it doesn’t work overseas. It should be an International Debit/Credit card to use overseas. Generally, it is mandatory to inform the bank before making any international transactions overseas, but mainly in the case of credit card. No prior intimation is required in the case of Debit Card. They may authorize for this purpose. SBI Customer care can clarify it in a better way.

  7. Hi! I am in Dubai and I would like to know if I can withdraw money using my SBI debit card which is a Maestro from the ATMs here in Dubai.
    Many thanks.

    • Hi..You can withdraw money using SBI Debit Card provided that it should be an International Debit Card..For example, I have a SBI Shopping card and I can’t withdraw money from that card while travelling abroad. So, just check on the front of your card whether it is an International Debit Card or not?

      • Sir I live in Dubai can I withdraw my money from sbi shopping card recently found a address of sbi in Dubai can I withdraw my money from there?

        • Hi, I don’t have any idea. Generally, it should be an International Debit Card, so you can’t use a shopping card abroad. But, since its a SBI ATM in Dubai, you can try with shopping card. Also, check with the bank, if there is any transaction cost. If possible, please inform me also.

  8. thanku sir

  9. Hi sir,

    This is lakshman from andhra. This month i am going to thailand( BANGKOK) trip offerring from airtel dth. They said that bring 500 usd ( currency issuing from 2003 onwards) . I have sbi maestro and hdfc platinum . Is this cards usefull for withdrawing cash and any shopping purposes. Pls reply me this my first experiencegoing to abroad.

    • Hi, Please clarify whether it is a Debit or Credit Card. If it is a credit card, then it can be useful for the cash and shopping purposes, but they may attract higher bank charges. Please check it with your banks. If it is a Debit Card, then you can withdraw money available in your account in THB (Thai Baht Currency) to spend in Thailand at any Visa/Maestro/MasterCard ATM in Thailand. It also attracts some bank charges (Around 125 INR for SBI Debit Card per withdrawal).

  10. Hi, i am traveling to Thailand for the duration of a month for a skydiving course and i need to convert around 2.5 Lakhs INR into Baht. What do you suggest is the best way to do this?

    1. Getting traveling cheques means, i have to convert from INR->Dollar->Baht. Double conversion and i might lose money.
    2. Carry 2-3 debit cards and withdraw maximum money in ATM’s and save the conversion charges and rates but endure the withdrawal charges from both banks.

    Why do you say converting INR->Baht in Thailand will cost me more??
    Pls advise, i am in a big fix on what to do.

    • Hi,

      1. Getting traveling cheques means, i have to convert from INR->Dollar->Baht. Double conversion and i might lose money.

      Yes, Double conversion may cost more money, but carrying USD and converting them in a Foreign Country is the best way, as many money changers generally do not accept INR, but they easily accept USD and EUR.

      2. Carry 2-3 debit cards and withdraw maximum money in ATM’s and save the conversion charges and rates but endure the withdrawal charges from both banks.

      This is the best thing you can do in my opinion. Withdrawal charges for Public Sector Banks like SBI, Vijaya Bank are generally INR 165 per withdrawal..If you are carrying a debit card with daily withdrawal capacity of about 30000 INR (it can be more), then in 8 withdrawls, you will lose about INR 1300 as withdrawal charges.

      Why do you say converting INR->Baht in Thailand will cost me more??

      This is because of the unwillingness of money changers to accept INR..If you can arrange a favorable money changer in India or Thailand for currency exchange, then this method will be the best way to get a good deal.

      Have a nice trip to Thailand. 🙂

  11. Hello,
    I got sbi vishwa yatra foreign travel card with me in 2010. i used some money from card and left about £50 in card . Recently I visited India, ther I lost my card. I have reliazed after coming to UK. can i get replacement of card?. Can i have number to inform about lost card? Can anybody respond me. its urgent pls…..

    • Hi Savitha,

      You should inform immediately to State Bank Helpline 1800-112-211 (Toll free-if in India) or 91-22-27566598/91-22-27580506 (paid-if outside India) so that the Card is immediately blocked and misuse of the lost Card is prevented/ minimised. The call Centre will ascertain the following additional information i.e.Type of Card (You have to mention as State Bank Vishwa Yatra Foreign Travel Card),mother’s maiden name, date of birth, passport number, to establish the identity. Any financial loss arising out of unauthorized use of Card(s) till the Card is hot-listed (blocking the card) will be to the your account.

