The amount of spending money you will need abroad is difficult to estimate because spending habits vary among individuals.
Study abroad programs often provide students with an estimated budget or expense sheet that will give you a rough idea of your major expenses. Remember that you are responsible for all the costs not included in your program fee. These costs vary from program to program, but generally include: (1) meals not included in the program cost; (2) personal expenses such as toiletries; (3) recreational activities, (4) souvenirs and gifts; (5) transportation and travel expenses; (6) and laundry.
While better exchange rates are always found abroad, it's a good idea to change a small amount of US dollars into the foreign currency before you leave the US or as soon as you arrive in your host country to cover immediate expenses upon your arrival, e.g. taxi, phone calls, food, etc. Your bank may not always have foreign currency on hand, so don't wait till the last minute to exchange money.
There are several ways to access money while abroad: ATM cards, credit cards and exchanging cash. Don't rely on just one of these methods to access money; plan to use a variety of methods in case one does not work. You might also try opening a bank account if you'll be living in a city or are on a long-term program.
In most countries it is possible to use ATM machines to obtain local currency. ATM networks such as Cirrus and Plus seem to be the most widely available.
NOTE: Check with your bank to make sure that your card can be used internationally. Let your bank and credit card company know you will be traveling abroad so they know that your card has not been stolen. Otherwise, the bank could freeze your account.
Bank card withdrawals are debited (in dollars using the market exchange rate) from your US bank account directly, while credit card withdrawals are charged against your card. Service charges are usually minimal with bank cards, but considerably higher with credit cards. Credit cards may also assess interest charges.
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express offer good exchange rates on purchases in many countries and are widely accepted in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. You can generally expect to be able to use credit cards in department stores, nice restaurants, and hotels. Cash should be used for everyday purchases because credit and debit cards are not accepted everywhere, nor are they used as commonly as in the US.
Take at least two different cards with you, reserving one for emergencies only. DO NOT TAKE A DISCOVER CARD! Make 2 copies of your credit cards (front and back). Take one copy with you (packed in your carry on) and store it separately from your credit cards while abroad. Leave one copy at home. This will help you cancel the cards in case they are lost or stolen.
Obtain a pin number for your debit and credit cards. This will enable to use your card at an ATM machine or other electronic kiosks such as train stations, etc.
Pre-paid ATM cards are becoming more and more popular with travelers. They often include more security protection than a traditional debit card. Travelex and ISIC both offer these types of cards.
Try not to exchange money in hotels, restaurants, or shops. They will charge high commissions and are not required to give the daily exchange rate. Banks and foreign exchange shops will give you a better rate. It's always a good idea to take some US dollars in addition to your credit card and ATM card. Don't forget to save some cash for food and departure taxes for the return trip.
NOTE: Before you come back to the US, you may want to try to spend most of your foreign currency or change it back into US dollars. Do not collect a lot of loose change because it cannot be changed back into dollars. Only paper currency can be exchanged.
If you are in dire need of money, a friend or relative can send you cash through wire transfer services offered by Western Union. There are 320,000 Western Union Agent locations in over 200 countries throughout the world, usually located in grocery stores, hotels, and convenience stores. Bring an ID to pick up the money. You may also need to pay a fee. MoneyGram operates in the same way as Western Union.
The right to take legal action on another person's behalf is made possible using Power of Attorney. It is useful when it comes to things like financial aid disbursement or dealing with your financial institution while you are out of the country. Consider signing a Power of Attorney so that a trusted person can take care of any bills or financial matters at home while you are abroad. For more information on Power of Attorney, contact your bank or a lawyer.
NOTE: As an alternative to signing a Power of Attorney, consider adding one of your parents to your US bank account so that they can easily deposit money into your account when you need it or pay any outstanding bills on your behalf.