I asked recovering banker and financial adviser Scott Kerr to share some money advice for adventurers - from how to access your money when abroad, to what to do about your financial affairs at home while you travel. His advice is primarily aimed at UK nationals and residents (keep paying voluntary National Insurance contributions!) But it broadly applicable to any international traveller.
The most seductive aspect of planning an adventure can be the lack of planning, the freedom of spontaneously packing a bag and leave the practical stuff behind. This paradox causes me a problem in writing this blog; the last thing I want to do is pour cold water on anyone’s plans with my boring, practical money talk.
I’m Scott Kerr, my business is Tarn Wealth Management, a business dedicated to helping you with your money. After 15 years working all over the world for the nasty banks I felt the need to use my expertise to start a truly helpful company. I must admit to being an imposter on this website. I may have lived and worked all over the world but I’ve done it all wearing a suit – not a backpack or crampon in sight.
So, to my first advice regarding financial planning for your adventure:
IF PLANNING FINANCES PUTS YOU OFF GOING THEN DON’T BOTHER PLANNING... JUST PACK UP AND Go
Life is simply too short not to go. The returns you get from travel are far more valuable than any unpaid parking ticket so just do it.
However, if you’re the sort of person that will have a much more enjoyable adventure knowing your affairs are all in order then feel free to read on as I’ve compiled some useful titbits for prospective travellers. I’ve barely scratched the surface but hopefully this will get you thinking in the right direction and you can always give me a shout if you need any more free, confidential help.
(Well I say it’s free, but I will want to know all about your planned travels as I’m properly nosey).
Getting at your money when you’re away
Let your bank know where and when you will be traveling.
Many banks will freeze your accounts if fraudulent activity is suspected, such as unexpected foreign purchases. It’s important that the bank or credit card issuer is aware of your travel plans. Know what your daily and per transaction limits are, and be aware that foreign ATMs may impose limits of their own.
Make sure your PIN number will work where you’re going.
Four-digit PINs work in most countries. If your PIN contains zeroes, however, that may be a problem in some non-network ATMs. (Or so banks say, but this may now be out of date advice.) Some foreign ATMs require 6 digits. Try entering 00 as the last two. Also be aware that foreign ATMs may have a different keypad layout - don’t inadvertently key in the wrong number.
Open the best account for fee free cash withdrawals when travelling.
Depending on where you’re resident you will need to check the best bank for using your debit card abroad. This link gives a good overview of free UK accounts that offer competitive rates for withdrawing cash when away from the UK. There are also fee-paying accounts such as Nationwide’s FlexPlus account which costs £10 per month but allows fee free cash withdrawals anywhere in the world. This article compares the best debit and credit cards to use overseas.
If asked to choose, pay in the foreign currency rather than your home currency.
The best exchange rate will be the one offered by your own bank, not by the merchant or foreign ATM.
Carry both a debit and a credit card and know when to use which one.
Credit cards will be more expensive for drawing out cash - fees tend to be higher, and it will be treated like a loan so you are charged interest.
Despite the fees, for point-of-sale purchases, a credit card is generally better. You have better protection against fraud and certain purchases may have insurance benefits on a credit card (like cancellation insurance for flights or theft or loss insurance for goods, collision insurance for rental cars). Know what your credit card offers.
Always use a credit card for hotel and rental car bookings. Hotels and rental car companies may place a hold on your card; they sometimes block hundreds of dollars for weeks. If placed on a debit card these funds could be tied up and inaccessible so use the credit card.
Have more than one source of money.
ATM withdrawals generally give you a better exchange rate than other ways obtaining foreign currency. But not all destinations have ATMs or accept debit/credit cards. If you are carrying cash, be aware that certain currencies and certain denominations will be easy to change and will get better rates. Research this beforehand.
Keep separate copies of all essential information.
Write down all of the phone numbers you will need to contact your banks from international locations in case of stolen or lost cards. Keep these separate from your cards and give a copy to a friend (along with copies of your travel and identity documents). There’s no point writing all of the numbers you need and keeping them with the cards in a wallet. When you lose the wallet you’ll lose the numbers. Sounds patronisingly obvious for me to mention this but you’d be surprised how often it happens.
Once you get home, keep a careful eye on your bank statements for some time, in case of fraud.
I’m a fan of another financial adviser called Nora Dunn. Eleven years ago Nora sold her financial planning practice in Toronto and sold all of her possessions in order to go on a lifelong travel adventure around the world. Here’s the link to her website in which she records thousands (literally) of financial considerations for those looking to travel as a sustainable lifestyle.
The site is a great combination of travel and money tips. The volume of information can make it tricky to locate specific topics for reference but it’s still well worth a browse.
