Cash | How much should you bring when traveling?

Although many countries are working towards becoming “Cashless”, Cash is still King. Most small businesses would rather avoid the additional costs of accepting cards. Especially when visiting hawker stands, food stalls or boutique stores count on cash as the only form of payment.

To avoid the hassles of searching for ATMs or missing out on a local delicacy try to discipline yourself to only use cash. This helps you better gauge how much to spend each day and forces you to be more intentional with each purchase.

I recommend booking accommodations in advance to help better budget your expenses. This way with flights and accommodations out of the way, your only remaining expenditures will be for food, transportation, and incidentals.

How do I know how cash much to bring?

As a general guideline, I use the following calculation to help calculate my daily budget & the amount of cash to bring.

(Local monthly income/30) X # of days staying in the country 

First, find the average monthly income for residents in the country or city you are visiting and divide by 30 to find the average daily income. Then multiply by the number of days you plan on staying in the country.

For example, if the average converted income is USD $1000 and you will be visiting for 6 days, you can expect to budget around $198 USD ($1000 / 30 days = ~$33 a day X 6 = $198).

For finding income figures, I use Worlddata.info. It’s not exact but close enough and provides a variety of other helpful information like common holidays and current exchange rates.

Note: This formula is not perfect but it helps give an idea of where to start.  Once you calculate the expected amount you will still need to convert to the local currency.

It’s challenging when visiting a country for the first time. How much cash you bring & budget is heavily dependent on how you plan to spend your trip. But even if you are traveling on a tight budget try to account for a few luxuries or unexpected situations. Give yourself a cushion. Sometimes after a really rough travel day, your mind and body will thank you for the treat.

Additional Information

If you are visiting a popular restaurant, department store or tourist site most major cards will be accepted but as you begin to explore new paths you may find that it’s cash only. I still recommend you bring your bank card and a credit card just in case. If you do have to use your cards, try to set aside the same amount in cash to ensure your spending doesn’t get out of hand.

A few helpful tips: 

  • Observe your surroundings. Look for signs posted in storefront windows advertising cards and what types of cards are accepted, if any. Look for card machines at the registers. Step back and observe how other patrons are paying first before you step in line.
  • Bring cards from different issuers like Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, or Discover.
  • Even if cards are accepted, there are some business that will charge an additional fee for using a card, verify your bill first before handing over your card.
  • Don’t assume that your card will work at all ATMs. Take some time to research the ATMs in your surrounding destination. Look for Global ATMs that will accept your card.
  • Notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid your cards being turned off or frozen for suspicious activity.
  • Limit the number of bank accounts attached to your bank card. This avoids the temptation of transferring funds for withdrawal. It also limits the number of accounts exposed if your card is lost or stolen.
  • Check with your bank if your card can be used abroad. It is best to check well in advance just in case a different card needs to be ordered or other arrangements need to be made. This is also a great time to verify the fees associated with international transactions, exchange rates, and foreign ATM fees. This way you will not be surprised when you check your account.

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