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How to Prepare

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Money Matters

Adjusting to a new culture, currencies, and to the prices in a new country can produce some anxiety. This "financial shock" is worst during the first few days and weeks. Careful pre-departure planning regarding your finances is very important. How carefully you plan will affect almost every other aspect of your experience.

Budgeting & Accessing Money

Take Precautions

Currency Conversion

Financial Shock

Budgeting & Accessing Money

Arranging to have sufficient funds for a stay abroad involves careful budgeting. Be sure to find out the estimated expenses for your program. An estimate should be available from your program. Remember that how much you spend abroad ultimately depends on the choices you make about travel, food, entertainment, impulse shopping, etc. The student who chooses to wear rags while living in a hovel and stays in his/her room for the whole semester will spend much less than the student who jets all around and stays in five star hotels. Avoid both extremes, If you find that you have to cut down on spending, do it sensibly. Don't economize on heating, food and rent. Your health and environment are very important factors for a successful experience abroad. You cannot study, work or learn if you are cold, hungry, ill or are living in an uncomfortable accommodation. Here are a few things to consider when planning your budget:

  • Remember!!! Student discounts are prevalent in many countries (other than the USA). Look for them everywhere, they will help you save a few bucks. The ISIC card (see Travel Issues) provides internationally recognized verification of student status.
  • How much money to take? If you are going on a short program you should take enough money to cover your expenses for the entire period of your stay abroad. If you are going for a semester or year you should take with you at least enough money to get settled (e.g. enough for housing deposits, buying a bicycle if necessary, buying special clothing or household needs, etc.)
  • Foreign Currency in Cash. When you arrive in your host country you will need some cash in the currency of your host country to pay for incidentals (i.e., bus or taxi fares, snacks or a meal). We recommend that you obtain about $50-100 worth of foreign currency before you leave the US. You can obtain foreign currency from a variety of sources. Options include:
    • Your bank. Note that in many cases, you must order foreign currency in advance and it may take a few weeks to arrive. Contact your bank for their procedure.
    • The Auto Club AAA (for members only) allows you to order foreign currency on-line.
    • American Express allows cardmembers to order by phone. Non-members may purchase foreign currency in one of their regional Travel Service Locations. The closest one to UCI is located in the Main Place Mall in Santa Ana and their phone number is (714) 541-3318.
    • An ICE Currency Exchange booth is located at LAX in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Phone: (310) 417-3432 or (310) 646-7934.
    When inquiring about foreign currency, be sure to ask:
    • If the type of currency you need is available, and if not, how long it will take to receive
    • What is the exchange rate AND service charge(s)
  • Traveler's Checks: Generally speaking, traveler's checks have been the safest and most convenient means of carrying money with you, and are accepted nearly everywhere. If lost or stolen, they can be replaced, provided you have kept an accurate record of the serial numbers in a place separate from the checks. Traveler's checks are available through banks, credit unions, AAA, American Express offices, and other locations, so shop around for the lowest commission fee. However, traveler's checks also often subject you to higher exchange fees.
  • ATM Cards: More and more, international travelers are using ATM cards. They often give you the best exchange rate, but be sure to find out how much your bank will charge you as a fee per transaction. The MasterCard ATM Locator provides you with locations of ATMs where your card will be valid.
  • Power of Attorney: All students are strongly encouraged to arrange for a relative or other responsible party to have their Power of Attorney for the time they are abroad. This arrangement cannot be established once the student is abroad, as it requires notarization. The person assigned the power of attorney can then help with financial transactions, as they will be empowered to:
    • Make deposits and withdrawals in your U.S. bank account
    • Write and sign your checks
    • Endorse and cash or deposit checks and drafts made out to you
    • Pay your credit card and other bills
    • Arrange for overseas money transfers
    • Receive and check your account statements
    • Open and close other accounts in your name
    Arrangements must be made with your bank for a specific individual to have your power of attorney, and the accounts to be covered by the power of attorney must be specified. The designated individual will retain the power of attorney until written notification is provided or the accounts covered are closed.

Arranging to have sufficient funds for a summer, quarter, semester, or year abroad, straightening out all the red tape at home, and finding a suitable means of transporting your money across the ocean is only half of the work involved in a successful semester overseas. The other half involves carefully budgeting your money and keeping a journal of your expenses while you are actually living abroad. By making a budget and keeping a journal of your expenditures, you can minimize your overspending and itemize your costs.

No matter what your budget, chances are that the students of your host country manage on less. And they not only survive, they enjoy themselves. You can learn a lot about saving money simply by observing the lifestyle of the locals around you.

