I have been hiding my money from pickpockets and scammers while traveling abroad for over 16 years. I lost a small amount of money from thieves during this time. But I think if you take a few precautions you can reduce your chances of losing money like I did. I would like to share a few tricks that you can keep up your sleeve to stay one step ahead of these swindlers. I also included a few other useful tips that will help you manage your money while traveling abroad.
1. The Secret Pocket (Money Belt).
Every thief knows that most travelers wear a money belt. For that reason, I developed a system of small pockets in all my pants, shorts, and jeans. I always keep the top one for a small amount of the local currency.($20-$40USD worth) This is ideal for daily spending and it is very convenient. I keep my bank card, ID card, and bigger bills in a different secret pocket. I have this one under my pant leg.
For this system to work the top pocket should only have a small amount of money so it will act as a decoy for any thieves who may be watching you. It is best to have a lot of small bills in this top pocket, so it looks like a larger amount of money. If thieves rob your top pocket then hopefully they will be convinced that they got your main stash.
I also have a stretchy workout belt for my phone that I wear around my waist. You can also use this for money or bank cards. This belt is only effective for protecting your stuff against pickpockets, not during a robbery.
2. Put Your Cash And Cards In Different Places.
Keep your cash and cards in separate places so that you are not caught losing your entire source of money all at once! I usually have 2 sources of money on my body, and a bank card or a Visa card. I will keep some cash in my backpack, and a bank card in my locker or at a locked hotel room. I also check on my cards once or twice a day to make sure that they are still there.
3. Keep Your Primary Bank Account At Home.
I keep my primary savings account and the ATM card for this account at home. I usually keep $1000-$2000 in a different account with a different bank that I use while I travel. Once the travel account gets low, I will e-transfer money from my main account from home to fill it up again. I do this to minimize a loss if I get caught up in an Express Robbery. (See tip four below.)
4. Only Use Registered Taxis. Get Your Hotel Or Restaurant To Call For You.
An Express Robbery is a term that describes a hostage situation that involves a victim, taxi driver, and a thief. Usually, the thief and taxi driver are working together as a team.
The taxi driver will text the robber ahead of time to notify them that they have a foreigner to rob. The thief will enter the taxi at a stop light and threaten both the driver and passenger with a gun or knife. The taxi driver will pretend that they do not know whats going on. They will take the foreigner to an ATM and get them to withdraw as much money as possible.
Sometimes a foreigner is held hostage for a few days or more so that the thieves can maximize the daily withdrawal limits until the entire account is empty. So by only keeping a small amount of money in your bank account can limit this risk.
The best way to avoid this type of situation is to order a taxi from a registered company, through your hotel, hostel, restaurant, pub, or at the airport. When you have an establishment order a taxi, the driver’s unit number and your destination are usually recorded.
5. Try To Accumulate Small Bills.
Sometimes taxis and small vendors will pass on counterfeit bills within the change of the unsuspecting tourists. This is most likely going to happen if you are taking a taxi at night. It also happens a lot in bars and restaurants.
A lot of taxis will claim that they have no change to break your bigger bills. This is usually a trick to try and entice you into to leave the difference as a tip.
The best way to avoid this is to have exact change to pay for any of these things. So I suggest anytime you have an opportunity to break a large bill then do it. Grocery stores are perfect for breaking bigger bills. If you are buying several things at a grocery store, you may want to make 2 or 3 trips to get these items. This way you can break a few large bills and get more small notes.
You may also want to study the local money a little bit. Get yourself familiar with the look and feel of the bills. Hold them up to the light and check out the watermark(ghost face). You can also see if there are other security features like holograms. Money can be very interesting to look at. You will often see that your primary tourist destinations are actually on the national bills.
6. Always Have A Backup Currency.
I usually carry $200-$300 USD as my back up money just in case I lose my bank card, or the ATM may not work. Some small villages and towns may not even have an ATM. I suggest a variety of $1, $5, $10, $20 USD bills on a trip. You can often use Euros, Pounds, and a few other strong currencies. But I like to use USD because they seem to get the best exchange rate. Regardless of what type of money you use for a backup, make sure the bills are in good condition!
7. Look For Foreign ATMs For Larger Transaction Withdrawals.
A lot of local banks will limit the amount of money that you can take out for each transaction. And sometimes foreigners are charged $4-$10 USD per transaction. So if an ATM limit is $100USD worth of the local currency for each transaction, then your fees can add up very fast. Your bank at home may also charge you a fee for each transaction. I find that if you use a foreign bank like Santander, CitiBank, Scotia Bank, or HSBC, they will allow a much larger withdrawal limit for foreign bank cards.
8. ATM Safety.
When you are using any bank machine, make sure that the plastic housing around the insert slot is blinking. Scammers have a replica insert case that they can stick on top of the original one that will read your ATM card and record your PIN. Before using an ATM you may, also want to give this device a little tug just to make sure that it is securely attached to the machine. If it is a counterfeit card reader, then it should pull off with very little force. See picture below.
9. What If You Don’t Receive Any Cash From The ATM.
If your ATM transaction goes through and you did not get any money from the ATM, then you must call your bank at home as soon as you can. Record any numbers on the ATM or try and get a location address and forward this information to your bank. They will contact the foreign bank of the ATM that you used and deal with the situation on your behalf. This has happened to me twice, and I have always received my money back within a few weeks.
10. Credit Card Safety.
If you are going to use your Credit Card, I would suggest only using it at reputable establishments like hotels, hostels, restaurants, and places in Western-style malls. I find that an establishment that has a Trip Advisor Sticker in the window makes me feel more confident when using my credit card.
I always check my online banking after any transaction to make sure that I am not being charged too much. It is normal for places to charge 2%-%8 extra if you use a credit card in a foreign country. Most vendors will tell you ahead of time about the extra cost.
I hope this post gives you a few ideas of how to protect, and manage your money while you travel. I plan to make more blogs on this subject in the future. If you have any questions on money management abroad, then please contact me at email@example.com or leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
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