In many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, certain cards such as American Express are not accepted at most sales points. It’s the same with many countries in South America and Africa. In Asia, except for a few major cities, the acceptance ratio is much less; hence always carry a Mastercard/Visa. These cards are meant for international use and doesn’t cost you a fortune- since most cards are made for domestic use and if used internationally can set you off at 3%-3.5% fees per transaction. It’s always good to carry travel rewards cards or any card given by your bank where there are no fees on foreign transactions. Please ensure that you ask for receipts for every transaction you make, even if one card gets declined and you pay using another one, keep both receipts.
Example: I’ve faced a few situations where I used a card for my purchase but the cashier misinformed me that the payment didn’t go through and I ended up using another card-basically paying twice. What made it worse was that they didn’t refund even though they had a policy. Claims and disputes don’t help!
Some countries aren’t safe for solo travelers due to unreliable road systems and language barriers. I personally have helped over 300 tourists whom I’ve met while on my travels where they were stuck due to such reasons. In most countries, you may have situations where your debit card only works with selected local banks because of their corporate relationships, so withdrawing cash is also a problem.
Tip: Always ask your bank about foreign banks they are partnered with in the country you’re visiting.
Do’s and Don’ts of money exchange:
- Do keep cash and use tools like XE to be aware of real rates.
- Do convert your currency before traveling. Almost every bank in the US does currency conversion- the rates are way better and without any commission.
- Don’t exchange your money near tourist attractions, you will be paying fees + hiked up exchange rates and will end up paying almost 10% or more doing this.
- Don’t exchange money at the airport, instead use an ATM of a major bank in that country. Avoid private ATMs as they also have quite a bit of markup and high fees.
- Both hotels and airports have high markups on exchange rates. The best thing is to go to a local bank which always has more legitimate exchange rates and low fees in that country because they’re monitored by the financial wing of the government.
- Do keep a spare credit card in case of a fraud, theft or loss.
- Do use an RFID wallet or card – this can prevent your debit/credit card from getting duplicated or charged.
The US offers a passport which looks like a driver’s license. You can easily carry this and it doesn’t run the risk of getting damaged. Keep a copy of your passport and its stamped pages on your iCloud or email. In the event that you lose your passport, this helps because you can show the details to the local security and they can help you, in which there is not an embassy located nearby.
Nevertheless, always save the phone number of your local embassy or consulate in case of any emergency.
Most of the time your phone’s internet will be slow even though your phone company promises all of the regular services when roaming. Always get a local sim card as these allow you to stay ahead. Download google maps offline for the city you are traveling to. This will help you navigate even with a weak internet connection! Keep photocopies and online copies of your identity documents, store cash and cards separately.
When traveling in certain parts of Europe, Asia and South America, be extra careful about your belongings-especially at budget hotels and public transportation.
Always use taxi apps, reputed guides or registered tourist guides. Uber, MyTaxi and Taxi99 are some of the many apps that can come handy. Even if you don’t own a local banking card, you may at least be able to book the taxi and pay in cash.
Most Asian, East European, South American and some Schengen countries have the same issues. DO NOT take random taxis from airports because in most cases, they inflate the prices by 40%. In some places, you can end up paying over 300% of the actual price. Be sure to check if there are any public transportation services to the city center.
Shopping is always fun but you have to be prudent and ensure to pay for an object’s rightful value. Items at most brand showrooms are marked at local prices plus applicable taxes. Brush up on your bargaining skills before traveling to European and Asian countries. This can help lower the prices by nearly 200%, give or take.
Tip: Always ask a local or a reliable hotel associate for the local prices or price range of certain items. They always know the Do’s and Don’ts!
While shopping for electronics in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia, be careful as most of the products are duplicate and the valid products often don’t come with international warranty. Cameras, laptops and tablets are a few such items. Photographers and camera lovers: NEVER buy products from non-registered stores as the products are perfect duplicates.
Refrain from purchasing Apple products in China and around south-east Asia unless it’s a registered Apple store or an Apple partner, as many of the products you’ll see there are duplicates or stolen- therefore having the risk of a voided warranty.
Some countries don’t have duty-free stores or tax refund, whereas some do.
Depending on the airport, always ensure to complete the customs refund (tax refund) formalities before checking in your luggage. Some airports may have the customs refund unit post security check- in this case, if you have your purchase as a carry on, it’s perfectly fine. You might lose your refund unless you travel back within the 6 months limit to claim it. At some airports, the customs unit doesn’t work late nights/early mornings. So, if you travel out of the destination country during that time, you may not be able to claim your refund.
Food and Restaurants:
In certain East European, South American and Asian countries, tourists get “special offers” at resorts, restaurants and local services. There are special prices for tourists which are definitely not the actual local prices, but hiked ones. Always be mindful because these scams have become more popular.
Allergies and Medications:
Allergies are a very common thing. In most cases, they can turn into serious issues if the proper medical attention isn’t given.
Unlike the United States, most European countries don’t allow the purchase of allergy medications from a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. The medicines available in Asia are different from the ones available in the US. If you have regular allergies to dust, pollen, certain types of food, it is advisable to carry your own medicines (anti-allergens as well as regular drugs).
In certain Asian and South American countries, be careful about buying medicines because there is an infamous duplicate medicine business where fake medicines are sold. This is a prospering business but can lead to severe problems and can make you sicker. Always purchase medicines from a registered medical dealer or from a medical store attached to a major clinic or hospital.
Tourist Traps Around the World:
As tourists, most of us have fallen prey to scams while we have been traveling. Sometimes with lies or getting tricked and other times from simply being unaware.
Let’s go through a few tips that could save you from these hassles:
As far as scams that you may face, you could see fake tickets being sold at illegitimate places. Sometimes there will even be people carrying babies, telling fake sob stories about how they can’t feed their child & then they ask you for money. The police in India have uncovered scams where babies are used as bait to emotionally lure people into paying them (sometimes the child isn’t even their own)! This is disturbing, but babies being used as means to earn money is the sad and dirty reality. Beggar associations exist for people who aren’t poor but just want easy money. Definitely watch out for these people and don’t get tricked by seemingly smart kids, as many are trained to steal your money.
Never get yourself into situations where local people claim they can take you to a store where items are available for less. In many cases, commissions are involved. A similar situation can be where girls you meet on dating sites will invite you to dinner at a fancy restaurant and you unknowingly end up having to pay 4x the regular amount. A lot of the times, the girl earns commission from the restaurant!
Rabi has been into photography since he was 7 years old, he has traveled to 96 countries and is continuing his extensive journey of sharing his discoveries of global cultures. Follow him on his adventures here