Last night, we went out to dinner…and had to bring our passports.
We didn't fly to Italy in a private jet or anything crazy like that. We just went out for Chinese food in Canada, which is a five minute drive from my mother's house. It involves a time zone change (an hour ahead), flashing a passport at a border crossing, and a change in currency. Kind of novel, but kind of a pain.
I used to use my credit card for everything, until a couple years ago. I got my monthly bill and saw lots of random forty cent charges… some kind of fee. I called the company; my credit card had began charging a bogus "foreign transaction fee." I felt like telling these people Canada is our friendly neighbor, not some far flung foreign land. So now, every charge on my card translates to an extra forty cents for a computer to do a calculation. All the more reason to use cash in my Canadian dealings.
You would think in a small area like northern Maine, there would be similar exchange rates but they can vary greatly one bank or credit union to another. We always found the best exchange rate to be in Canada at a particular credit union (though the larger banks are pretty good too). My dad kept a little money in a Canadian bank account just for the purposes of being able to exchange money for the best rate without a fee.
So if you're going to leave the country, it's worth making a few phone calls and asking the exchange rate.
And if you visit a particular country often, it may be worth opening an account at a bank there. (Your statement can be delivered stateside). Bonus: ATMs with no fees at your choice bank.
And if you just don't feel like dealng with it all, use your debt card in a bank machine when you get to your foreign destination. If you don't believe me, check out the New York Times.
Maybe I'll flash my passport again tomorrow for another Canadian visit. And while I'm there, perhaps I'll bring back some Canadian vices, like cheese!