By Carolyn Bick
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Upon her return from Vancouver, B.C., Patricia Rials was shocked at how much money she had unintentionally spent. Like so many other travelers before her, Rials found herself facing the unexpected burden of transaction fees.
“I was just surprised, because I wasn’t aware what these fees were, and they were being added on,” Rials said.
Even though the exchange rate between American dollars and Canadian dollars meant Rials technically paid less for everything than she would have in the United States, the fees for repeatedly using her American credit card meant she ended up spending almost the same amount of money as she would have in the United States.
“We would have probably spent differently,” Rials said. “But we didn’t, at the time, and thought we were getting the best exchange for our money.”
This isn’t an uncommon problem, KeyBank’s Key@Work’s Program Manager Tommy Sisa-At said. Sisa-At’s role at the bank revolves around educating the community, and part of that education is helping people understand exactly what transaction fees are, and how travelers can best prepare themselves.
Transaction fees are a certain percentage of the amount of a purchase using one’s debit or credit card in a foreign country or at an ATM that isn’t associated with one’s bank. Some cards don’t charge transaction fees, but most do.
In this vein, Sisa-At said that he recommends that travelers talk to their bank before leaving the country. Bankers can help when it comes to mitigating the number of times a person faces fees, by giving them a few tips or creating a rough plan for how a person will pay for various things, such as food, entertainment, and souvenirs. For instance, KeyBank has a financial wellbeing program, which means bankers and clients are “holistically looking at how you can better manage your fees,” Sisa-At said.
“To internationalize, we want to learn more about our customer. If our customer is traveling overseas, we want to tell them, ‘Okay, this is what it’s going to look like, if you travel,’” Sisa-At said. “Or we look at other options, like, ‘What’s the benefit of using cash? What’s the benefit of using a traveler’s check?’”
Sisa-At said he personally recommends using a credit card, rather than a debit card. Using a credit card is much safer than using a debit card, he said, because if someone gets ahold of his debit card, they have direct access to his money.
“The money that’s coming out is from … your checking account, which is tied to your savings account,” Sisa-At said. “The reason I use a credit card when I travel is because it’s connected to my credit — and my credit is important — but my savings or my checking is not getting involved. … And let’s say there’s fraud on my credit card. I can put a claim into it, and close my credit card out. I can file a dispute on an unauthorized transaction.”
Sisa-At said travelers can also use a blend of cash and a credit card, but cautioned that cash can easily be lost or stolen, too.
For her part, Rials said she would likely just use cash the next time she travels.
Carolyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.