So you can stretch your dollar further when abroad
Studying abroad can be expensive; and even for those who successfully find scholarships for their program, forgetting about your finances back home can be a recipe for disaster. To avoid damaging your credit, getting into unnecessary debt, or simply wasting money, here are a few things to think about before you go.
1. Tell your bank
As soon as you finalize your plans for your study-abroad, call or visit your local branch and ask them how you can best prepare with them for your trip. Find out if they have any local or affiliate branches where you’ll be staying, and what banking features you’ll have access to locally. Determine what ATM or debit card fees will be applicable, and if they offer any incentives to cover those fees. Your bank or credit union may even offer currency exchange for much lower rates than you’ll find when you’re in the other country.
If your current bank’s fees seem high, call around to local credit unions and other major banks to find comparable rates; the services and fees charged by international banks vary widely, so it’s worth your time to take a look. Also, notify your credit card institutions of your plans to travel, and find out any applicable fees they may charge as well.
2. Look for an affordable smartphone
Unless you have a world or global phone, chances are you’ll have to find a new cell phone and carrier in your host country. Even if you have a global phone, you might find better rates offered by local providers, so ask students that have traveled there before for recommendations. A smartphone can greatly improve your experience over-seas, as you’ll have constant access to monitor your purchases and see your account balances. You can also load useful apps that can help you with exchange rates, bank or ATM locators, and even help find deals when you’re out shopping.
3. Learn to safely carry cash
Especially in many developing countries, ATMs and credit card readers are few and far between, so you’ll have to get used to safely carrying cash. Get a money belt; they are easily concealed, and offer an easy-to-remember place to store your cash and cards. When you arrive at your destination, find a local bank that can exchange enough cash to let you travel, eat and find a place to stay for a couple of days, just in case the need arises.
If you want to avoid the awkwardness of a money belt, break the habit of carrying cash or cards in your back pocket or in a jacket—those are by far the easiest targets for pickpockets. Always carry cash in the front pocket of your pants. Also, if you’re traveling to an area with significant violent crime, you might consider having a small quantity of cash on you at all times—in the event that you are robbed, having nothing to give can increase the likelihood of being physically attacked.
4. Keep an eye on your home finances
While you’re out of the country, it’s important to stay on top of your finances; not only what you’re spending while away from home, but what’s happening with your accounts at home. To avoid massive headaches when you come home, set up online bill-pay for things like storage and long-term contracts. Free tools from your bank will allow you to monitor your spending abroad, and also what your savings accounts, investments, or credit cards are doing in your absence. Also check out third-party money management tools that offer some good input, including placing money in high-yield accounts if you’ll be away for a long time, or ways you can easily access your money in a pinch.
5. Research local banks ahead of time
Most importantly, continue to do your research. Not just about studying abroad in general, but about your host country and specifics that relate to not only local customs, but how you can best deal with your money while you stay there. Many countries now have banks that will allow you to open student accounts during your stay that, partnered with a minimum deposit, will offer local service, low fees, and other benefits you’ll find useful as a visitor to their home. Find out now how much access you’ll have where you’re staying to some of the online and mobile features discussed here, and find alternative solutions should the need arise.
Patricia Shuler is a Mobile Moo staff writer from Oakland, California. She’s an admitted tech-junkie who’s quick to share her honest opinion on all things consumer electronic—including up-to-date news, user reviews, and “no holds barred” opinions on a variety of social media, tech, computer, and mobile accessories topics.
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