Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rootless rehearsal: Money and banking

My stay in Mexico turned out to be a good rehearsal for future rootless forays outside the US.

On Plans A, B, and C

I took some cash with me to Mexico, along with a debit card and a credit card. 

The first thing I learned was: The Mexican banks were not exchanging cash dollars into pesos. Euros yes; dollars no. This apparently went into effect in September, in an attempt to manage the flow of narco money. Result: I did change some cash at a casa de cambio, but at a lower exchange rate than I would have gotten at a bank.

Fortunately, I'd already arranged with my financial institution to open one of my debit cards and my credit card to international use, so it wasn't a big deal. For the remainder of my stay, I used my debit card to withdraw pesos at a bank ATM. The credit card was a back-up for the debit card. 

For future: Always have a Plan B and C for accessing money. In this case, I had both a debit and a credit card in addition to the cash. In the reverse, though, it would mean if I planned to depend primarily on cards, then I'd still better also bring some cash (and even some old-school travelers checks, depending on the country).

Withdrawing $$ from checking or savings accounts via debit card

The debit card I used was for my primary account. If someone had compromised access to the account, and then to its related accounts (such as a related savings account), I'd have been screwed in a major, major way. Even if my financial institution caught on to such a breach early, it would be a bummer, because the first thing the financial institution would do is disable my debit card, making it more difficult to access my money.

For future: This week, I opened a new checking account with a new number and with a segregated access portal. I opted out of the overdraft service, so if the account should be compromised, the $ will dry up when the funds in that account are depleted. It will be for travel only. I will only deposit enough in that account to cover what I think I'll need plus a cushion for modest emergencies. My goal is that any damage will be self-contained.

Here's what others have to say about money and banking while on the road:

What's Your Travel Back-Up Plan? at travelbooklocker.com
Get Online as Safely as Possible While Traveling at glyphobet.

How to Bank Securely While Traveling at Bootsnall.com, the one-stop indie travel guide.

Banking While Traveling at How to Travel the World.com.

.... and then there's the suggestion I read to open a skype account, load it up with calling credit before leaving the country, and bank by phone. This seems to make the most sense to me right now.

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