Money Travel Tips

by isvolunteers on Friday, 27 September 2013

Skydive Australia

Want to do this on your ISV trip in Australia or South Africa? Better think about budgeting ….. © used with permission ISV

Do you know the safest and easiest way to travel with money? Confused about traveler’s checks (“cheques”, for our UK participants, Aussies and Kiwis), credit cards or exchange centers?

Below are some helpful tips to get you thinking prior to your departure for your ISV program.  There’s lots of information; if you prefer, scroll down to the topic that interests you most starting with: exchange rates; local vs. foreign currencies, exchanging money at banks, hotels or currency exchange centers; traveler’s checks; travel cards; debit/credit cards; budgeting; running out of money; and money safety dos and don’ts. 

Exchange rates

Exchange rates change on a daily basis. You can go to to get the most up to date exchanges. Develop a mental trick to easily convert from one currency to another. E.g. Thai baht to USD is around 30:1, so if something is 300 THB you can do the simple math to figure out it’s around $10. However, if your exchange rate is complicated, do the math on your phone or download the free app for your smartphone.

Local vs foreign currencies

Twenty South African Rand (ZAR) Note (c) © all other images google images

Please allow us to generalise here as outside of the Euro which is used in many countries now, most countries have their own, independent currency.  Usually this means that they’ll ONLY accept their local currency and not foreign currencies in day to day commercial operations.  You can find out for sure with a tiny bit of research (use a Travel Guide or look online).  The implications are that when you arrive in a new country you should make sure you don’t leave the safe haven of the airport without having a notes and/or coins in the local currency.  When you do go to get some local money, here are a few tips!

  • Prior to departure… the super-organised person might pop down to their local bank where they can ‘order-in’ some money for their travel destination (beware this can take weeks). However, these days most people get money at their international airport (prior to departure or upon arrival at their destination airport)
  • Always try and obtain small denominations as well as a few larger notes, as markets and smaller stores often cannot change larger notes. Sometimes you end up with fists full of large bills and no one can give you change.
  • For most ISV volunteer projects, you will NOT be in a location where you can readily exchange money, so take enough with you from the airport for your minimal expenditures on project.

Exchanging money at banks

Thumbs up!

  • The exchange rate is generally the best you will find
  • Safe and secure
  • You’ll need your passport
  • Just be aware you are bound by banking hours which vary by country and location, and of course, you have no control over how long the process may take

Exchanging money at hotels

Thumbs down

  • Generally the exchange rates are awful compared with an ATM
  • Last resort only

Exchanging money at currency exchange centres

Pros and Cons…

  • Depending on your host country, these can be good, or not so good:
    • Not so good – sometimes commissions are high and/ or exchange rates poor
    • Good – reputable centres offer a secure way to exchange your home currency for local money

Traveler’s Checks

Thumbs down

  • Don’t bother! They’re a thing of the past and in many countries they are more hassle than they are worth as no one wants to change them for you
  • Please do not bring money on your ISV program in this format

    Prepaid travel cards are a convenient way to use internationally © all other images google images


Thumbs up!

  • Prepaid travel cards are a kind of prepaid debit cards that offer the security of traveller’s checks, but are more convenient to use internationally
  • You can “load” money onto one in advance (online or at a participating retail outlet) and then use it at millions of ATMs and retailers to access your money quickly and safely
  • There are often LESS fees associated with a Travel card compared with a Debit card
  • For more information, you can ask your bank or search online for these travel cards

Credit cards and Debit Cards

Thumbs up for Debit Cards and Debit Cards

Thumbs up!

  • In our experience in ISV’s host countries, major credit cards such as MasterCard and Visa are more widely accepted than other credit cards (like AMEX or DINERS)
  • Debit cards that are most widely accepted have a Plus, Cirrus or Maestro symbol on the back. These can only be used at ATMs that display the same symbol(s) on the “accepted” cards list on the wall next to them. The exchange rate at ATMs overseas is usually very good
  • It is important to note that local markets will not accept credit cards for purchases, so make sure you have cash in those cases
  • Just be aware, many banks charge significant fees every time you withdraw money or make a purchase on a debit or credit card – these can really add up over two weeks to a month, so be mindful of the number of transactions you incur
  • Important – before you depart from home you should call your bank (or use online banking) to and advise them of your overseas travel plans and intentions to use your debit/credit cards.  Banks have been known to deactivate cards due to “suspicious overseas activity” – and it’s a huge PAIN trying to get your card sorted out from overseas

Budgeting for my ISV trip: in-country expenses

Obviously, some countries are more expensive than others but in general you can expect the following:

  • You’ll spend less on project than on the adventure tour.  First, on the volunteer project, all your meals are covered at the project site with only one or two free days in which you can make your own decisions about what you wish to do and what costs you will incur.
  • You’ll likely spend three to four times more on tour as only half your meals are included, participants tend to go out at night, and there are free time activities and more opportunities to buy souvenirs. However, if you are on a very tight budget, there are always free things to do on free days on project or on the adventure tour; just ask your tour leader for some great suggestions.
  • Purchase the OAP! Nearly all participants do it, it’s great value, and the activities are awesome!  Check out the ISV website for information for your country.
  • Early in your trip, put aside money for some of the more expensive optional things you may wish to do like scuba, sky diving or bungy jumping (if available).
  • On the adventure tour for non-high school programs, responsible consumption of alcohol is permitted provided participants are of the legal drinking age for their host-country. However, be very careful of what you spend on alcohol – you don’t want to waste your money drinking and then miss out on great activities.

What happens if you run out of money?

Surprisingly, this happens more than you might think, either through poor budgeting or unforeseen circumstances like theft.   Note the following:

Western Union is available all over the world

  • If you have a debit  card, you will need to get someone from home to top-up your account with additional funds
  • Western Union is available all over the world and you can have a parent or friend send you money this way
  • Please know that ISV and our leaders cannot function as personal banks for any participant. Certainly our staff can assist with the facilitation of accessing a Western Union, for example, but ultimately the responsibility of getting more cash to a participant who runs out is their own, and not ISV’s.

Money Safety Do’s and don’ts

  • DO record your PIN (Personal Identification Number), somewhere safely away from your card but where you can easily access it in case you forget it…a common problem!
  • DO go to an ATM with a buddy (i.e. never alone); don’t accept “help” from strangers at ATMs and avoid going at night as much as possible
  • DO wear a money belt/pouch. They can also be worn under layers of clothes, making them almost theft-proof. Cargo pockets with buttons or zippers serve the same purpose (make sure the pockets are on the side of your leg)
  • DO have small amounts of cash readily accessible at all times, that way you don’t have to pull out ALL your money in public every time you need to purchase something
  • DO check on any local issues with credit card fraud. Your ISV leaders may be able to assist, e.g. in some countries it is essential that you insist on your card being charged right in front of you with a mobile device (e.g. that way there’s no chance of someone stealing your credit card details)
  • DO report lost or stolen cards immediately with your bank!
  • DON’T carry large amounts of money on you at any time
  • DON’T keep your cash/wallet in your back pocket
  • DON’T take your money out and count it on the street
  • DON’T leave your money dangling in a bag that can easily be grabbed off your shoulder
  • DON’T ever change money in the street. If you’re approached by someone on the street or you see a small dubious looking exchange booth, allow the little voice in your head to prevail- it’s not safe, and you’ll get ripped off!

For more pre-departure blog information please use the following link:

To learn more about ISV’s programs visit our website:

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