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In this blog post, the eigth in a series, Thomas Pecora focuses on preparing for the financial aspects of your trip abroad. He is director of Pecora Consulting Services, which provides consulting services in security vulnerability and threat assessments in Asia and the United States, as well as personal safety and crime prevention and avoidance, and travel security skills training. Pecora is also author of the memoir, Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA's War on Terror, and served 24 years as a CIA senior security manager. He managed large complex security programs and operations in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and in war zones.
One of the first step in your travels should be preparing for the financial aspects of your trip. This will ensure that you are organized and will get the most for your money while also preparing for any possible financial problems that may occur during your trip.
To be versatile recommend you bring a primary and backup credit card as well as some currency in case the electronic systems go down. Also, consider two ATM cards so that you can get local currency at the best rates. This is especially important in locations where there is limited credit card usage.
At a minimum, carry a copy of your passport, a small amount of local currency, and at least one credit card and an ATM card (leaving the rest in your hotel room safe). This is a precaution in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen and you need to replace these cards.
If you carry a wallet, keep it close, such as in your front pocket so you can limit access and avoid all but the best pickpockets. Another option would be a concealed money pouch attached to your belt or worn around your neck. These pouches are relatively inexpensive and are useful if you are on an airplane, using public transportation or even while you are staying in a hotel if it is not highly secure.
If possible, avoid putting all your valuables into a shoulder or cross-body purse or a backpack. Purses can be easily snatched, and a backpack can be accessed without your knowledge. Even a purse with the strap across your shoulder is atrtactive to purse snatchers. Those that operate — especially on motorbikes — have been known to drag their victims by their purse straps.
Research the most reputable exchange centers/money changers or ask the clerk at your hotel when you arrive at your destination. If possible, avoid small money changers as they may try to cheat you, give you counterfeit bills, or set you up for robbery after leaving. Also avoid using black market currency exchanges as you may be breaking local laws and you have no recourse if the foreign currency they give you is counterfeit.
ATMs, money changers, and banks all have at least one thing in common — this is where people go to get money. Every criminal knows this and they are specifically targeting you to separate you from your money. You need to be extremely cautious when you are near these locations. If you remember this, you will most likely make the right commons sense decisions when doing financial transactions abroad. Specifics on the more secure method of using Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) via ATM and debit cards are covered in a separate blog post.
Notify your credit card companies before you travel when you are traveling and to which countries, so their fraud departments do not freeze your accounts inadvertently. Your bank can also protect you from unauthorized activity in foreign countries that you are not traveling to. You may want to set up immediate email notifications for all foreign spending to ensure you are aware of every time your card is used. Most U.S. credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee but you can arrange to get cards that waive this fee.
Do your research to determine if credit card use is discouraged at your travel destination. That might be due to extensive credit card fraud. Make sure you know whether the country to which you are traveling has specific guidelines on credi card use. There are some countries where credit cards should not be used at all and other countries where they should only be used at hotels and major department stores. In some countries, the hotels may require that you use a credit card to pay the hotel bill.
Following these recommendations will help you get your financial items in order prior to your trip. They will also help you keep these items secure while you are traveling, increase your safety when you make financial transactions, and help mitigate any financial mishaps that may occur while you are traveling overseas.
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