One of the best things about shopping in some countries for citizens of other countries is that purchases can be tax free. We stress, can be, because it is not automatic—it takes a little effort on your part. For example, in Ireland, almost all consumer products are subject to Value Added Tax-VAT, for short. VAT is a “hidden tax” already added into the purchase price of any souvenirs bought on a visit (there are two notable exceptions in Ireland: no VAT on books and no VAT on children’s clothing and footwear). You can avoid VAT altogether by mailing gifts home, making purchases at Duty Free Airport shops, or by buying goods at churches, abbeys, and other non-profit organizations that operate as charitable trusts.
The prime rule is that you have to get a VAT-refund form at the time of purchase from each store in which you shop.
This is going to vary from country to country. If you are traveling in Europe, you will find it easier than in the past, since many countries are now on the Euro. In others, (including England), you will need to be prepared to use whatever currency is their legal tender. If you plan to use cash, you should bring enough of the local currency to last you through the first couple of days. We suggest you change money for the local currency (Euros, Mexican Pesos, Israeli Shekels, etc.) before departure; at your local bank or currency exchange booth at the airport. Note that banks will offer you a better exchange rate than what you will get at the airport.
We advise against bringing Traveler’s checks. Although once popular, they are now very difficult to use and not accepted in many places. ATM and debit cards are much easier to use and more widely accepted.
Credit cards are a safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATM’s.
You might also want to consider getting a pre-paid debit card that will give you a certain amount to spend. It has the advantage of not running the risk that someone will gain access to your normal checking account and also helps you to set spending limits.
Keep in mind that if you are using a credit card you’ll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% “transaction fee” on all charges you incur abroad (whether you’re using the local currency or your native currency). Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards. American Express and Diners Card are accepted at most major hotels, but are less commonly accepted elsewhere.
You should definitely notify your credit card companies of your travel plans. They may not authorize charges in a foreign country if they are unaware you are traveling and this can be an unexpected problem for you. The unfamiliar spending patterns might cause them to suspect that the card is being used fraudulently and delay your approvals. Credit card companies will be able to explain many of the services that they can provide while you are on your trip. Your credit card company will also be able to give you an idea of how acceptable their credit card is in that particular country and they can verify acceptance at certain foreign locations.
They’ll be able to see if your PIN number will work in the countries you are visiting. They can also issue you another PIN number if your current PIN is unacceptable to the foreign bank’s system. A few ATM machines in other countries have only letters, not numbers, so be sure that you know the letter equivalent of your pin number.
You can find out if they charge a currency conversion fee, so you can find the most economical card on which to place your foreign purchases.
ATM cards usually have daily withdrawal limits: find out your daily limits and plan ahead. You may need to take out money little by little or ask to have your daily limit increased. Use your ATM card before you go, to make sure it is still good.
ATM’s can be hard to find in some countries or small towns. Make sure you do not wait until you’re out of money to find an ATM, the machines can run out of money or break down.