Before You Leave - Savings, Pensions, SSA Benefits, IRAs

One of the first things you do when planning your trip is to tell your bank that you'll be traveling and the dates/countries where you'll be. The last thing you want is to have to sing for your supper because your bank froze your credit when they saw foreign activity on your ATM card. Make sure to get your bank's international number loaded into your phone so you have a  toll-free number you can call when overseas, to report any problem/loss immediately.


Make sure that you have online access to your savings in your bank.  Make certain to arrange to transfer online money from your savings account to the account to which your ATM card is tied.  Always keep a limited amount of money in the ATM account so that if your ATM card is lost/stolen, your potential liability is limited to the amount that is in that account.  Identify beforehand, a commercial money transfer company that operates in/near the city where you will be located so relatives or friends can send you money if needed.

Pensions, SSA benefits and IRAs
If you get monthly benefits from a Pension plan, an IRA or the SSA, you need to make arrangements for direct deposit of these into your bank account.  You will need to get to these funds as you travel and ATM access is the easiest way to do this.  Make sure your banks ATM uses an international protocol used by the countries you will visit.  Also make arrangement with your bank for an increased daily withdrawal limit.

If during your travels, you find the ideal location to invest in that dream property you’ve always wanted, you may need to invest in foreign real estate.  One of the creative ways to do this is through a Self-Directed IRA which is not significantly different from any other IRA, except that with a self-directed IRA you have more investment options and you determine the investing direction.  Many IRA custodians only allow investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and CDs. A self-directed IRA custodian can allow those types of investments in addition to real estate, notes, private placements, tax lien certificates and much more. Talk to a financial advisor about opening one of these and transfer the minimum amount from one of your current IRAs into it.  Make arrangements to transfer more later if necessary.


If you are flying with a large amount of cash, or other monetary instruments like travelers checks, money orders, and bearer bonds, you should take common sense steps to protect yourself from unwanted attention, but you should also be aware of what legal issues you may have to address. What you need to do depends on the specific country you are in, or whether you are traveling internationally.

If you are on a domestic flight in the US, there is no limit to the amount of cash or monetary instruments that you can carry. However, the TSA may ask you to account for any large sum of cash. If the TSA suspects that the money is related to some kind of criminal activity such as drug trafficking or money laundering, they may turn the issue over to a law enforcement agency (TSA has no law enforcement powers).

On international flights departing or arriving the US, there are no limits as to the amount of money a passenger can carry. However, if you are carrying cash, endorsed personal checks, travelers checks, gold coins, securities or other financial instruments that are valued at $10,000 or more, you must report the amount that you are carrying to US customs officials. Failure to do so can result in fines or confiscation of the money. This reporting requirement applies to individual travelers, or travelers who are in a family group.  Passengers are also required to report their non-US cash or currency if the equivalent value in US dollars is over $10,000.

When leaving the US with large amounts of cash, gold, or other valuables, you should review the customs requirements of your destination country before you fly. Rules and restrictions on traveling with money will vary by country around the world. Be sure to check those laws and regulations before you fly, and if necessary make alternative plans before you fly. Travelers visiting the U.S. from a foreign country must be able to prove to a Customs and Border Patrol Officer that they have sufficient funds (i.e. credit cards, cash, travelers checks, money orders etc.) to cover their travel, lodging, entertainment, meals, etc. in order to be admitted into the U.S.

When you carry cash with you while traveling, you should take some very basic steps to keep from becoming a victim of theft, or from losing your money by accident.

  • Try not to travel with large amounts of cash.
  • Keep your cash in your carry on bag or on your person.
  • Never put your cash, financial instruments, or precious metals in a checked bag.
  • Keep cash and other valuables out of public view.
  • When passing through a security checkpoint, keep your baggage and belongings in sight.
  • Insist on keeping your carry-on bag in sight if it must be searched.
  • Always tell the truth when questioned about the amount of money in your baggage by a TSA agent or other responsible authority.
  • Use a money belt for keeping some emergency cash out of sight.

Credit Cards

You might want to contact your credit card company to ask for a temporary credit limit increase since you may be spending more than you normally do, this is especially true if you will be traveling for an extended period of time.   Make sure you have the telephone numbers/email IDs to contact in order to replace a lost/stolen credit card.  Express delivery may take 3-4 business days or more in a foreign country.  So make arrangements to carry a backup credit card with you.

Traveler's checks.

Avoid these if you can.  For the last twenty to thirty years, most foreign banks and merchants have not been interested in dealing with them.  Before the advent of the ATM cards/machines they were the preferred way to get cash abroad. Today, you'll pay a 5 to 6 percent exchange rate on traveler checks if you can exchange them while on credit cards you pay 3 percent.



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