Earning while you’re on the road
This is a huge subject all of its own, so I’ll merely brush the surface here. If you can generate an income or do some work to pay for food and accommodation while you travel this will really lighten the financial burden of your adventure. What you do will depend on your skillset and the economy you’re travelling in, but the opportunities are as wide as your imagination (ummm…on re-reading this could sound like I’m advocating you do something outside the law. Please don’t, from what I’ve read prisons in Thailand are less sumptuous than the UK).
My brother sang in bars around the Alps and rather than paying him cash they just provided his accommodation, ski passes, ski hire and bar bill (they probably wished they’d just paid him a salary when the bar bill came in). This, option is sadly closed off to me and my lack of talent, but I’ve listed a few examples of travellers making ends meet on the road.
Lauren Juliff – https://www.neverendingfootsteps.com
Travelled for 6 years (to date) making money by freelance writing for travel websites, book royalties from sales of ‘How Not to Travel the World’. Advertising on her website and affiliate sales recommending other products on her travel website.
Barbara Riedel - https://barbaralicious.com/en
Earns a living whilst travelling working as an Interpreter, Translator, and also a Zumba Instructor.
Louise Cottrell - http://travelpinners.com
Earns money Pinterest Marketing whilst travelling.
There are also additional sources of income available for those lucky enough to own assets such as a home. Letting your house can bring in a steady income and takes care of the mortgage and bills while you’re away.
These are just a few of many examples. From seasonal work and labouring, to teaching online. There really are limitless options when looking to earn on the move. I myself will, one day, be running a barmy farm of rescue pets in the Alps whilst giving online financial advice....I’ve already acquired the rescue pets, now I just need the ranch in the mountains.
Nitty Gritty details
Purchase travel insurance.
You need to be protected in case something happens while you are away. I’ve resisted naming specific policies and will instead leave you to do your own searches as there are loads of policies out there and which one is best for you will depend on so many factors, not least where you live now. There are many things to consider, but definitely start with a minimum of £2 million of coverage for medical expenses, and work from there.
Consider whether you will need rescue insurance if you are going to wild and remote locations.
Also think about Kidnap and Randsom (K&R) Insurance if you are heading to a high-risk area of the world. The British Home Office website is useful to check recommendations for your destination. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
Check your coverage for medical emergencies.
Be aware of the specific risks of medical emergencies in the USA and check that your coverage includes them. Check whether your travel medical insurance excludes the kind of adventurous activities you may want to do.
Home, car, life insurance etc.
Any ongoing insurance policies may have terms and conditions in them regarding you going away for an extended trip. The best thing to do is to call them all and tell them your plans and ask for their advice. Failure to notify your home insurance that you’re not occupying the home for over 30 days, for example, could invalidate the cover ad leave the house uninsured – so it’s worth a phone call!
Entrust a friend at home with your finances.
While you are enjoying your time away, financial emergencies can still happen at home. Choose a person you can trust to keep an eye on your affairs. Also leave them your list of important numbers so if you lose them on your trip you will still have them easily accessible.
Set up online accounts.
This gives you added convenience, access and security while traveling overseas. Setting up automatic payments can also help you pay bills on time and meet your financial duties while thousands of miles from home.
UK council tax discount.
If you leave your home unoccupied but furnished you can receive 10% discount from your council tax indefinitely. Seems a small consideration but if you plan to go away for a long time and don’t want to rent it out it could add up.
UK National Insurance.
Sorry, I’m really delving into the nitty gritty here but if you’re a UK resident and plan to travel for a sustained period you can do so without it reducing your entitlement to the state pension.
To get the full basic State Pension you need a total of 30 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions or credits. The full new State Pension is £159.55 per week. If you have fewer than 30 qualifying years, your basic State Pension will be less than £122.30 per week but you might be able to top up by paying voluntary National Insurance contributions. Here’s a link telling you how to do this while you travel.
I know that last point seems pedantic but if you travel without making the voluntary contributions it could knock your old age pension down by £1924 per year. Given average life expectancies that’s £38,480 less if you don’t make the contributions.
I tell you this stuff because I care about you! ...it’s no wonder I couldn’t carry on being a banker any longer.
Write a will.
No one wants to think about it, but things can go badly wrong on adventures. Don’t make it worse for your family in an already very difficult moment. If you die interstate (without a will) and you are not married / in a civil partnership, your assets will not go to your partner. Even if you expect everything to go to your parents, it will make matters much easier if you say so in a legal will.
Having read that lot you’ll either feel ready to escape up a mountain or you’ll feel like jumping off one! I hope you found it helpful. If you have any money questions please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help for free. (Yes, I really mean that.)