Author Topic: International Travel in 2 weeks  (Read 10317 times)

schimt

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International Travel in 2 weeks
« on: February 03, 2015, 07:00:01 AM »
I was wondering if anyone has advice about the need and process to obtain a small amount of spending cash in another country. The search results mostly yielded exchanging a lot of money to move somewhere else, or investing with exchange rates. I'm going to Costa Rica for a week with friends, starting February 14th. Really my first ventures outside the country other then a wedding in DR where we paid for everything in the dollar at the resort, we are staying in a cabin and traveling around.

Anyways, i have a Charles Schwab account, i'm under the impression that it has no foreign transaction fees, i will call to verify. Do i need to inform the bank that i'm traveling. And do i just find an ATM down there and pull cash the same way I do it at home? I also have a Discover IT card that has no foreign transaction fees, and will use that where possible, unless there is some other hidden fee or variation with exchange rate that i should know about?

Thanks in advance for any advice! I'm looking forward to the trip.

desk_jockey

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2015, 07:30:00 AM »
Your ATM card will be OK if it's on the Cirrus/Visa Plus network, which I imagine Charles Schwab would be.

Your Discover card will not be widely accepted outside the US & Canada, so you are better off getting a Visa or Amex for international travel. 
« Last Edit: February 03, 2015, 07:34:07 AM by desk_jockey »

Jacana

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2015, 07:59:16 AM »
I lived in Costa Rica for a year and a half and it's pretty easy to get cash from an ATM. But it's been a while, so maybe someone else has some updated info?

Definitely call your bank first for 2 reasons. 1: to make sure your ATM card is going to be usable at international ATMs (I had to get a different card) and 2: To tell them the charges are legal and valid, otherwise they may put a stop on your card when they can't contact you by phone and you are shit out of luck. Same with your credit card. It is safest to tell them you are going first.

Where are you staying? San Jose or out in the middle of nowhere? How are you getting from the airport to your hotel?  A lot of places in San Jose and big tourist areas will actually accept US$, especially nice hotels and restaurants. ATM withdrawals are the fastest and cheapest way I found to exchange $ to colones for bars and whatnot.

ATMs are easy to find in San Jose, lots of international and CR banks all over. Even a few US banks there now. Out in the little beach towns you are more likely to see just Banco Nacional or BCR but they will have ATMs. Your bank may not charge you a fee, but you will probably end up paying the fee from the ATM's bank unless Schwab refunds that too which would be pretty impressive. Just like in the US, the ATMs at actual banks usually have lower fees than the ones you see at malls or tourist places and I always felt a little safer using them because of bank security guards. Skip the ones in the airport if you can, you'll pay more in fees. Also, fees should be per withdrawal as opposed to a percentage, so fewer transactions of more $ per transaction are generally cheaper. Shouldn't be too high a fee, a few bucks like here in the US. Be careful not to put the wrong pin in; a machine once ate a friend's card.

If you pay by credit card you will pay more than if you pay in cash in a lot of situations, including hotels and restaurants, because they can pass the credit card company fees onto you. That is perfectly legal and acceptable down there. It can be quite an upcharge too. Cash is generally best for small hotels, bars, cafes, shops, taxis, etc. So yes, there is a hidden catch with the Discover card beyond the foreign transaction fees. Not only that, but Visa and MC are much more prevalent than Discover in my experience. For big hotels or a tourist package you are probably fine with paying by CC.

Have a back up plan, like carry the debit and credit in 2 different places, leave debit behind once you've gotten money, have US $, etc. I once got pick-pocketed in San Jose and my debit card was stolen along with most of my meager available cash. I had a credit card back at my house, but I used the VISA to get an emergency cash advance and boy did I pay for that mistake. If you have some US cash, you can exchange it at a bank for a reasonable rate or just use it as is.

Have a great trip!

Brian Fellows

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2015, 08:55:51 AM »

Your Discover card will not be widely accepted outside the US & Canada, so you are better off getting a Visa or Amex for international travel.

Discover is also widely accepted in China.

Charles Schwab DOES refund/not charge bank fees of the other bank, so you don't need to worry about those (sorry to invalidate that part of your post, Jacana, haha).  Using ATMs also gets you a better exchange rate because you're paying the bank's exchange rate, not some third party "businessperson" that's trying to make a profit.  I usually stick to ATMs at actual banks or in the airport - less likely to get robbed and less likley that anything shady's going to happen.  It's nice to charge out of an airport with your cash needs already taken care of.

