How to Avoid Hidden Travel Costs as a Digital Nomad
There’s nothing worse than that feeling that you’ve been ripped off when traveling, especially when it’s a hidden cost that you knew nothing about. It happens to the best of us and even I’m not ashamed to say that it’s happened to me, on more than one occasion.
But the problem with hidden travel costs is that you’re not really supposed to see them. It’s the crafty fees in disguise that leave your scratching your head and wondering why your last payment was just that little bit more expensive than you first expected. Most often you find yourself in this scenario when you’re spending and withdrawing money abroad. Thankfully, there is more than just one better way to avoid these costs.
Check out our top tips and recommendations to help you avoid hidden travel costs when working remotely from a foreign country.
READ MORE: How to Budget as a Digital Nomad
Whether you’re converting cash or withdrawing with a debit card, there’s almost always a hidden cost waiting to trip you up. Here are the most common hidden currency conversion costs and find out how to avoid them.
Airport conversion rates are some of the worst you’ll find, so if you find yourself landing in a new country with a bunch of cash to convert, it’s best to skip the airport counters. Although they may be convenient, you’re guaranteed to leave with much less cash than when you started. If you can wait until you leave the airport, finding a local bank may be a way better option—although you should try to avoid converting cash altogether if you can help it.
Throughout your trip, be thoughtful about how much cash you really need, and try to finish the trip with as little cash left on you as possible. If you’re traveling somewhere where credit cards are widely accepted, you may need much less than you think. If you do find yourself in need of the local currency, it’s almost always cheaper to withdraw new cash from the ATM, than to convert it later when you get to your next destination.
Debit and ATM Conversion
Similar to the struggles with credit cards, debit cards can offer up their fair share of problems for location-independent workers. Some ATMs might charge you to convert your home currency into the local currency and if they prompt you to do this, you should always decline and accept the local rate. You are probably already paying a fee with your bank to draw and convert the cash, so if you ask the machine to convert for you, you will be getting charged twice.
Whenever you can, use bank-affiliated ATMs when traveling abroad. You may see flashy ones with multiple languages advertising “CASH,” but these typically have the biggest fees.
There are now a handful of banks out there offering zero-currency conversion rates (Starling, Monzo, etc.) but these are the exception, not the rule. A travel card, whether that’s with a bank, a travel credit card, or a prepaid card (Revolut, etc.) that offers zero fees is the best way to pay and withdraw internationally. Although, you still may have to pay a small fee, it’s much better than some of the more pricy alternatives.
Aside from withdrawing funds from an ATM, making payments is probably the next largest fee digital nomads must overcome when living abroad. Whether you’re a fan of paying with cash, credit, debit, or prepaid travel card, you’ll likely find a fee waiting for you. Check out the most popular hidden payment fees and how to avoid them.
Making payments with cash is almost always the best way of conducting business when traveling internationally. There are no hidden fees it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s simple—right up until you arrive at a cashless business.
Depending on where in the world you currently are, cash is usually great in the majority of circumstances. The only difficulties lie in the withdrawals and the carrying of large sums (to avoid fixed transaction fees).
Credit Card Payments
When using a credit card for purchases, depending on the card of choice, you may find an automatic currency conversion fee (also commonly referred to as a foreign exchange fee) added to the original balance.
These fees, usually in the realm of 2.5%, can quickly add up and can cost you dearly on every purchase. When abroad, some vendors will offer an option of completing a purchase with the home currency—but these are almost always a bad idea. These seemingly handy conversions come with larger charges, a quick Google of the actual exchange rate should tell you all you need to know.
A standard credit card isn’t typically recommended for international travel and instead, a travel-specific credit card is best for minimizing fees. These travel credit cards are great for getting a fair rate and are often offered with a range of other travel-orientated benefits. There is, however, usually a pesky annual fee that you’ll have to fork out for.
There are plenty of different travel credit cards out there, each with a unique set of benefits suited to different types of digital nomads. The majority of these are available to U.S.-based travelers, but there are plenty of emerging companies offering global solutions.
Debit Card Payments
A debit card can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare when traveling internationally—it all depends on the rates offered by the bank.
Large, well-established banks rarely offer international payments at good rates and there’s typically a foreign exchange fee, similar to that of a credit card, added onto purchases. These hidden fees can really add up and before you know it, there’s a 2 to 3% fee on your entire trip.
The smart thing to do before starting international travel is to open a travel bank account with a bank offering zero foreign exchange fees. That way you can freely use your debit card to pay for daily essentials, experiences, goods, and services just like you would at home.
This is a particularly useful tool for couples traveling together as joint travel bank accounts can be opened with select banks. This allows a joint pool of funds and multiple cards to use without hidden transaction fees.
Prepaid Travel Card Payments
Debit and prepaid travel cards often fall into the same category when paying for goods or services internationally. Prepaid travel cards are an especially great tool for individual travelers looking to minimize transaction fees when paying by card.
One of the most popular prepaid travel cards, Revolut, comes packed with all kinds of interesting finance features. The app offers everything from personal wealth (investments, crypto, commodities, etc.) to lifestyle benefits (rewards, lounge access, pet insurance, etc.). It’s now more of a Swiss army knife of personal finance than the simple prepaid travel card that the company started as.
From signing up to travel credit and debit cards to researching exactly which buttons to press on the local ATM and credit card reader—there are plenty of ways to avoid hidden travel costs on your next international trip.
Declining that automatic currency conversion, paying with cash, and opening a joint travel debit account can save you hundreds of dollars. It’s all about reading the fine print, checking the terms, and setting up the perfect personal finance system to avoid those hidden travel costs.
Adam Mace is Nurall's Lead Contributing Writer and a full-time digital nomad in search of the best hikes, unique stays, and local delicacies. When he’s not exploring far-flung places he can..
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