Preparations: Planning Ahead to Avoid Phone and Banking Fees

It is starting to feel like every American company has it in for travellers.  Cell phones — already expensive when you use within our borders — become money time bombs if you even turn them on in another country. Banking is the same way. Your super-friendly neighborhood bank that charges you no fee for checking is happy to slap a 3% transaction fee onto every charge you make abroad. Plus a $5 flat fee. Plus a less-than-ideal conversion rate. Plus out-of-network ATM fees. I guess they reason people who can afford travel will be so busy seeing the sites that they won’t analyze their bills.

I’m hoping to make it the whole year with no surprise fees.  First step: phones.

1) Port phone # to Google Voice. Then friends and family can call my American number and reach me anywhere in the world.

2) Get a quad-band GSM phone. I landed on the Motorola Blur because it had a nice keyboard and was $500 less than an unlocked iPhone.

3) Order SIM cards. I got a pay-as-you-go T-Mobile plan that is good until I leave (and then it just expires!). I set up my Google Voice to forward to that number. Now I need to order SIM cards online for the countries where I want to use my phone. From what I’ve read, you CAN buy SIM cards in-country, but the the wait times are very long and it can take 5 days to get your card.  Whereas, if you already have the SIM card, just buying minutes you can do on any street corner.

4) Google Voice does not forward to international numbers (frown), so must forward GV to Skype and then forward that.

Second step: Banks

1) Open a Capitol One Money Market account. Not only does this have NO FEES — as in, their fee disclosure really says no fees (They even eat the 1% fee charged by Visa for international transactions AND refund you up to $25 a month for third-party ATM fees. )  — but they pay almost 1% interest. Which is on-par with ING, except that ING charges 3% for international transactions.  (Wells Fargo was the worst with 3% plus a $5 fee.)

2) Keep current accounts linked to Capitol One for paying bills at home. As long as they have no monthly fees.

With those two in place, we have hopefully subverted many surprise fees just waiting to pounce when we depart.

– Rachel

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