The question is how to access your money once you are in the US. Usually, you don’t have the option of an exchange office to change Euros to US Dollar which means you have to get your money in a different way. In this article, I want to share my experience with handling money in the US as an Exchange Student.
Option #1 – exchange office
You have the option to exchange all the money upfront which means your parents or you have to have the funds available before you are traveling to the US. And you have to pay a fee at the exchange office which might be a lot considering you exchange about 2400 € (That depends on how much money you need which I already posted an article about.) at once.
Option #2 – credit card / prepaid card
You have a credit card or a prepaid credit card which does the conversion for you. But you might not be able to get a credit card as an exchange student or at your age which leaves you with the prepaid credit card which you can apply for at your local bank. Keep in mind some banks will charge you for the credit card / prepaid credit card and charge you additionally for every transaction you make in a foreign country.
Option #3 – EC card / debit card
You can use an ATM in the US to get some cash from your EC card/debit card from your regular German bank account. By the time you leave for America, you should already have a bank account.
Option #4 – a mix
When I was in the US I was not able to get a “real” credit card myself so my parents and I decided that I should apply for a prepaid credit card and use the credit card for all the shopping or other expenses I had and was able to pay with a credit card, e.g. my prepaid credit card for my phone or the usual shopping at target. (In 2010 / 2011 America was way ahead of Germany in terms of how you were able to pay for stuff). And where I needed cash I withdrew cash with my EC card/debit card from a regular ATM. The amount of the fee they charge you for withdrawing cash changes from bank to bank.
Tip: Some shops and ATMs ask if they should charge your card in Euros or in Dollar. Select the US Dollar option. Than you don’t run into the double conversion the banks do. There is a pretty good article about that which I can only recommend to you.
How I handle money when I travel now?
I use an N26 bank account, an American Express, and a Miles & More MasterCard. The American Express card and the Miles & More MasterCard earn me points, which might not be that interesting for you for the time being. But why do I use 3, well let me explain:
I use this as my main bank account because it offers some pretty good benefits even the standard account you get a MasterCard and an EC card/debit card for free if you use this bank account as the main bank account or you are a student. (Which you probably are because you read this post and read up on some tips for your exchange year.) This gives you the option to withdraw money from any bank account in Germany (5 times a month) and unlimited withdraws in the Eurozone. It’s good and eases your mind to have a normal EC card/debit card with you in case you need some cash from an ATM even though you have to pay a small fee or your other credit cards don’t work for some reason.
I use an American Express card because I earn points with every transaction I do. Those points I can use for a free flight or a free stay at a hotel. Basically, I pay everything with this card even though I pay a small fee (foreign assignment fee) each time I use this card. But in the end, I earn points which I can use again for a different vacation. There are different American Express cards you can choose from. The American Express Blue card has no signup fee and has no annual fee which is great.
Miles & More MasterCard
Sometimes they might not accept my American Express card so I have a backup in case that happens. In that case, I use the Miles & More MasterCard which also earns me points. Since I frequently travel for my job I can earn “miles” from flights with Eurowings and Lufthansa or for renting a car, etc. Like the American Express card, this card also earns me points for every transaction I do with it.
All those cards have Apple Pay enabled.
What do I recommend for you?
Well, that depends on what you need and what card you can get. Maybe you can even use a partner card from your parents if they allow it. But if you don’t have the option with the partner card, I would recommend option #4 because you will need some cash for school trips, for trips with your local coordinator, or for lunch at school. And for all the other things you can use the prepaid credit card. That’s what I did and I believe its the best way for an exchange student handling money in the US.