I recently spent a week overseas in Germany, Russia, Poland, and Iceland. The ultimate goal of the trip was attending the World Cup. Seeing England versus Columbia live was nothing short of incredible! The game was definitely the highlight of my trip. I also learned a few important lessons about personal finance abroad along the way.
Traveling is much easier as a young person. In my experience, most of the folks I run into abroad are a similar age (25-35). I’ve lived and worked outside the US multiple times. Inevitably, a big component of traveling is experiencing the local scenes of food, drink, and nightlife. I ran into a problem here last week and wanted to share. Hopefully, this never happens to you!
My Story From Russia
The Round of 16 game (England vs Columbia) ended around 11:00 pm Moscow time on July 3rd. After an unbelievable game and in a buzzing atmosphere, I was excited to meet a few friends back in the city. They too went to Northeastern and love to travel, so we met in Moscow as a leg of their annual Euro trip.
Like many tourists our age, we met up and headed right to a local bar to experience the infamous nightlife of Russia!
To make a long story short – The moment the Russian bartenders found out the three of us were American, it was all hands on deck to get us spending as much as possible. We did not even ask, yet received round after round of drinks from some highly interested wait staff. We could quickly tell what was going on and made sure to cut off service after they came back a fourth time unannounced.
The three of us put our credit cards down, expecting to be charged equally for four rounds of drinks. I should’ve known it wouldn’t be so easy in a town like Moscow. The next morning, we checked our banks and saw individual charges for $260 USD apiece.
Altogether, we were charged $780 for a few beers. That amounts to 48,000 rubles, Russia’s currency. Does something seem a bit off to you about that?
Personal Finance Tips Abroad – What to Keep in Mind
Let my example be a lesson to anyone who may have a summer trip coming up. Even though something like this has never happened before in all of my travels, I should have known better. That’s Russia for you, right?
I am currently in the process of contesting the charge with Bank of America. We’ll see how that turns out, but the reality is I shouldn’t have put myself in that position to begin with. When abroad, make sure you keep the following in mind. I certainly will be!
1) Try and use local currency, rather than a credit card
Setting yourself up with the local currency puts you in a position to not be overcharged on a card in the first place. The second leg of my trip was in Poland; I ended up getting myself some Zloty and using cash the whole time. Not only do I have some cool bills to keep as a memento, I never was charged over what something cost. Warsaw is a very modern and westernized town; using local currency only becomes more important in somewhere like Moscow! Looking back I 100% should’ve had some rubles on hand for everywhere I went.
2) Let your bank know all the details
One of my favorite features with my Bank of America card is the ability to set a “travel notification”. I am sure other banks/cards have this as well, and it’s super helpful to have prepared. Let your bank know the exact days and cities you plan to be in each spot. They can then verify any non-cash transactions are from you. Any transaction or charge to your card outside those dates and a red flag will instantly go up. Put this safety cushion under yourself; I’m glad I at least did that.
3) If you are using a card, make it a prepaid
Whether it’s a one-time usage card or a debit card with a set amount of money on it, prepaid is also safer than credit. Had I gone out in Moscow with a card only good for, say, $100… I would never have incurred the massive charge I did. Check with your bank about options to go prepaid if carrying around cash isn’t your thing.
4) Getting sketched out? Cut your losses and head out
Something we did at the bar in Moscow was cut and run as soon as we read the situation. It was clear very fast that they saw our cards and intended to take advantage of us with “unlimited” booze. I have no idea why the number they charged us was $260 but had we lingered around who knows what ungodly amount we’d be on the hook for. When traveling, learn to recognize a sketchy situation and hightail it out of there.
Learning my Lesson
Overall my trip was an incredible time, seeing a part of the world that few Americans get the chance to. I would have done a few things differently if given another opportunity. Managing personal finance abroad can be tough! Keep these tips in mind to ensure you put yourself in a great spot to enjoy your trip.
All opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of Home at 30 and are in no way affiliated with any other organization or institution. The purpose of this blog is to give general education and information about investing, wealth, careers, and college; It is not intended to be professional advice.
Author: Joe Savoia
Joe is a 2014 graduate of Northeastern University and currently works in a field sales role for technology company Acquia. He has worked internationally as one of Acquia’s earliest Australia-based employees and helped in the early stages to develop that region. Today Joe is based out of Boston and lives in Somerville, MA. Joe’s primary interests vary widely, including everything from robotics/AI to finance, blockchain, and the rapidly evolving world of tech we live in.