Managing your finances from overseas shouldn’t be any harder than how you manage them at home. With today’s technology, you can make transactions from the other side of the world, just as if you were right at your preferred financial institution’s branch.
What follows are seven tips I use on a daily basis to keep track of my finances and manage them, no matter where in the world I am.
Keeping track of your finances is so much easier with a smartphone. Most banks have their own apps available to make transfers, make check deposits (via photo), check balances and more. It’s like having a financial branch in your hand. If you do day trading or are investing on the go, most apps have alerts and push notifications that will let you know when prices change or reach a certain level so that you can take action immediately through the app.
If you’re like me, who has three bank accounts, 5+ credit cards, a brokerage account, and more; getting an overall number (or total) of assets versus debt and spending might be a bit complicated unless you sit down to calculate all the numbers. I don’t have time to do that on a recurring basis, so I use mint.com to have all my balances and transactions in one place. Other apps and sites do this too, but since I’ve used Mint for over six years, I’m confident recommending it. It is secure and easy to setup. Mint only has access to your balance and transaction information. You can't perform any transactions on their platform, nor will they have the capability of doing such thing for security purposes.
An important part of managing your finances on the road is also knowing where your money is spent. While Mint and similar apps can help you keep track of all your debit and credit card transactions, all the cash transaction go unnoticed. You can manually add them in the app, or you can choose to keep track of them "old-school" in a notebook. I like using the Trail Wallet app, which allows me to create trips, set a daily or trip budget, and add every single spending in their proper category. It’s all manual, but I love it since it allows me to know how much money I’m spending on my trip, whether I’m over budget, under budget and how much can I splurge during the rest of the trip.
I always recommend having more than one bank account and taking both debit/credit cards with you on your trip. Before leaving, call each bank and tell them which countries you will be visiting and for how long. The bank will put a "travel notice" in your account, so they don’t think transactions made abroad are fraudulent. Even with the travel notice, sometimes it happens that the bank will still consider a transaction fraudulent (especially if it is a big purchase or looks like unusual activity), and block your card. For this reason, it’s always good to have a backup bank account.
Following the previous point, if your bank decides to block your card, you'll need to call them immediately to let them know you authorized the purchase. Once they confirm it wasn’t fraud, they will unblock the card. Most banks have a live chat on their site, which can be useful in most situations, but some banks do require you to call to unblock the card. I have the Skype app, which allows me to call any number from anywhere in the world, at a fraction of the cost of a regular call, or free if you’re calling a 1-800 number. If you have Google Voice, most calls to US numbers are free.
Email also works, but that’s the least efficient communication method. I’d concentrate on phone calls and online chats (if available on your bank’s website).
You don’t want to worry all the time about which bills need to be paid, where money should be transferred and so on. Try to automate these things as much as possible. Set up "automatic bill payment" to automatically pay credit card bills, utility bills, car payment, house payment and more. Transfers between your accounts can also be automated. Some banks will offer more automation features than others, so you should check directly at your bank’s website to see what can you automate.
Last but not least, get a travel-friendly credit card and debit card. If you’re traveling long term, you wouldn’t want to waste money on withdrawal fees from your bank account and the ATM’s bank. Each withdrawal could easily cost you $10 or more, so imagine wasting that every single time you withdraw money. Try getting a bank account that charges no foreign withdrawal fees, and even better if they refund the foreign bank’s fees. Regarding credit cards, these days several banks offer credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. Usually, the foreign transaction fee is about 3% to 5% of the amount of purchase. If you’re making big purchases, that small percentage will eventually hurt your wallet.
What else can you recommend to manage your finances on the road?
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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