Carrying cash can be useful while traveling, but there are rules you should follow to keep yourself—and your money—safe.


These days, most people pay with plastic (or a tap of their phones) instead of carrying cash around, but having cash on hand when you're traveling can be pretty useful (in Cuba, for example, it's required). "There are times when traveling with cash is a necessity to avoid fees and other hassles," says Lea Satterfield, financial coach and CEO of financial education company, MPowerCo.

That said, it's important to keep safety and travel regulations in mind, especially if you're traveling with large amounts of cash. Here are some expert tips on carrying cash while traveling, so you can have a more relaxing vacation knowing your money is safe.

woamn using cash atm machine while on vacation
Credit: martin-dm / Getty Images

If you're leaving the U.S., you have to declare anything more than $10,000.

While there are no restrictions on how much cash you can travel with domestically, there are rules for international travel. "If you leave the country, or are returning to the country, you must declare any cash in excess of $10,000," says Alex Miller, CEO of travel site UpgradedPoints.

Technically, you can take as much cash as you want, but you will have to report any cash that is $10,000 or more to customs. Customs will then file a currency transaction report (CTR) under the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act rules, put in place to prevent money laundering. "Other countries may be different threshold levels, so research the rules of that specific country before entering on what you will have to declare," advises Satterfield.

When traveling with cash, keep it near you at all times.

"Avoid putting your cash or any other finances in a checked bag," says Christopher Morgan, personal finance expert and CEO at Credit Help Info. Morgan advises keeping an eye on your bags as they go through airport security, and to not display your cash in public.

"Mae sure you don't open that luggage and show others what's inside accidentally," says Steffa Mantilla, certified financial education instructor and founder of personal finance site Money Tamer. "Keep all of your documents and items you'll need prior to reaching your destination in a different bag," she adds. Mantilla also suggests traveling with someone, if possible, for an extra pair of eyes if you're carrying a larger amount of cash.

Plan ahead, but don't exchange ahead.

If you're traveling somewhere that has different currency, or you know you will be making payments in cash, try to plan which purchases you might need it for—so you don't carry to much or too little.

"Always take a little more money than you think you will need in case something were to come up, like you find a shop or restaurant that doesn't accept your credit card brand," says Satterfield. "Being able to pay without having to run out to an ATM will make your experience go smoother," she adds.

Satterfield says it's "easier and cheaper" to take cash with you if your destination takes US dollars. However, if you need to exchange, she suggests waiting until you arrive at your destination for better exchange rates.

"While airport security kiosks might be convenient for travelers, they can also be one of the most expensive places to buy your foreign currency—sometimes charging a service fee of up to approximately $15," says James Wolanski, managing director of global foreign exchange at TD Bank. Wolanski recommends buying foreign banknotes in advance to secure the currency you need before your trip. "Many providers offer travelers the ease of ordering foreign currencies online or in-store," he says.

Use a local ATM to withdraw cash once you get to your destination. "Doing so gets you better exchange rates than bringing US dollars and converting them at a money exchange," says Mitch Glass, owner of the Project Untethered travel blog. But make sure you check with your bank before your travel to be aware of any foreign ATM fees you might be charged.

"I still always carry $500 in emergency cash hidden throughout parts of my carry-on luggage," adds Glass.

Limit the amount of cash you carry with you.

Carrying cash with you while you travel is a good idea for emergencies, tips, and cash-only vendors—but it's best to limit the amount you carry, for your safety. For one thing, it can be a hassle through to get through TSA with large amounts of cash, even if you are within the $10,000 limit—and even though there aren't any limits for domestic travel.

"This doesn't mean that you won't get stopped by TSA for having a lot of cash. In fact, there have been instances where people's cash has been confiscated, creating a headache trying to get it back," says Mantilla.

Most places take debit or credit these days (refer back to that Cuban exception in the intro, though!), so as long as you notify your credit card company and are aware of any foreign transaction fees, using your credit card while traveling should be fine—and safer than carrying wads of cash that could get stolen.

"Purchase the majority of your items using a credit card, not only so you don't have to carry cash, but so you can receive purchase protections," explains Miller. This way, you can dispute any charge errors.


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