Financial safety for travellers: planning ahead lets you relax on vacation

Summer is here, which means that many Canadians will be dusting off suitcases and backpacks and setting off on vacation. Before you go, take a little time to think about money matters. A little prevention will save you a pack of troubles later on.

Travelling in Canada

If you're travelling in Canada, take the same precautions you would normally. Remember to keep a close eye on your credit and debit cards when making purchases, so you won’t become a victim of card switching or double-swiping. Bring emergency contact numbers with you, in case you run into a problem.

Don’t be a target

If you’re going to be away for a long period of time, be sure to have a friend or family member pick up your mail. A stuffed mailbox is a prime target for identity thieves, who use the information they steal to open accounts in someone else's name.

In Canada as elsewhere, thieves look for an easy target. Try not to look like one. Instead of carrying a wallet or a purse, use a money belt or a pouch you can hang around your neck, inside your shirt — especially in major tourist centres.

Travelling abroad

Before you leave home, check out the currency exchange rate and the prices of goods in the country you’re going to. You should also familiarize yourself with some of the local financial customs: What are the banking hours? Are credit or debit cards generally accepted? Knowing the answers to these and other questions can save you time and aggravation.

When making purchases while travelling, there are a number of payment options available to you. Consider the convenience, cost and safety factors of each. Every method of payment will involve charges, such as currency conversion, network access, administrative or other fees. Before you go, read your account-holder agreements, so you know what fees you can expect to pay and whether – and under what conditions – you are protected in case of theft or fraud.

Methods of payment

Cash

Don't exchange too much money in Canada before you go. Carrying a lot of cash is risky. It’s also usually cheaper to buy currency in its home country.

Travellers' cheques

Travellers’ cheques are relatively safe if used properly. However, they involve fees both when you buy them and when you cash them. They are not always accepted, and usually you can only cash them in banks or in currency exchange offices, and only during regular business hours. Treat them like cash.

Debit cards and ABM cards

When making a debit card purchase or withdrawing money from an automated banking machine (ABM), protect your personal identification number, or PIN. Use ABMs that are in safe locations. Check with your financial institution on how to obtain access to its ABM network, as well as what conversion rates and fees will apply to withdrawals.

Credit cards

Credit cards are an attractive alternative because of their relative safety and convenience. There is a price to pay, however. Purchases in foreign currencies are converted into Canadian dollars at a rate set by the card issuer, after which an administrative fee – around 2.5% – is usually applied to the total to give the Canadian dollar amount that appears on your statement.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has a publication for consumers, Credit Cards and You, that can help you compare the features and fees of nearly 200 credit cards available in Canada. To order this publication free of charge, call the Agency, toll-free, at 1-866-461-3222, or visit the Agency’s Web site at www.fcac.gc.ca.

In case of emergency

If you are a victim of theft or fraud while travelling, you should take immediate action. Notify the local police and, if you need more assistance, the Canadian embassy. If your credit card or debit card has been stolen, contact your card issuer immediately to have the card cancelled. Don’t wait until you get back home to report the problem, since there may be a time limit for reporting cases of fraud or theft.

When you return

Once you get home, check your account statements carefully. You should also request a copy of your credit report at least once a year, and review it for any signs of fraudulent activity. FCAC has a publication that will show you how to do this, which you can order by calling the toll-free number listed previously.

Plan here — Relax there

Thinking about what could go wrong while you're on vacation may seem strange, but a little planning now around money matters will allow you to relax and enjoy your vacation — with one less thing to worry about.

CNM