      On verification of the security information, the card will be blocked and a replacement card along with PIN will be sent on the address furnished by you as soon as possible. The usual charge of USD-5/GBP-5/Euro-5/CAD-5/AUS-5/Yen-500/SAR-15/SGD-6 for issue of replacement card together with the actual courier charges will be debited to the card account.

  12. hi..Avinash i want to visit manila , i have sbi international debit card. do i need to have some local currency too? can i booked the flight ticket through my debit card?

    • Hi Pramod, You can withdraw money from an International Debit Card (Visa, Master or Maestro) in Manila..You will get money in the local currency of Philippines..You can also use this international debit card for flight bookings..Another suggestion, If you have only one card, then do not depend on it completely..Any bad thing can happen..Better to have about 100 USD in cash, that you can use to exchange money in local currency at the airport, so that you can use that money for your taxi fare from the airport to the hotel, food etc..Also, if possible carry one extra Debit or Credit Card.. 🙂

  13. Hi Avinash,

    I am travelling to Mauritius for a week. I have heard that we can carry indian rupee abroad also. Is there a limit on how much INR can be carried by Indians?
    As u mentioned, USD is safest everywhere but If I carry USD from India and it gets converted to Mauritian rupee again, then I might be losing more due to double conversion right?

    • Hi Abhijit,

      The amount permitted is INR 5000 while traveling to or from countries other than Nepal and Bhutan. There is no limit for these two countries.
      You are right regarding the double conversion rate. But there is no other option legally. You can carry only INR 5000 in cash, but for USD this limit is USD 10,000.. You can carry upto USD 2000 in cash, while rest of the amount in the form of traveller’s cheque or banker’s draft. For more details, read question nos. 7 and 11 of this RBI link:

  14. Hi, i have an International debit card and i would be travelling to Dubai after a few days. while purchasing any item using this debit card is it advisable to pay in Dollars or Dirhams ? How much effect does the exchange rate has on such transactions?

  15. hi my friend is having axis visa gold debitcard is it attracct any extra charges for shopping in bangkok what will be the max limit to shop per day with the card

  16. Hi Avanish,

    My parents are travelling to Panama,will any international debit visa or mastercard work there.


  17. Hi Avanish, great article but I just have one question.

    I’m doing 6 months backpacking SE Asia and from this article and other sources I gather that I should carry around $200 in cash, and the rest on a combination of debit card and travellers cheques (i dont have a credit card and dont want to get one due to interest rates).

    Whats the situation like with ATM’s in SE Asia? I’m planning on getting very off the beaten track in parts, to really experience the culture in the different countries (Eg Vietnamese hill tribes) Will these remote locations be miles from any form of atm/bank, and should i consider carrying more in cash if i’m planning to visit remote locations?

    • Hi Joe, ATMs are becoming very popular in SE Asia, But in remote locations, it may be very difficult to find an ATM. So, it is always advisable to travel with cash while visiting remote places, especially in Cambodia and Vietnam. and Still, if You will be able to locate an ATM in remote locations, there are chances that its network may go down for days, So, you should always have some hard cash as backup.

  18. HII,

    I am going to Saudi Arabia in a few days. I have a SBI Yuva (VISA) debit card with me. Its international debit card. Will it work in Saudi?? and along with I am also taking some local money too (saudi riyals) for emergency purposes. My pick up is also been arranged after I get there. So, I may only face charges in the airport, if any. Can you make any suggestions for me?? and one thing, this is my first abroad travel, so I am still learning about the procedures.


    • Hi Chanakya,
      If its an international debit card, it will surely work there. You have to inform your bank prior to your international departure in case of Credit Card generally. and since everything has been arranged and you are also carrying some riyals with you…so don’t worry..pack your bag and enjoy your journey.

  19. Hi,

    Travelling to Thailand and Cambodia for 7 days. Iam doing the trip via road from Bangkok to SR. Is it safe to travel with cash or should i consider taking cards. Will the usd card which we get from local bank in India work in Cambodia to withdraw cash etc.

    Can I use the card to withdraw cash in Bangkok too?


    • Hi Shiva,

      Traveling with the card are always a safer option in comparison to hard cash. Bangkok-Seam Reap route is full of touts and cons. So don’t carry large amount of cash. You will be able to withdraw the cash in Seam Reap using any VISA or MasterCard. But in Cambodia, in addition to exchange rates the Bank ATMs also charge about 4.0 USD per transaction, except Canadia Bank. While in Bangkok you can easily withdraw money using your VISA or MasterCard, that too without any additional charges.


  20. I m in krabi,I want to withdraw the money,What is the Process.

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