The Ultimate Financial Checklist For International Travel

In preparation for spending a month at The Entrepreneur House program in Chiang Mai, Thailand - I wanted to make sure of one thing:

My finances had to be taken care of.

When traveling to a third world country, there are plenty of things to worry about like:

  1. Where the nearest bathroom is located
  2. Is the bathroom stocked with toilet paper
  3. And is this street food stall going to cause me to rush to 1)

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who worries about these things.)

There’s a tolerable amount of uncertainty I’m willing to accept when abroad, however, I can’t have any uncertainty when it comes to my finances.

I want to make sure my finances back home are in order, all my bills get paid on-time and that I have no financial related issues while abroad. 

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to manage your money when traveling internationally with loads of wonderful online tools and smartphone apps.

When you’re traveling and internet connectivity or access to a computer isn’t always guaranteed, with this checklist you can be certain your finances are running smoothly beforehand by proper planning and automation.

In my years of travel, I've compiled a list of all the tips that I've used and related resources to create The Ultimate Financial Checklist for International Travel.

Introducing The Ultimate Financial Checklist For International Travel

While you’re exploring and making memories, the last thing you want to worry about is coming home to a financial nightmare or having to cut your trip short due to mismanagement of your money.

Sign up for a rewards earning credit card with no foreign transaction fees

When traveling internationally, one thing you want to avoid is paying foreign transaction fees on purchases. By choosing a rewards earning credit card you can earn some big rewards to help fund a free flight or hotel stay. To find the perfect travel credit card, search a comprehensive list using Mad Fientist's travel credit cards search tool. Some excellent contenders are:

  • Capital One Venture
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard

Set travel notifications at your bank and credit card companies

After you selected the perfect rewards earning, no transaction fee credit card to accompany you on your travels, of course, you’ll want to give your bank the heads up on where your going so you can actually USE the card and not be declined. Take a few minutes to call or visit your online account of your bank and credit card companies to let them know of your travel plans.

Set credit cards and other bills to auto-pay

You’re laying by the beach enjoying an adult beverage when suddenly it hits you “I forgot to pay my cell phone bill!” In order to avoid late fees or interest, set your bills and credit card payments on auto-pay. You’re bank account will thank you! And if you are planning on keeping an apartment back home while you travel, make sure your rent is paid on time since you wont be there to hand over a check. A great, low cost service to pay your rent with a credit card is Plastiq. They will charge your card in advance of your rent due date and deliver the check to your landlord on-time.

Cancel unused services or place on a vacation hold

It doesn’t make sense to pay for services you aren’t going to use back home while you're in another country. Ask your service providers to put your service on a vacation hold if possible. Things like auto insurance, cable TV,  gym membership. Some of your service providers may not allow you to put service on hold and you may have to cancel altogether. Consider canceling if you can easily subscribe to the service upon your return without any penalties or fees.

Keep track of your spending

Ideally, when you’re on the road you don’t want to run out of money or spend more than you anticipated. Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, it's a good idea to monitor what you spend. Not having enough money for a plane ticket home or an extra hotel night can take your travel plans to an uncertain future. Keeping an eye on your spending doesn’t need to be difficult or require the use of a spreadsheet. Get a full glance of your financial health while you are abroad by seeing all of your accounts and transactions in one place using apps such as Mint or Personal Capital on your smartphone. 

Get a no-fee debit card

If you can’t use a credit card to pay for a purchase, the next best thing is to pull money out with your debit card. In doing so, you don’t want to pay those pesky ATM or transaction fees. A couple of banks that don’t charge foreign transaction fees for debit card use are Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account® and my bank, Capital One 360 Checking Account (Refer a friend link) .

Clean out your wallet

There’s no need to be weighed down with a wallet as thick as George Costanza’s. Take only necessary cards and ID with you. Remove all receipts, gift cards, credit cards with foreign transaction fees and lighten up your wallet. Also if you lose your wallet or have it stolen, you won't risk losing the important items you didn't need to bring with you in the first place.

Take pictures of your wallet contents

After emptying out your wallet, now you’ll want to document what goes in it. Simply take a picture of the contents of your wallet so you can remember what went missing if it was lost or stolen. Your debit and credit card phone numbers will be accessible in your phone's Photos app to easily retrieve.

Calculate your savings “runway”

How would you like to travel for several months and actually come back richer? Well, with this excellent “runway” calculator created by Nat Eliason, you can figure out what your savings will look like upon your return. It even factors in the cost of living in various cities around the world so it'll automatically adjust your spending based on your destination city.

Create a travel budget

Any experienced traveler will have a rough idea about the cost of living in their destination cities. But if you are closely monitoring what you spend, then creating a budget will ease your mind about overspending or even going into debt. An excellent resource for pulling together budget info is from The Earth Awaits.

Know the exchange rate

If you’re anything like me, then you don’t like calculating conversion rates in your head when you’re about to buy something in a foreign currency. Rather than use mental guesswork as to how much a purchase will cost, I use the XE currency app to calculate the cost in USD. 

Keep track of all your rewards programs to use in lieu of cash

Although hotel points and frequent flyer miles aren’t actual cash, I do consider them their own currency with a value. I keep track of all my points programs using AwardWallet and an accompanying spreadsheet to track values using The Points Guy updated valuations. My preference is to use hotel points and airline miles whenever possible avoid spending cash. Being able to use points for an impromptu plane ticket or hotel night will stretch out your travel budget so you can use your cash on important things like massages and tropical drinks!

The Bottom Line

Keeping your financial stress at a minimum is key to enjoy your time abroad. By implementing some of these tools to help automate your finances, will give you peace of mind and allow you to fully enjoy your experience.  Chances are, upon your return home, many of these tools will help you to continue to stay financially organized.

Safe travels!