As was said before, definitely call Schwab and let them know you'll be out of town, and you probably want a backup way to get money too - maybe bring some extra USD with you in case you can't find an ATM or your card mysteriously stops working.

Experience - Used my Schwab card in South America, Europe, and Africa with no fees charged.  The ones I got charged (in Germany) were refunded by Schwa.

frugaldrummer

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2015, 01:59:02 PM »
Yes, tell the bank you are traveling so they don't assume the charges are fraudulent and freeze your accounts.  (My bank once froze my debit card because I was traveling from Southern California to Northern California and stopped to buy gas in Oakland - a somewhat dicey neighborhood.  I guess it set off some kind of computerized alarm bells - "Rich white woman from So Cal stopping in minority neighborhood!!!!!".  )  Now I always tell them when I'm traveling.

 Many foreign countries use cards with chips in them now, so you should ask your bank for a new card with the chip in it.  Otherwise you may have difficulty using it anywhere except inside a bank (that was my experience in England a few years ago, I could use my card in the machines inside the bank but it wouldn't work in machines on the street because it lacked a chip.

Btw, at my bank, I have to call one number to inform the debit card people that I'm traveling, and  a separate number to inform the credit card people.

frugaldrummer

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2015, 02:01:24 PM »
Also, if you take cash, don't keep it all in one place - that way, if your wallet gets stolen for instance, you'll have some in your luggage or somewhere safer.  Also make photocopies of the front and backs of your cards and your passport and keep them separate, just in case they get stolen and you need that info.

GizmoTX

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2015, 02:28:59 PM »
Foreign cash: Use a debit card at an ATM for the best exchange rate, preferably Schwab, which refunds all ATM fees. We have used our Schwab card all over the world. Since ATM fees will be refunded, you don't have to get cash all at one time unless you believe you won't be near an ATM. Get your first supply of cash at the destination airport. Never use a debit card for a purchase.

Carry cash, passport, & cards you won't be using during the day in a very secure location in a money bag on your body. Daily cash & cards should go elsewhere that's secure. Generally a wallet is not. I always downsize what I take when traveling, & use a zippered compartment on the inside front of a vest that I don't take off. This vest is also useful on the plane to reduce weight in my carry-on.
https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/theft-scams/travel-moneybelt

Credit card: Bring at least one that has the embedded chip AND does not charge foreign transaction fees. Some very well known "travel" cards do. We like Barclaycard, & have used Capital One & BankAmericard. Never use a credit card for a cash advance.

And yes, inform all banks of where & when you will be traveling.


Jacana

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2015, 05:48:53 PM »

Charles Schwab DOES refund/not charge bank fees of the other bank, so you don't need to worry about those (sorry to invalidate that part of your post, Jacana, haha).

No worries! =) That is pretty awesome. Hmm... a Schwab account may be in my future.

Never use a debit card for a purchase.

+1

arebelspy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2015, 10:28:33 AM »
Schwab is incredible for foreign travel.  Refund of all ATM fees is great.
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schimt

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2015, 10:56:39 AM »
Thank you for all of the replies!


Where are you staying? San Jose or out in the middle of nowhere? How are you getting from the airport to your hotel?  A lot of places in San Jose and big tourist areas will actually accept US$, especially nice hotels and restaurants. ATM withdrawals are the fastest and cheapest way I found to exchange $ to colones for bars and whatnot.

we are staying in Manuel Antonio looking forward to it =)

I have a small runners pouch that i can use as a money belt, great tip that i didn't think of for regular use. I was going to bring it in case we go zip lining or something active of the sort.

Albert

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2015, 12:31:50 PM »
In my opinion wearing a "money belt" is not that smart, particularly if going to less than safe areas. It's just a screaming advertisement "I'm an inexperienced tourist and have money with me". This is one of the things I'd never do myself or recommend anyone. I take on average 4-5 foreign trips per year.

arebelspy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2015, 12:59:49 PM »
In my opinion wearing a "money belt" is not that smart, particularly if going to less than safe areas. It's just a screaming advertisement "I'm an inexperienced tourist and have money with me". This is one of the things I'd never do myself or recommend anyone. I take on average 4-5 foreign trips per year.

You know a money belt goes under your clothes, right?  No one should know you have one on.  You should keep a small wallet with small change for purchases, so you don't have to access the money belt in public, and then keep passport, etc. in the money belt.

