Cash for Traveling Kids
I read the advice you gave the reader about how to provide spending money to his daughter when she goes to school abroad next year. You said a debit card is a good all-around choice.
Our 16-year-old daughter is traveling to Washington, D.C., for a school trip. She needs money for lunch and extras, but she doesn't have a bank account with a debit card and we don't want her to carry around lots of cash. What would you recommend?
For a short trip, I recommend a prepaid travel card that you can load with cash, such as the American Express Travelers Cheque card ($14.95) or Visa's TravelMoney card ($4.95 for AAA members and $9.95 for everyone else).
Your daughter can use either card to make purchases or get cash. Both offer guaranteed replacement if the card is lost or stolen. Be aware of fees; each company will charge you to reload or reissue a card.
I plan for my son to use one of these cards when he goes on a school trip to the Dominican Republic in June. I'll let you know how it goes.
ATM card vs. debit card
Your column on getting cash abroad dealt with an interesting topic. As a U.S. expatriate who has lived in Hong Kong, I believe an ATM card is the best approach. However, I would distinguish between a Visa- or MasterCard-branded "debit" card and a more traditional ATM card. We incurred a fee on withdrawals using our Visa debit card. But there was no such charge for an ATM card issued separately by a Hong Kong bank that used the Plus network.
My daughter, who attends school in Canada, has had a similar experience. Her ATM card from a Canadian bank can be used at many stores and businesses, and to get cash from ATMs. As in the U.S., however, she is charged a fee if she makes a withdrawal from an ATM that's not operated by her bank.
Opening an account at a local bank makes sense if you or your child will be in one country for an extended time. For shorter stays, a debit card issued by a U.S. bank remains a practical choice.
Avoid fees with a card issued by a bank that gives customers free withdrawals from banks within its network. For example, Bank of America permits free withdrawals at more than 23,000 ATMs operated by members of the Global ATM Alliance.