Take Precautions

By following basic safety precautions (see Safety Issues), you will maximize the chances of your money remaining safe and sound. However, no matter how careful you are, theft is still a possibility in every country in the world. To help lessen the impact of a loss, we strongly recommend that you take the following advice offered by Joseph Anthony in National Geographic Traveler, March/April 1990:

  • Write down the toll-free (1 800) phone numbers for credit cards and traveler's checks before you take your trip and put them someplace apart from your credit cards and checks.
  • Do the same with the serial numbers on your travelers checks and the account numbers on your credit cards. This will all be extremely helpful if you have to file a claim.
  • Leave copies of all those numbers with a responsible person at home who will accept a collect call from you in case you lose the numbers.
  • Remember that domestic toll-free (1 800) numbers generally are not good outside of the US. International toll-free and collect numbers are usually included with the documents you receive with your credit card or travelers checks. But be honest: Have you ever noticed those numbers? If you don't have them, call the issuer and get them.
  • Get the phone number of the bank that issued your credit card and the central phone number of the bank card group (VISA, MasterCard, Diner's, etc.) There are no rules as to which number is better to call for quick replacement.
  • Find out in advance how to replace your travelers checks. You may have to go to a bank or some other institution to get emergency help, which can leave you stuck on a weekend or if you don't have a car. Key questions to ask the travelers check issuer before you go abroad:
    • How will you help me if I get ripped off on a Friday at 5:30 p.m.?
    • Will you send me the replacement checks right away, or will I have to wait till Monday?
    • Will I have to go someplace else to pick them up?

If your travelers checks get stolen while abroad, find out if you need to file a police report to get your travelers checks replaced. Don't take the word of the long-distance voice on this. Call the local institution that is actually going to reissue your checks. A local bank may require that you show a police report, even if the travelers check issuer says that it's not necessary.

Register your valuables (cameras, watches, Walkmans, etc.) before you leave the United States to insure you won't have to pay customs on these items when you return. It is necessary to have the equipment with you when you register it and to be able to clearly show the serial numbers to the registering official. This can be done at the nearest customs office.

Currency Conversion

Unless you're an International Economics major or have traveled abroad extensively, you may not be aware that the exchange rates between the USA dollar and other currencies are not fixed and depend upon the exchange rate on the day you make the exchange. It's a good idea to keep a watch on the exchange rates in order to determine when it is favorable for you to change some or all of your American dollars in to the currency of your host country. This situation, even at the best of times, is not without an element of risk! It is to your benefit to know whether it is better to take some cash, travelers checks or credit cards. Ask your program for advice. You can also find the most current information about foreign currency exchange rates at:

If you plan to do much traveling, or you are headed to a country with a somewhat volatile or complex monetary system, try to familiarize yourself (before leaving) with whatever currencies you are going to encounter -- and that you take a small electronic (perhaps solar powered) calculator with you in order to help you keep an accurate picture of things.

Financial Shock

Financial Shock is a kind of anxiety that results from being unfamiliar with the currency, exchange rates, prices, and standard of living of a foreign country. It manifests itself in a variety of ways. Undoubtedly, the most common aspect of financial shock is one's utter unfamiliarity with the money. It looks and feels different and has a seemingly nebulous value. Thus, it can feel like you are trading your dollars in on Monopoly money when you go to the bank. At the same time, there is another related aspect of financial shock that can overtake you; namely, the feelings that "the prices here are exorbitant!" and "everything is cheaper back in the (good old) US of A!" And though these feelings may not be totally groundless, until you have become comfortable with a new currency and have developed a strong "feel" for it, you will have to dismiss them as symptoms of financial shock.

Moreover, there is the matter of perceiving standards of living; for even though you may soon feel comfortable dealing with a foreign currency, it will not be until you can put the standard of living from which you came and the standard of living where you are or will be, into its proper perspective, that you will be able to understand the true value of the "foreign" currency with which you are dealing.

For instance, in a country where the standard of living is considerably lower than it is in the US, equivalent amounts of money (dollars to pounds, francs, cedis or pesos) at the bank are not necessarily equivalent in terms of their "real" value. In fact, because a foreign national may earn only half as much (on the average) as an American does, the equivalent value of the currency is worth far more to him in "real" terms than it is to you. Therefore, no matter how you find prices to be abroad, they may be easier for you to afford than for the local populace. This has developed the "Ugly American" image, the traveler who has too much money and throws it around. Finally, there is a last symptom of financial shock that you need to be cautioned against. It doesn't happen to everyone; nor can it be predicted. And though its causes are many: "funny money," exchange rates, floating dollar values, etc. In any case, the end result is fairly basic. It is known as "abandoning reason to the wind and spending money like crazy," and those individuals who succumb to this temptation are going to encounter the most awful financial shock of all -- going broke in a foreign country!


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