As exciting as traveling abroad is, you’ll likely face several financial decisions before you go – which currency to use, where to exchange money, and how much cash you should bring, to name a few. A traveler’s check is one commonly overlooked financial tool that might help you.
We’ll explain how traveler’s checks work and how they can be useful on the go.
What is a traveler's check?
A traveler’s check is a secure, prepaid form of money you can use when traveling. Think of it as a prepaid form of cash with built-in security features.
- When you purchase traveler’s checks, you’ll receive a set of checks with specific amounts, like $20 or $50.
- Many banks, currency exchange offices, and businesses recognize and accept them globally.
Now, let’s dive into how traveler’s checks work.
How a traveler's check works
You can use traveler’s checks abroad for everyday purchases, just like with cash. You can either cash them at local banks or exchange them for local currency at specific locations.
Traveler’s checks aren’t linked to your personal information, including your bank accounts. They use a signature system: You sign them first when you get them and again when you’re ready to cash them. You’ll also need to provide identification (like a valid passport or driver’s license), ensuring you’re the only one who can spend the checks.
One benefit of traveler’s checks is their replaceability. If they get lost or stolen, you can replace them – you’ll just need a record of their serial numbers and the issuing institution’s contact information. This safety net makes traveler’s checks a secure way to carry money while traveling.
Where to get traveler's checks
There are a few places to get traveler’s checks. Here’s a breakdown of the most common options:
- Banks: Many traditional banks offer traveler’s checks. You can visit your local branch or, in some cases, order them online through your bank’s website.
- Credit unions: Credit unions often provide traveler’s checks to their members in a process similar to that of banks.
- Online: Several financial institutions offer the convenience of purchasing traveler’s checks online.
- Currency exchange offices: You can buy traveler’s checks at currency exchange offices, especially in popular tourist areas. These offices are at airports, major transportation hubs, and tourist districts.
While traveler’s checks were more common in the past, their availability may vary depending on your location and the financial institution.
How to use traveler's checks
Using traveler’s checks is a straightforward process. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use them effectively:
- Purchase your checks: Once you find a bank or other financial institution that offers traveler’s checks, ask for checks in your preferred amount (e.g., $20, $50, etc.) and for the total amount you need for your trip.
- Sign your checks: As soon as you receive your traveler’s checks, sign them immediately to keep them secure.
- Redeem at financial institutions: You can cash your traveler’s checks at banks or financial institutions in the area where you’re traveling. Just look for banks that display the logo of your traveler’s check issuer and have your valid form of identification ready.
- Exchange for local currency: You can exchange your checks for the local currency at designated exchange offices or banks. It’s especially useful when traveling to countries where traveler’s checks aren’t widely accepted.
- Use for payments: You can sometimes use traveler’s checks directly to pay for goods and services at businesses that accept them.
- Keep a record: To ensure you can replace your traveler’s checks if they’re lost or stolen, keep a record of the serial numbers and issuer’s contact information separately from your checks.
By following these steps, you can make the most of your traveler’s checks and keep your finances secure while traveling.
Pros and cons of traveler's checks
Traveler’s checks can be a handy option for travelers who want to securely pay for things while abroad. As with any financial product, they come with their own set of advantages and limitations.
Here’s a breakdown of the pros:
- Security: Traveler’s checks are a safe way to carry money. You can replace lost or stolen ones if you have the necessary documentation.
- Widely accepted: Traveler’s checks are still accepted in many places worldwide, particularly at banks and exchange offices.
- No expiration date: Traveler’s checks typically don’t expire, so you can use them on future trips.
On the other hand, there are potential cons:
- Fees: Some issuers may charge fees when you purchase traveler’s checks, and some merchants may charge you to cash them.
- Limited acceptance: In some remote or less-touristy areas, it might be challenging to use traveler’s checks.
- More involved: Since you have to find and visit banks or exchange offices to use traveler’s checks abroad, there are more steps compared to alternatives like credit cards, debit cards, or cash.
When should I use a traveler's check?
Using a traveler’s check could be a smart choice in certain scenarios:
- If you don’t have a credit or debit card: If you don’t have a credit or debit card, you can use traveler’s checks for payment while traveling abroad.
- When you can’t access an ATM: In places where ATMs are scarce or unreliable, traveler’s checks can give you access to funds.
- If you want to avoid foreign transaction fees: Traveler’s checks may help you bypass foreign credit and debit card transaction fees.
- Peace of mind: You may simply prefer the added peace of mind that comes with using traveler’s checks, knowing they’re easily replaceable.
Using traveler’s checks in these situations can offer extra security during your travels.
Traveler's checks alternatives
While traveler’s checks have their benefits, you may find the alternatives more convenient:
- Credit cards: Credit cards offer convenience and security. You can use them globally, and some come with features like travel insurance and rewards programs.
- Debit cards: Debit cards provide quick access to your bank account while abroad. Just inform your bank about your travel plans to avoid issues using your card while you’re away.
- Prepaid cards: Prepaid cards are a flexible option if you don’t have a credit or debit card or you want more security while traveling. Load them with the desired amount of money before your trip, and you can use them just like debit or credit cards.
- Mobile wallet: Mobile wallet apps, like Apple Pay and Google Pay, allow you to make contactless payments with your smartphone. They can provide quick and secure transactions.
Plan ahead before you travel
Before your trip, assess how you’ll manage your finances while abroad, considering your destination, spending habits, and peace of mind. Traveler’s checks, though time-tested, share the stage with a range of modern alternatives, each offering its own advantages.
Between traveler’s checks, credit and debit cards, and digital payments to pay on the go, you have plenty of convenient options for purchases on your trip.
Learn more about how travel credit cards work.
FAQs about traveler's checks
Still have questions about traveler’s checks? Find answers below.
Do traveler’s checks expire?
Traveler’s checks typically don’t have an expiration date. You can use them on future trips or even hold onto them as a financial safety net without worrying about them becoming invalid.
Can I still use traveler’s checks?
Yes, you can still use traveler’s checks in many places, especially at banks and exchange offices. While they’re less common in a world filled with digital payments, they are reliable, especially for those who value security.
How can I keep my traveler’s checks safe during my trip?
To keep your traveler’s checks secure, treat them like cash. Store them in a secure travel wallet, money belt, or a hotel safe. It’s also wise to keep a record of the serial numbers and issuer’s contact information separately in case of loss or theft.