Although many people would tell you that travellers cheques (or travelers checks) are past their sell-by date, that’s not the case.
Their major plus point is that even if they’re lost or stolen, you can still get the money back which is not the case if you were carrying around the same amount in cash, their closest equivalent. In both American and Canada they can be used as though they were cash even in places that say “no checks accepted” and you can also treat them this way to some extent in the UK.
As with cash, it’s useful to have some travellers cheques in either US$ or Euro. If you’re going to America go with US$, Europe or Africa Euro are generally best. One key difference is that because you may be charged to cash them, it’s best to stick to 100 denominations rather than 20’s as we recommended with cash. Banks cashing them usually charge some combination of a per cheque fee and/or a percentage with, of course, a foreign currency conversion charge if the cheques aren’t in their local currency. You can avoid these charges by cashing them at an office of the issuing bank. Again, if you’re going to a civilised country it’s best to consider these as a backup and just get cash in an ATM when you get there.
Since there’s no expiry date on the cheques, you should keep any uncashed cheques for future holidays if they’re in a mainstream currency which’ll save you on charges and commissions.
Unlike cash, travellers cheques come with a brand and it’s best to stick to the more common ones which are American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Thomas Cook. Normally your bank will issue cheques with one of these brands plus their own. You can’t use American Express or any American issued cheques in either Cuba or Vietnam.
Charges are similar for cash at around 7% (even in “commission free” places). Sometimes it’s cheaper to get cash, sometimes travellers cheques. Check at your bank if they’ve any special offers for customers but otherwise shop around.
Take them in the currency of the country you’re going to if it’s a mainstream one, otherwise dollars or euros. If you have any left over after your holiday, keep them rather than cash them in your bank as you can use them later (there is no expiry date) and this will save you paying the commission again. If you buy travellers cheques on a card, it counts as a cash advance with all the charges that implies. Make sure that your travellers cheques come with the Visa or Mastercard or American Express brands as others may not be accepted. You can’t use American Express travellers cheques in Cuba or Vietnam nor any issued by American banks.
Downsides are that you will have to pay to cash them at foreign banks which will involve an additional exchange rate charge if they’re not denominated in the local currency. Worth noting is that not all banks cash travellers cheques and, bizarrely, some require you to have an account with them before they’ll cash them.
I’m going to work my way through the various ways you can take money abroad over the next few weeks. I’ve already covered cash and travellers cheques, and will be covering credit/charge cards, debit cards, cash cards and prepaid cards in future episodes.Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.
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