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Smart Money Moves When Traveling Abroad

Jun 26, 2023

Consider these tips when planning for foreign travel and perhaps save yourself time, money and headaches.

Key Takeaways

  • Before you travel, research the exchange rates and fees for different methods of payment in the countries you'll be visiting.
  • When using an ATM abroad, choose the local currency to avoid additional fees. 
  • Consider using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. This can save you money on international purchases. 

As we get into gear for international travel, spending some time preparing your finances before you board a plane could reduce stress once you’ve landed.


Vacationers often overlook money matters that may save precious time, money and just plain headaches when traveling internationally. Having a credit card declined because your bank suspected a fraudulent international charge could ruin a dinner on vacation, for example. Or failing to change your currency before leaving a “closed currency” country could force you to leave behind a significant amount of money. You could even run into problems after you’ve returned home, if you find you were charged a litany of ATM and foreign transaction fees.


Here are a few tips and considerations that can reduce such headaches related to foreign travel, along with a look at Morgan Stanley’s cash management services that can help.

1. Using Cash Abroad

Cash can be one of the most cost-effective and convenient forms of payment when you're out of the country, but key considerations remain. For instance, you'll still need to know the exchange rate and whether it's a closed currency country—meaning money can't be exchanged outside the borders. Keep this in mind because you'll need to either spend or exchange any remaining foreign currency before you leave the country.

2. Payment Cards

These days, the ongoing battles between thieves and financial institutions can create some unexpected collateral damage. Banks can quickly shut down your account after noticing your card was used in a foreign country. With effective monitoring in place to protect your card from fraudulent activity, before departing, it’s always a good idea to have a phone number on file with your bank in the event they need to contact you if a transaction comes into question. Also, foreign transaction fees can rapidly add up when using your debit card to make purchases or cash withdrawals abroad. International ATM options can sometimes be confusing. Bringing the right cards, knowing how to use them and picking the right ATM will help you avoid unnecessary fees.


If you withdraw local currency at an ATM, your bank could charge you $1 to $5, and you could pay 1% to 3% of the transaction amount. The owner of the ATM may even tack on an additional fee. Keep in mind, choosing the local currency will eliminate the ability for the ATM owner to charge a fee and exchange rate that your bank may not be able to identify or reverse.  


With Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s CashPlus Brokerage Account, clients do not incur foreign transactions fees when they use the Morgan Stanley Debit Card and they receive unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide at more than 2 million ATMs.1

3. Protecting Yourself From Fraud

While debit card fraud is a risk both at home and abroad, it’s one of the last things you want to deal with while traveling. Take common sense steps to prevent criminals from gaining access to your card number. Also consider limiting your debit card use to ATM withdrawals at banks, which may have better security.


The Morgan Stanley Debit Card also helps reduce the risk of fraud through chip and PIN technology, a global standard in security that encrypts your information. In addition, you can stay up to date on your Debit Card activity with alerts that are right for you. You can monitor transactions made outside the U.S. or track transactions made online or over the phone.

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