Traveling Abroad for the Holidays? 5 International Travel Costs to Watch'/
passport and international currency

Jetting off to an exotic locale abroad this holiday season? Whether you’re headed for Paris or Puerto Vallerta, you may want to consider the extra fees associated with international travel and either factor them into your budget or find ways to minimize these expenses. Here’s a look at five common international travel costs.

Cell phone roaming charges. Turn off international roaming on your cell phone before you take off. “Often people don’t know about that setting,” says Ryan Lile, who runs a travel company called The Frequent Flyer Academy out of Portland, Oregon. “They’ll go to Europe and their phone is pulling down email as soon as they turn it back on and they’re racking up data charges, which are exorbitant.” Depending on your phone and your carrier, it may make sense to buy a local GSM card or rent a local phone while you’re there. You may not be able to get calls on your home number in the United States, but it sure beats paying an extra large cell phone bill when you return.

Currency exchange fees. Changing dollars into another currency and back again can cost you big bucks. Lile says changing money back to dollars when you return home to the United States should be your last resort. “It’s dominated by big firms and a couple of larger international firms,” he says. “The rates are horrendously bad, so always comparison shop and know what the rates are beforehand.” You may get a preferential rate for exchanging larger amounts of money, but exchanging small amounts often isn’t worth it. That’s why Lile says when he has less than 20 euro, he’ll usually save it for his next trip instead of exchanging it for dollars.

Credit card fees. Some credit cards hit you with a currency transaction fee and a bad exchange rate while you’re traveling. Before you leave on a trip, “ask them questions like how do you determine your exchange rates?” suggests Lile. “Make sure the bank is using an internationally accepted method for doing that.” For meals and other smaller expenses while traveling, you may be better off using cash in the local currency rather than swiping your credit card. In fact, magnetic strip credit cards many not even work in parts of the world that favor chip and pin technology.

ATM fees. Depending on the situation, you may get a better exchange rate by taking cash out of an ATM rather than going to a currency exchange kiosk. However, it’s a good idea to check with your bank before you leave. Notify the bank of your travel dates so they won’t freeze your account while you’re gone. Also find out if the bank charges you an out of network fee for using an ATM in another country and if there’s a cap on the amount of money you can withdraw per day. “Most international ATMs will not charge you,” Lile says. “Your home bank in the US might levy an out of network fee, although it does vary by account.” After withdrawing cash from an ATM, he disburses that cash so in case of pickpocketing the cash and ATM card are not both in his wallet.

Fuel surcharges. When you use airline miles to book an international flight, some airlines will pass along a fuel surcharge to you so you’ll pay cash on top of the miles you’re redeeming. This surcharge can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars per ticket, according to Lile. Not all airlines add this surcharge, so ask before you book. In some cases, you may be able to bypass the charge by booking with a different airline or a partner airline instead.

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Published November 14, 2013
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