How to Keep Your Money Safe While Studying Abroad

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Kristen Kuchar

By Kristen Kuchar

November 22, 2019

Studying abroad gives college students an incredible and memorable experience. The fact that some countries offer free tuition and you can use a 529 plan to pay for studying abroad (with some restrictions) is even more of a reason to go. While attending college in a foreign country, you need to be smart with your money. 

Learn about your destination. Use the U.S. State Department’s tool for learning about any issues that could potentially put your money at risk, from common areas for pick-pocketing to confirmed instances of ATM skimming devices. It always helps to learn the language, too. (You can purchase software at 

Pack the right credit card. Choose credit cards that don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, which can range between 1 and 3%. Bring along two credit cards in case there is a problem with one. Use only chip-enabled credit cards. Opt for credit cards that offer a level of travel insurance. 

Alert your bank and credit cards. Let your credit card companies and bank know where you’re traveling and how long you’ll be gone. This way they won’t freeze your accounts when there are foreign transactions. 

Remember credit cards are king. If someone steals your cash or you lose it, you’ll most likely never see it again. If someone gets ahold of your ATM card and PIN, they can wipe out your account. You’re not liable for fraudulent charges on your credit card, though. 

Keep a mix of money. When you’re out and about, carry a mix of cash (only what you need for that day) along with one credit card. Try to split up your cash. For example, put a bit in your secure purse or wallet and some in a secure inside pocket. Small bills are less likely to attract attention.

Prevent pickpockets. Keep cash and your wallet in a front pants pocket, where it is less likely to be pickpocketed. Wrap them with a big rubber band. Keep a decoy wallet in your back pocket. Use a money belt, fanny pack or secure slash-proof purse in front of your body, not on the side or back. Avoid crowded streets where you might not notice someone bumping into you. 

Pick the right ATM. Use your bank’s ATM to avoid fees. Double check with your bank about any ATM fees in another country. Also, always pick an ATM that is in a well-lit open area. 

Understand the exchange rate. Use XE to see what the exchange rate is so there’s no confusion in what you’re spending. There is also an app you can download, too. Create a rule of thumb like “yen are pennies” to make it easier to convert currency in your head. 

Have a secure place where you’re staying to stash money. This way you can safely leave any cash or credit card you’re not using for the day at home. But beware, most thieves know where to look, whether on the bottom of a drawer or in a plastic bag inside the toilet tank.

Store important numbers in your phone. Save the international number for your bank and your credit cards in your phone in case you run into any problems. It’s also a good idea to have the number to the local authorities to report theft. Password protect your phone and turn on facial ID or fingerprint identification. 

Pack for practicality. Leave expensive or irreplaceable jewelry, purses and clothing at home. Consider a money belt (like this RFID Blocking Travel Wallet – Money Belt & Passport Holder) or a purse built for travel (like this Travelon Women’s Anti-Theft Heritage Small Crossbody Cross Body Bag). 

At, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

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