Whether you’re planning some winter sun or thinking about a ski trip, you may have found yourself Googling: ‘How to carry money abroad?’ Unless you’re planning to go to an isolated wellness retreat or a digital detox, you are probably going to need money to pay for taxis, food, drink, souvenirs, transport and other incidentals.
Fortunately, your search has already proved fruitful as we’re going to explore how to physically carry money and how to understand the currency exchange rates so that you don’t lose out in exchange fees.
We’ll be delving into lots of detail to give you some options for carrying money abroad. This includes:
- Spreading it out. Having a combination of cash and cards gives you a back-up in case of loss or theft.
- Prepaid debit cards. This helps with budgeting as you can only spend the money you’ve loaded onto the card.
- Setting up payments on your smart watch. Apple Pay and Garmin Pay can transform the watch you wear every day into a wallet.
- Wear a money belt. Strapping your money to your body is a great way to keep it as safe as possible.
- Shoe wallets. These are typically inserted into the heel of a shoe and are difficult for thieves to find.
- Hidden pockets. Clothing with hidden pockets can be a great way to carry cash and valuables without attracting attention. Look for clothing with zippered pockets or compartments that are hidden in the seams or lining of the garment.
So, let’s have a closer look at all of these in more detail, starting with the most practical solutions.
1. The best option: Prepaid travel cards
A prepaid travel card that supports multiple currencies is the best way to carry money abroad. It functions like a debit or credit card but is preloaded with a specific amount of money. This makes it a great way to budget if you want to limit what you are spending.
Not all prepaid travel cards are the same, so it's a good idea to research a few and look at what each offers. HyperJar’s card is reloadable via a digital app so that you can top-up more money if you extend your trip or see something bigger that you’d really love to buy. You can use it to spend anywhere Mastercard is accepted, just like a normal credit or debit card. And you can even add it to Apple Pay or Google Wallet so you never need to worry about losing a card - it can be stored on your phone.
Hate the hidden charges that come every time you use a regular credit or debit card abroad? The HyperJar card has no added FX fees, so they won’t charge you for using it abroad. You’ll also get Mastercard’s best exchange rate, saving you money each time you spend.
Unlike cash, which is likely to be gone forever if you lose it, a prepaid travel card can easily be cancelled if it's lost or stolen. HyperJar’s card can also be frozen and unfrozen instantly in the app, so you don't have to go through the admin of cancelling it, only to find it a few minutes later.
2. Foreign cash
Carrying cash is the most common way to take money abroad. Before prepaid travel cards were available, travellers converted their local currency into foreign currency and it worked perfectly well in most instances, as long as people were careful.
There are benefits to carrying cash. For example, carrying a set amount of cash can help you stick to a budget more easily. With cash, you can avoid foreign transaction fees applied to some debit and credit cards and potentially save money. In some destinations, especially in rural areas and smaller establishments, cash might be the only accepted form of payment.
However, before you take out hundreds in other currencies, you need to be aware of the drawbacks. Carrying large amounts of cash poses a security risk. You are vulnerable to theft or loss, and it can be challenging to recover what you lose. If you exchange currency before your trip, you might not get the best currency exchange rates and lose money paying commission. In cities, some restaurants and shops are now cashless establishments, so carrying only cash could restrict your choices of entertainment on holiday.
A small amount of cash is always good for tipping, souvenirs and travelling by local taxis or buses. When planning your travel itinerary and travel budget, work out what activities will need cash and factor in some tips and an emergency fund. Having a small amount of cash alongside a card will give you freedom to go anywhere, safe in the knowledge that you’ll always have an accepted means of payment.
Benefits & drawbacks of carrying cash abroad
Benefits of Carrying Cash Abroad
1. Widely Accepted: Cash is accepted in most places, especially in smaller establishments and rural areas.
2. Avoiding Transaction Fees: Cash transactions help you to avoid foreign transaction fees associated with credit/debit cards.
3. Emergency Preparedness: Cash can be useful in emergencies when cards are not accepted, or if you lose your card.
4. Budget Control: Using cash can help you stick to a budget, as you have a tangible limit.
Drawbacks of Carrying Cash Abroad
1. Security Concerns: large amounts of cash carries a risk of theft or loss.
2. Currency Exchange Rates: Exchange rates for cash transactions may be less favourable, leading to potential losses.
3. Limited Acceptance: In certain situations, cards may be more convenient, especially for larger transactions.
4. Inconvenience: Counting and handling cash can be time-consuming, and finding ATMs may be challenging (and expensive).
5. Lack of Traceability: It may be harder to track expenses when using cash instead of cards.
3. Debit cards & credit cards
Using debit and credit cards abroad can be convenient, but they both come with some risks connected to the potential loss or theft of cards. Personal credit cards and debit cards can be misplaced or stolen during travel, just like prepaid travel cards. But when you lose a credit card or a debit card, you’re giving access to all your funds, meaning you’re vulnerable to potential unauthorised transactions and fraud.
In busy tourist areas, pickpockets and purse snatchers are common, and they often target unsuspecting travellers who are carrying their cards in their wallets or purses. Even if the card is not physically stolen, it can be ‘skimmed’ through unauthorised card readers, allowing fraudsters to capture the card information and make unauthorised purchases.