I'd only use it for travel days, personally, but they're real good to have, IMO.
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RunHappy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2015, 01:20:43 PM »
I preorder currency from either Wells Fargo or TravelEx, because I like to have currency on me when I land.  The last thing I want is for people to see me getting lots of currency at the airport (ATM or Exchange) and make myself a target for a mugging.  Once I'm in country I will go to a bank ATM and pull out more money if needed.

davef

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #13 on: February 04, 2015, 01:27:48 PM »
Pre-order currency, I usually do $400-500 so you have that cash on you when you land. Put everything else on your credit card toward the beginning of the trip but toward the end start using up your cash up unless it is a destination you intend to frequent. You don't want to have to pay to change it back.

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2015, 01:28:49 PM »
Visa is more widespread than Mastercard, which is more widespread than AMEX.

RunHappy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2015, 02:02:32 PM »
Pre-order currency, I usually do $400-500 so you have that cash on you when you land. Put everything else on your credit card toward the beginning of the trip but toward the end start using up your cash up unless it is a destination you intend to frequent. You don't want to have to pay to change it back.

If you order from TravelEx you only have to pay the first fee.  You can exchange back at no further cost as long as you keep the receipt.

schimt

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2015, 02:23:25 PM »
if you do travelEx, do you have it delivered to your house? Our flight is at 4 am and the store with free pick up will be closed when we are at the airport

RunHappy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2015, 02:26:56 PM »
if you do travelEx, do you have it delivered to your house? Our flight is at 4 am and the store with free pick up will be closed when we are at the airport

I've never had it delivered from TravelEx.  I would typically pick it up at the store (they have locations all over even some malls).  I did have it delivered with Wells Fargo, it came pretty quickly via FedEx.

desk_jockey

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #18 on: February 04, 2015, 03:20:52 PM »
I somewhat agree with Albert on the money pouches that fit inside clothing.   I think the pros often can spot them, especially belt loop kind that hang down inside the pant leg.  Instead I carry a few hundred USD folded into a money belt, a leather belt with a thin elongated zippered compartment on the inside.  This is my emergency money.    Protip for such belts in warm climates:  fold the money into the thin plastic of a sandwich bag or otherwise the bills can be stained with the leather dye when you sweat, rendering it impossible to exchange in-country. 

Other than that I carry what I need for a few days at a time in my wallet, using local ATMS for currency.  You can use at ATM right in the SJO airport, and think you wouldnít be at any higher risk of theft than any other arriving tourist (who all arrive with money, right?).
I carry two credit cards and leave one locked in the safe or otherwise hidden in the hotel room.   

I do the same for my passport, leaving it in the hotel room unless the room is not secure at all (e.g. shared hostels back in my backpacking days).    I try to only carry my passport on my person when I have everything packed and with me because Iím changing location.

Albert

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #19 on: February 04, 2015, 03:30:12 PM »
In my opinion wearing a "money belt" is not that smart, particularly if going to less than safe areas. It's just a screaming advertisement "I'm an inexperienced tourist and have money with me". This is one of the things I'd never do myself or recommend anyone. I take on average 4-5 foreign trips per year.

You know a money belt goes under your clothes, right?  No one should know you have one on.  You should keep a small wallet with small change for purchases, so you don't have to access the money belt in public, and then keep passport, etc. in the money belt.

Yes although I've seen mostly older folks wearing and/or accessing them quite openly plus you don't have all that many clothes on when you are in some tropical destination. My personal strategy is just not being overly conspicuous and blending in with folks who live there if at all possible.

I try to limit what I take with me on trips not only in terms of clothes, but also valuables. What I would normally take for a 1-3 week trip:

- Passport/ID card
- cell phone (I don't own a smartphone)
- either iPad or Kindle (on some specific occasions a laptop)
- one bank card plus one credit card (two if renting a car)
- drivers licence, but only if driving is planned or might be needed
- digital camera unless I'm traveling with someone who has
- 200-300 euros or dollars in cash just in case
- printed tickets and reservations for all hotels already reserved

Everything else is left at home so that there is no chance of losing it.



arebelspy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #20 on: February 04, 2015, 03:49:18 PM »
Nice.  I haven't yet got down to the no clothes travel, but I am a fan of traveling light.
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Albert

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #21 on: February 04, 2015, 04:05:01 PM »
Nice. I haven't yet got down to the no clothes travel, but I am a fan of traveling light.

