Accessing and Spending Money when you live abroad are big topics. Suffice to say that, if you've never gone through it, it's more complicated than you would think. A few sample conundrums:
- I don't need US cash, right? What? You want me to purchase my long-stay visas for your country in US cash? How do I get US cash, when I live in Africa?
- My US cash isn't good enough? You need bills in mint condition, issued after 2006 at the latest?
- Which bank could I use to minimize international withdrawal fees?
- My card is expiring. How do I get the new one into my hands, when the permanent address they have on file is thousands of miles away.
- Yay, an ATM in country! Now I don't have to get my local cash by getting my Pakistani grocer friend to cash my personal checks! But which ATMs can I trust? (real scenario)
However, in times of preparation for travel (like us currently...again), one of the most important steps is to alert your bank(s) of your travel plans, so that your cards won't be held the first time you try to use them in another country. Always be sure to give them a call and notify them at least several days ahead of time. A few tips:
- Take each card separately. Obviously different banks require different calls. But we have a credit card and a debit card with the same bank, but they never talk to each other, including on this issue. So, generally speaking, one card = one call.
- Be prepared for utter failure. We have done this several times, and roughly half the time, one of our cards will be blocked the first time we use it in the new country. Call again (internationally this time). "Yes, we blocked it because someone tried to use it in Albertville, France!... Oh, that was you?... Oh, yeah, I do see that note here. Sorry about that."
- If you want, try and notify them about your erratic spending patterns. I doubt this will help, but our friends in Kenya would get blocked almost every trip to get groceries in Nairobi. No card activity for 6 weeks, then a veritable spending spree (a.k.a. stocking up) in a weekend. Hold!
- Be prepared to give additional information. Today, I called the lady, and told her our plans. Her follow-up question? "Could you spell Burundi for me?" Absolutely, I can. (Really, I don't blame her, so if you can't spell it either, don't feel bad.)
- Take a deep breath and be thankful they care. We have had several rounds of identity theft, including a huge theft spree last fall from Kenya. So, I wish the system worked more efficiently, but the alternative would be much more problematic.