Before you decide to take a debit or credit card abroad, look at the card provider’s reputation for fraud protection. Ask customer services what protection there is against unauthorised purchases while abroad.
Another key issue to research is FX fees. How much will your debit or credit card charge you each time you make a transaction? A couple of pounds each time fast adds up. For this reason alone, you may want to take the HyperJar card, which doesn’t add any FX fees. If you’re going on a holiday for two weeks or more, you could make significant savings using a card like this.
4. Use a money belt
Now we’ve discussed whether to carry money using cards or cash, it’s time to look at how to physically carry both of these options. Have you ever used a money belt? They’re not the most attractive things to wear, but they are practical - designed to be worn under clothes, they keep your valuables out of the eyeline of thieves and potential pickpockets. You can carry both cash and cards in them, tucked away next to your body so that you can feel their reassuring presence next to your skin.
A good money belt is crafted from durable, pickpocket-resistant materials. The combination of their sturdy construction and ability to be hidden makes them nearly impossible for opportunists to access. Additionally, many money belts incorporate RFID-blocking technology, safeguarding your credit and debit cards from unauthorised scanning.
Another thing that separates an average money belt from a good one is the number of compartments. Ones that have multiple compartments allow you to secure passports, insurance documents, and keys alongside currency and cards.
5. Invest in a travel wallet
A travel wallet also serves as a practical and secure way to carry money and essential documents while abroad. It’s like a regular wallet but it has additional features such as RFID blocking technology, providing an additional layer of security against electronic theft. Zipped compartments within the wallet contribute to the safeguarding of cash, cards, and travel documents, ensuring that they remain organised and easily accessible.
However, despite its merits, a travel wallet may not offer the same level of physical security as a money belt. Unlike a money belt, which is worn discreetly under clothing and secured to the traveller's person, a travel wallet is typically carried in a pocket, bag, or purse. This distinction exposes it to a higher risk of theft or loss, especially in crowded or unfamiliar environments.
6. Take advantage of your hotel safe
Money belts are a great way to protect your belongings, but if you don’t want to walk around everyday with all of your cash, cards and passports on you, then a hotel safe could come in very useful.
When you book your holiday, you need to know if there’s a safe in your accommodation. Its one of the most useful things you can have on holiday to protect your valuables. Whether you’re travelling on a low budget, or travelling with kids, a hotel safe will allow you to relax a little, knowing that you don’t have to protect all the money you brought with you at all times.
Hotel safes offer combination locks and tamper-resistant mechanisms to protect from theft. Just make sure not to write down the combination anywhere as that will compromise security. Avoid using easily guessable combinations like birthdates or sequential numbers. Opt for a unique and secure code that is not easily associated with you.
As an extra level of security, take an inventory of the items you place in the safe and keep a written record as well as a photo. This can be useful in the event of loss or theft, facilitating a smoother claims process with the hotel or your travel insurance provider.
7. Get creative with carrying your money abroad
There’s no one size fits all method when it comes to carrying money abroad. We’ve discussed in detail about taking prepaid travel cards, credit cards, debit cards and cash as well as a combination of them all. And then we looked into travel wallets and money belts to physically carry them.
But money belts and travel wallets aren’t the only options to physically carry cards or cash. You could be one step ahead of criminals by getting creative and carrying it in a way they might not expect. This could include:
- Using your phone or digital watch to pay seamlessly and safely.
- Using an expenses sharing app if you’re travelling abroad in a group.
- Securing money in different places amongst the luggage and hotel (i.e. some people hide money in shoes or hidden compartments for safekeeping).
- Using travel wallets that are designed to look like something else, such as a book or water bottle.
Carry money abroad safely with the HyperJar prepaid travel card
After exploring the benefits and pitfalls of carrying money in different formats, here we’ll summarise the advantages of the HyperJar prepaid travel card.
When you’re away, you can easily freeze and unfreeze your card via the HyperJar app if it’s lost or stolen. You can also get in touch with HyperJar customer support team if you have any concerns about transactions. There are zero added fees for spending in any currency, and customers get Mastercard’s best exchange rate. You can carry the physical card in a money belt or add it to Apple Pay or Google Pay so that you have fewer things to keep hold of.
If you plan ahead for your trip, it becomes even more useful. When you’re thinking about where you’ll go and what you’ll do each day in advance of travelling, you can use the HyperJar app to visually organise your finances and budget for the holiday.
Going on a group holiday such as a hen do, stag do or a trip with your flatmates? You can create a jar for the holiday that you can share with them and all pay into it for group expenses before you leave - even drop messages to each other (maybe a nudge for payment, or suggestions for restaurants and site-seeing). When you land, you can all link your cards to pay from that Jar. While there are other prepaid travel cards available, only HyperJar has the app that allows you to plan and to share money like this. There will never be one person out of pocket because another in the group keeps forgetting to pay them back. And you’ll never have to feel awkward chasing a friend for money as they’ll have paid into the jar before the trip.
It’s a good idea to take a small amount of local currency for tips and souvenirs, but use the HyperJar card for the bulk of your spending. If you don’t have the HyperJar app already, it’s free to download now. What you save on FX fees using the HyperJar card could buy you an extra cocktail or two on your trip. Cheers!