Part 1…Foreign currency while traveling…

Often we see statues in the centre of roundabouts which are more frequent than traffic lights in Bali.

“Sightings on the Beach in Bali”

Although they are smaller buffaloes than the more frightening males, these young boys have a big task to accomplish when they take them to the river.

Most countries have their own specific currency, which is commonly used with the exception of a few countries, such as the US dollar and the euro which are accepted in several countries as shown below.

For the US dollar:

“Countries that only use foreign currency. US dollar: Ecuador, East Timor, El Salvador, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands, Zimbabwe. The US dollar is the most widely used currency in the world, with many countries employing it as an accepted alternative to their own currency.”

For the euro:

“The euro is the sole currency of 19 EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.”

Farming a wide array of crops is a big deal in Bali.

As we continue our travels around the world, we often need to access the local currency when we arrive. In many cases where we’re hiring a taxi or driver from a port or airport, we’ve often had to stop at an ATM in order to get cash to pay the taxi fare when many taxis/taxi companies in certain countries don’t accept credit cards. 

Overall, we’ve found most countries do accept credit cards for store purchases including supermarkets. Local currency is usually required for farmers markets, roadside stands and other small business operations.

This large red insect which appears in the shape like a grasshopper which could potentially have poisonous properties based on its red color.
Many have asked how we handle “exchanging” US currency to the currency of the country we’re visiting. At this point, we don’t carry any US currency other than enough for additional cash tips we offer certain staff while on a cruise. (These are over and above the tips added to our bill or per a promotion, included in our fare).

Essentially, we don’t “exchange” currency for another currency.  The cost of doing so is high with exchange rates at local facilities, including airports, shopping malls and near ports of call have proven to cost more than we’d ever pay using the most simple of all:  the local ATM.

Nor do we use regular credit cards to obtain cash. Often, the credit card companies encourage the card holder to use their credit cards for obtaining cash and foreign currency while traveling done so with the intent of them collecting often hidden and outrageous fees.

Unfortunately, most credit card companies immediately begin charging interest on the cash advance. We figured this out long ago when we first began our travels and never use credit cards for cash advances.

A government building.

These fees vary for each credit card company making it impossible for us to do a detailed analysis and comparison.  Also, based on one’s credit rating and/or types of credit cards, the exchange rates may vary from card to card.

Instead of using credit cards, we use debit cards to obtain local currency. To protect against a risk of a theft of substantial funds while at an ATM, we’ve set limits with our bank in the US, that we can only obtain a certain amount of cash on each of our four debit cards on four separate bank accounts. 

This enables us to use each card for the maximum amount in the event we need an especially large amount of cash on a particular day. Based on the fact we use credit cards to pay for flights, cruises, vacation rentals and general expenses, we only need a given amount of cash for incidentals, such as here in Bali.

Coleus plants are common in shady areas in Bali.

Generally, Bali is a “cash & carry” location for the vacation home traveler. Credit cards aren’t accepted from foreigners at most locations except hotels, resorts, fine dining establishments and a variety of more substantial business entities.

Our requirement for large sums of cash have been higher in Bali than in any other country we visited to date. Each evening after dinner we give the two Ketuts cash for the ingredients for the next night’s meals. Also, we pay cash for use of the vehicle, a driver, incidentals and eventual tips when we leave which counts into the millions of Indonesian Rupiah.

Many varieties of bananas are found throughout the world. Those grown in Bali tend to be smaller than in other countries.

We usually request the same meal two nights in a row (a habit we acquired when cooking for ourselves to cut down on daily prep time) and they collect the sums for the actual cost of the ingredients with a small fuel charge, paid in cash every other day.  (The cost for the meal preparation is included in our rent and of course, we leave substantial tips before departing).

Although the average evening’s meal is rarely more than US $12, IDR 156,600 (often less), with the denominations of Indonesian Rupiah as huge as they are: IDR 1,000,000 to US $76.63, we must keep enough cash on hand to avoid traveling back and forth to the ATM every week, incurring additional transportation expenses. 

Obtaining cash from an ATM is not free. Each machine has its own local fees which may vary from village to village. Plus, our bank charges a flat US $5, IDR 65,250 per ATM transaction when it’s not their own machine. 

There’s an apotek (pharmacy) every few blocks.

In most cases we use one debit card on a visit to an ATM. Many ATMs charge a fee of approximately US $2.50, IDR 36,625.  In each case we’ve received cash it’s in stacks of IDR 100,000, (US $7.66). This results in a lot of paper to handle when requesting millions of rupiah.

Our average cost per maximum transaction per debit card, including ATM fee and our bank fee is a total of US $7.50, IDR 97,620, which averages slightly under 1%. Had we taken the time to visit an exchange facility, we’d have lost considerably more than 1%.

Besides, visiting an exchange facility leaves the typical customer wondering how much they actually lost when they may not have that day’s actual exchange rate in hand, other than an often arbitrary number (we’ve noticed) posted at the facility.

On January 15, 2016 (click here for our link) while on the Celebrity Solstice on our way to New Zealand, where we were staying for 89 days, we inquired as to exchanging some intentionally leftover AU (Australian dollars) for NZ (New Zealand dollars). We were shocked by the high fees the cruise ship required to make the exchange which totaled 23%, a far cry from an ATM exchange of under 1%.

Rooster, chickens and a bucket. Notice the flip flops near the bucket. Most Balinese wear some type of flip flops even while riding motorbikes. Shoes of any type aren’t worn indoors.

As you can see, we’ve carefully analyzed the best course of action for us and possibly for other travelers seeking local currency.  However, each individual case may vary based on charges from ATMs, debit or credit cards you choose to use. 

Prior to traveling to foreign countries its a good idea to spend a few minutes contacting your bank or credit card companies to determine the charges they may incur for an exchange rate.  Purposely, early on our travels we chose only credit cards that didn’t charge any excess fees when we used the cards in foreign countries to make purchases.  

We avoid using regular credit cards at ATMs when each bank may levy outrageous fees for “getting cash on the card.” We only use a debit card taking cash from one or more of our accounts (if necessary).

With this post too long for one day, we’re continuing Part 2 tomorrow where we’ll explain our plans for leaving each country without any “leftover” currency (unless we need to use it elsewhere) to avoid losing so much in fees to exchange it back to our home country’s currency. Please check back.

Please note:  Due to WiFi issues today, we’re unable to edit line spacing.

Photo from one year ago today, October 12, 2015:

Boats at the marina in the village in Savusavu, Fiji as we began a sightseeing outing. For more details, please click here.