In the previous post from our South Africa Honeymoon series, I wrote about booking your flights and car rentals. Today, I’ll focus a bit more on how to spend money smart.
So, I wouldn’t get anywhere without knowing what currency is used in South Africa — it’s South African Rand (ZAR). You can easily find that out from Wikipedia or many other websites. Next I wanted to figure out the best way to convert USD to ZAR. At the time it was about 8-9 ZAR = 1 USD (you can check today’s rate by googling 1 USD in ZAR).
Getting cash from ATMs without any fees!
To get the foreign currency while abroad, I would recommend checking with your bank first to see if they have any ATM Global Alliance with a local bank where you are traveling to. What ATM Global Alliance means is that you can use that local bank’s ATM to withdraw money from home bank’s account… without paying any fees! We didn’t get to enjoy this ATM freedom in South Africa (because our bank wasn’t allied with any South African banks), however a few years ago when we traveled to France, we used BNP Paribas’ ATMs without paying any fees at all!
Since there weren’t any banks allied with our home bank, I had to research more on how to get Rands while in South Africa. I already knew that converting your USD at the airport was the worst option due to horrible exchange rates. However, there was another way… banks that don’t charge ATM fees! At the time Charles Schwab was one of few such banks. We opened an account and enjoyed any ATM anywhere for no fee! We actually kept our Charles Schwab account for any future travel because the bank will reverse ALL ATM fees no matter where you are in the world. It doesn’t get much better than that. There are no account fees or minimums… No hidden anything. I love them!
So, Charles Schwab was our debit card for traveling abroad and preferred method for withdrawing money with the best exchange rates.
Paying for stuff with your credit card!
If you are looking for credit cards I would recommend Capital One (www.capitalone.com). Most credit cards agreements include a fine print which mentions that there are multiple international transaction fees. Even if you bought something here, in the comfort of your home (on Ebay for example), if that seller is located in China then there will be an international fee charge on your card. This may be obvious to everyone but I never realized it till it happened to me. On the other hand, Capital One is great because there are zero international transaction fees no matter where you are, no matter where you shop.
Other currency exchange options within South Africa
Travelex is a an option. For example for $450 USD you get about 5,000 ZAR and there is a commission of about $15. However, there are so many variables, for example the exchange rate can change if you don’t reserve your money online beforehand. After you reserve your money online while you’re still at home, you still have to fly to your destination and search for the Travelex location in order to get the money you have reserved. I don’t think it’s convenient.
Here is some information from their website:
“** SAVE TIME & MONEY WHEN YOU RESERVE ONLINE! Our Online Exclusive Deals include:
Our Best Travelex Exchange Rate Guaranteed!
A minimum of 25% Discount on commission compared to in-store (or more depending on the amount you exchange – T&Cs apply) – An admin fee of 43 ZAR applies to all orders
Your currency will be ready to collect at your most convenient location and on the date you choose
We are the world’s leading foreign currency exchange specialist”
I have no idea if the 43 ZAR is an additional fee on top of commission but point is that there are fees on top of fees.
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Good luck on your honeymoon abroad!
Having a Charles Schwab debit card and Capital One credit card helps in so many ways when you are traveling abroad. You don’t have to have a lot of cash on you if you have a card where you can withdraw money anywhere at anytime without penalty. But remember that you want to have some cash on you for tipping or small fees like parking, etc.
We hope that these tips will come in handy when going on your honeymoon abroad. Hopefully you too get to save on fees and use those savings towards a nice bottle of champagne!
Final tip: If you go to South Africa, remember that at gas stations you do not pump your own gas. There are people there that pump it for you. So be sure to tip them! Also, when you park your car in a grocery store parking lot they will have “security guards” watching over your car. They will ask if you would like to have your car watched. If you say yes, they put a little sticker on your car and I guess nothing happens to it. When you come back from the store it is customary to tip the security guard. I am not really sure what happens when you say you don’t need them to watch the car since we never wanted to risk it.