Banking & Money
Saving money for a semester abroad is no easy task. When you're Europe, you have to get the most bang for your buck.
Before You Go
Be sure to do the following things:
- Let your bank know not just the country in which you're studying but also the countries you may travel to. There are no costs associated with activating your card in these various countries, so it's better to round up in case a last minute trip takes you to some farflung corner of Europe.
- Set up online banking so you can monitor your balance at any time
- Ask your bank which overseas banks they have relationships with. Bank of America, for example, has partnerships with Deutsche Bank (Germany), BNP Paribas (France), and Barclays (England), which allow you to skip the charges if you find those ATMs.
While You're Abroad
ATMs & Cash
Each time you withdraw cash from any given ATM, do your best to maximize the amount withdrawn. You can often expect fees from both angles: the foreign bank's ATM, and your home bank for using a foreign ATM. Minimizing the number of times you have to go to an ATM will shrink the number of per-withdrawal fees you face. Of course, don't carry all that cash with you all the time. Do your best to only carry as much as you'll need that day in case you get pickpocketed. Also check with your home bank to see how many free ATM withdrawls you are allotted before you go, and try to stay within this number!
While you're in foreign-currency countries, always choose to be charged in the local currency when you swipe your card. Over the last couple years, services have popped up that let you choose whether to be billed in USD or the local currency. What they don't tell you is that these rates are much worse than your home bank will give you. To avoid currency conversion fees from your credit card company, choose a company like Capital One which does not charge the fee. More information on Capital One here.
Currency fluctuations are very REAL
Throughout the course of a semester, you can gain or lose up to 15% of your buying power. XE.com is our favorite resource, and they have a great iPhone app to make it easy to estimate everything from flights to the cost of dinner.
Setting up Euro-Denominated Accounts
Four or less months overseas does not justify the extra effort of acquiring a Euro-denominated account. Stick with your bank's friendly ATMs for cash. For those staying a year or longer, it may make more sense but these accounts often require complicated additional forms and documents. Your bank and study abroad administrators are the best ones to talk to regarding setting up a new account for these longer stays.
ATMs vs. Traveller's Checks
Traveller's Checks are a thing of the past. In yesteryears, that's how our parents or Gen Xers used to get by before the internet and cell phones. Your debit card is absolutely the way to go these days (and it helps to have a microchip, as this is the dominant method of payment in Europe.
It's very difficult to land a paying job during your semester overseas. There are a number of road blocks to actually getting a job, including taxes and the fact that you have a student visa. With that in mind, be sure to save up a solid chunk of change so you can enjoy your time overseas to the fullest.
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