While you can typically survive a trip abroad with little knowledge of a country’s language or culture, there’s no getting around foreign currency exchange. You need money to travel, and with so many money-changing options, it’s hard to know where to get the best rates and avoid pesky fees. A little homework will allow you to shop around and not fall victim to convenience.

Keep in mind, it’s good practice always to have two forms of currency available. You may find some restaurants don’t accept credit cards or you need cash for that first trip from the airport to your hotel.

Research rates before you go:

First things first, it’s important to research the current exchange rate before you even pack your bags. Online currency calculators are great for quick conversions and forecasting market changes, which is especially helpful if you’re taking an extended trip.

As you don’t want to show up in a foreign country without any local money, make sure you have enough in your wallet to at least cover a cab ride or other necessities. Your bank or credit union is a great first option to consider when exchanging currency before your trip. Be sure to call your local branch to inform it of your needs in advance so that it has the appropriate currency on hand.   

Some countries may accept the U.S. dollar, making it easy to pay for purchases in either American money or local currency. If you have the option, pay attention to the exchange rate to determine which is a better deal.

Look at total costs:

Everyone has to make a profit, so pay attention to added fees when choosing a money-exchange option. ATM withdraws can come with hidden costs, but some international branches or partners will allow you to use your ATM card fee-free. If you like having cash on hand, be sure to Google the major banks in the country or pay attention to which ones are the most prevalent on the street to ensure a safe transaction.

Credit cards can be a great option for major purchases, such as a hotel, and usually offer the best exchange rate. Do some research to assess if you will be charged any fees for international transactions. Don’t forget to notify your credit card company that you’ll be using your card abroad before you go.

Traveler’s checks operate like cash but can be reported as stolen or lost. They’re accepted at the same rate of exchange as cash, and any change due is returned to you in local currency. If you decide to carry traveler’s checks, have another form of currency on hand, as many foreign retailers no longer accept them.

How to prevent theft:

Purse-snatching and pickpocketing are pretty common in places where tourists gather. Always be on alert in large crowds and keep your valuables close. Wear a money belt to deter thieves from stealing important belongings, like your credit card. If your travels require a backpack, hold it in your hands at all times or use a strap to loop it around your arm or seat. Zippered locks are perfect for storing valuables, too.

And, in a world where cyber theft is easier and more prevalent than encounters on the street, avoid checking bank balances, making online payments or entering financially sensitive passwords of any kind while using public internet or Wi-Fi networks.