Did you get an impression that I have? :)

imustachemystash

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #22 on: February 04, 2015, 04:22:15 PM »
I'm glad you posted this since I'm going to Costa Rica in July. Have a fantastic trip!

RunHappy

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #23 on: February 09, 2015, 06:23:09 AM »
I somewhat agree with Albert on the money pouches that fit inside clothing.   I think the pros often can spot them, especially belt loop kind that hang down inside the pant leg.  Instead I carry a few hundred USD folded into a money belt, a leather belt with a thin elongated zippered compartment on the inside.  This is my emergency money.    Protip for such belts in warm climates:  fold the money into the thin plastic of a sandwich bag or otherwise the bills can be stained with the leather dye when you sweat, rendering it impossible to exchange in-country. 

Other than that I carry what I need for a few days at a time in my wallet, using local ATMS for currency.  You can use at ATM right in the SJO airport, and think you wouldnít be at any higher risk of theft than any other arriving tourist (who all arrive with money, right?).
I carry two credit cards and leave one locked in the safe or otherwise hidden in the hotel room.   

I do the same for my passport, leaving it in the hotel room unless the room is not secure at all (e.g. shared hostels back in my backpacking days).    I try to only carry my passport on my person when I have everything packed and with me because Iím changing location.

Depending on where you go if you don't carry you actual passport with you, you should at least make photocopies of it and carry those with you. 

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #24 on: February 09, 2015, 01:31:04 PM »
I snap a photo of each of our passports & other important travel documents, & store them in DropBox so they're accessible on smartphone & iPad. You can tell DropBox to save this to your device so it's readable without connectivity.

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #25 on: February 09, 2015, 06:12:32 PM »
Re. Not carrying passports with you:   Yes, very much agreed... I carry a photocopy of my passport with me and have a scan of my passport and immunizations stored online.   In 20+ years of international travel I've not had to use my passport copy and only once had to offer to download and show my yellow fever vaccination.   But better safe than sorry, and it takes no effort to do so.

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #26 on: February 09, 2015, 07:23:53 PM »
Agree with others about using ATMs and calling your bank(s) ahead of time to let them know you will be traveling. You can order currency ahead of time at your local bank (don't know if you could get it time to leave on the 14th), but I think ATMs abroad give a comparable exchange rate. Exchanges rates at airports are generally lousy, so best to exchange money elsewhere. I don't know if this has been mentioned, but I would also recommend a travel wallet to wear under your clothes. I didn't have any trouble in Costa Rica (as a 22-year-old woman traveling alone), but some people did try to pick my pockets in a Peru a couple of years ago, and my travel wallet kept me from losing any valuables.

Jacana

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #27 on: February 09, 2015, 08:38:27 PM »

we are staying in Manuel Antonio looking forward to it =)


Very nice! That'll be a great trip. An area very used to tourists so you should be fine with some colones and some US$ as a back up. Quepos and Manuel Antonio have banks with ATMs (see below), but I'd say might as well get a little bit of colones out of an ATM in San Jose anyway for the trip down. Since you aren't worried about fees, I mean, and you don't have to worry about multiple withdrawals. 

Some old advice you've hopefully heard before: Take your card as soon as the machine offers it back, don't just leave it in the slot while you complete your transaction. And if your card is rejected by that ATM and you know you had your pin correct, go try another ATM. Or one of your travel buddies can try theirs. But don't just keep trying over and over. Because...if your card isn't on that ATM's network, or it's having connection issues, or just a bad day, or whatever, and you keep trying the same machine, it will eat your card and not give it back and oh boy that's fun.  I speak from experience. It took 3 days to retrieve. I still don't know why. And always use common sense; going to an ATM in the middle of a small touristy town could make you a target for local pickpockets so be extra aware.

Don't forget to come back and tell us all how awesome your trip was and make us all jealous! :)


Useful site: http://www.mastercard.us/cardholder-services/atm-locator.html (VISA has its own version, others probably do too)

BANCO PROMERICA DE COSTA RICA S.A.
Centro Comercial Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio PUNTARENAS 60101

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #28 on: February 10, 2015, 12:59:30 AM »
Re. Not carrying passports with you:   Yes, very much agreed... I carry a photocopy of my passport with me and have a scan of my passport and immunizations stored online.   In 20+ years of international travel I've not had to use my passport copy and only once had to offer to download and show my yellow fever vaccination.   But better safe than sorry, and it takes no effort to do so.

Sounds like you haven't spent a ton of time in the developing world where you deal with roadblocks and random customs inspections. For anyone who is going to such places, you absolutely do need to carry your passport.

desk_jockey

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #29 on: February 10, 2015, 05:20:16 AM »
A bit further up the tread I said that ďI try to only carry my passport on my person when I have everything packed and with me because Iím changing location.Ē   In my later post I didnít mean to imply that I never carried my passport.   

I have experienced highway security checkpoints when traveling between towns or regions, but not intercity.    YMMV.  Sure, one has to know the security environment of the country and take action accordingly.   Traveling in Myanmar during the military dictatorship you can bet I had my passport on my person more often, but for weeks working within a single city in Colombia my passport never left the room safe.

In the OPís case of the pacific side of Costa Rica, the security situation is more relaxed.  If it were me,  I would carry my passport on me between San Jose & Mario Antonio, but once there only if I needed it for something (e.g. money changing).

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #30 on: February 10, 2015, 05:28:20 AM »
My mistake desk_jockey. Your clarification makes the point better than I did.

schimt

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #31 on: February 11, 2015, 09:49:30 AM »
I preorder currency from either Wells Fargo or TravelEx, because I like to have currency on me when I land.  The last thing I want is for people to see me getting lots of currency at the airport (ATM or Exchange) and make myself a target for a mugging.  Once I'm in country I will go to a bank ATM and pull out more money if needed.

I was looking to order some currency from travelex but they are showing an exchange rate of 464 colon to $1 but google is showing 538 colon to $1. Is this typical to cover expenses for travelex or am i doing something wrong.

mandy_2002

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #32 on: February 11, 2015, 09:57:38 AM »
That exchange is pretty typical.  I've found that getting the currency outside of the country is great in theory and expensive in execution.  I think that the ATM option is the best, using a real debit card.  They still won't have the full exchange rate, but it will be far better than any "service" provider.  Travelex, even in country, has never been the most economical option for me.  (I once had an airline force a conversion from Euro to USD with an exchange rate that was 75% the current going rate.  There was no way to change it back, but since it was still the cheapest option I went with it.  I still feel cheated by that years later.)

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #33 on: February 11, 2015, 10:00:02 AM »
I preorder currency from either Wells Fargo or TravelEx, because I like to have currency on me when I land.  The last thing I want is for people to see me getting lots of currency at the airport (ATM or Exchange) and make myself a target for a mugging.  Once I'm in country I will go to a bank ATM and pull out more money if needed.

I was looking to order some currency from travelex but they are showing an exchange rate of 464 colon to $1 but google is showing 538 colon to $1. Is this typical to cover expenses for travelex or am i doing something wrong.
In my limited experience, you get the best exchange rates from your credit card or bank. Any institution outside of those two sets tend to have high markups, though that kind of markup seems ridiculously high to me.

You already have a Schwab account. I don't see the need to get cash before you land at the airport - just withdraw cash at a bank ATM when you land. And as for RunHappy's concern about becoming a target for a mugging by withdrawing a lot of currency....just don't withdraw a lot of currency. Because Schwab doesn't charge a forex fee and reimburses your ATM fees, you can visit the ATM as many times as you want at no cost to you.

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #34 on: February 26, 2015, 11:23:56 AM »

Don't forget to come back and tell us all how awesome your trip was and make us all jealous! :)


Well, it was a great time, since you asked! First night in Jaco in a hotel, surfed in the morning, then shuttled the 25 of us over to the house in Manuel Antonio, very nice place and lots of fun with no drama. Pool at the house, over looking the coast, with about a mile walk down to the beach. Monkeys hanging on the porches most mornings, I went waterfall repelling and we did a sunset dinner sailboat ride, which was very nice. I skipped the sport fishing and they did zip lining and the national park tour the day after i left unfortunately. We had two local chefs come cook at the house for us one night, there were tons of left overs.

Anyways, great time for sure, thanks again for the advice and help from everyone. The money situation was no big deal at all. There was an ATM one block from our house the dispensed Costa Rican Colones and US Dollars, and most every place took either.

Jacana

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Re: International Travel in 2 weeks
« Reply #35 on: February 26, 2015, 05:16:33 PM »
Glad to hear! Such an awesome place. I'm happy you had a great time. Happy, and incredibly jealous looking at the latest snow outside my door :-/