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We’re off to the States, East to West, and I have lots of credit cards etc. but have a problem. We used to have a Citibank account based in the UK but accessible in the States so that we could draw dollars out of ATMs. They are about to close it because we are not rich enough to warrant their business.

I am about to transfer about $3000 from that account to a UK Barclays US$ account as a temporary measure. That means I can withdraw dollars in the UK but what I really want to do is to pay it into some account that I can draw on when we are in the States. I can’t open a US bank account (not a resident, no social security number etc). Any ideas? Large bum bag?

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    You can actually open an account once you get here. See travel.stackexchange.com/questions/93334/… – user 56513 Jun 4 '17 at 19:05
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    Why not have Barclays issue a debit card on the account and use it in the US at ATMs? – Giorgio Jun 4 '17 at 19:19
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    Reminder that taking $3000 through customs in cash may cause you serious problems. – pjc50 Jun 4 '17 at 20:15
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    Just 3000? That's not that much money. You are required to report when it is 10000. – Vladimir F Jun 4 '17 at 20:25
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    @Phoog look up Civil Fortfeiture... it's a sad thing to see in what should be a lawful country – WernerCD Jun 5 '17 at 5:44
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While you can go through the hassle of opening a US bank account, is there a reason you aren't just using your credit cards and a normal GBP bank account in the US? You'll want to check with your bank on what fees they charge, but most UK ATM cards and credit cards will simply work in the US. (Avoid using credit cards for ATM withdrawls, due to the high fees and interest.)

Assuming your bank participates in the normal ATM networks, you can just use an ATM with your debit card and the currency will be converted automatically. For a Barclays account, you can use Bank of America ATMs for free, and there are ~16,000 of those around the country. There's no requirement for a dollar-denominated account.

Most hotels, restaurants, and shops will take your UK credit cards, sometimes with a bit of temporary confusion over swipe vs. chip and signature vs. pin.

I would recommend against traveling with $3,000 in cash. It's not prohibited, but it could easily be lost or stolen, which would put a damper on your vacation. It could also appear suspicious to customs or law enforcement.

  • With the charges my UK card had on fereign currency transactions it could be pretty costly. If he managed to have a card for his UK account in $ that could save a lot. – Vladimir F Jun 4 '17 at 20:24
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    @VladimirF The charges for using my GBP-denominated British cards in the US aren't all that expensive, especially if you withdraw cash a hundred dollars or so at a time and use that for smaller transactions. Sure, it's a little more expensive than using a dollar-denominated card but much less expensive than carrying thousands of dollars of cash and getting it stolen. – David Richerby Jun 4 '17 at 21:26
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    @VladimirF There are plenty of UK credit cards that offer free foreign transactions at the market rate. Pay them off by direct debit (or use internet banking to pay them off the same day for cash withdrawals) and you pay no interest. Mine even gives me Avios on the card spend. Others offer zero cost ATM withdrawals. Take a look at moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money#specialist. Maintaining a USD-denominated account is not the right way to solve this problem. – Calchas Jun 4 '17 at 22:49
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    Lost, stolen or civil asset forfeitured... which doesn't count as "stolen" for some reason. Either way, not carrying more cash than absolutely necessary is a prudent precaution these days. – HopelessN00b Jun 5 '17 at 2:13
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    Santander's All-In-One credit card currently offers 0% fee on foreign transactions. I assume other UK banks have similar deals. – SGR Jun 5 '17 at 10:43
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To add to the answer by Zach - if you have time before going, you could consider applying for a Halifax Clarity card which has no foreign currency or atm fees. You may not want to use it to withdraw cash too much, as interest is charged from the day of withdrawal and withdrawing cash using a credit card may harm your credit rating, but even only using it for purchases could reduce the cash you need to carry and so ease your concerns.

(Apologies if this should be a comment - I don't have enough rep to make one.)

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    If you have access to internet banking, you can pay off the credit card from your bank account (by a transfer) immediately after the cash withdrawal, instead of waiting until the end of the next billing period. This way you'll essentially have zero days of interest accrual. – Calchas Jun 4 '17 at 22:59
  • @Calchas Or, better yet, just use a debit card for withdrawing from ATMs. – reirab Jun 5 '17 at 3:43
  • @Calchas Not sure how it works with the "cash withdrawal in US from a UK credit card" scenario, but here in India, credit cards also charge a flat "convenience fee" (or "service fee" or some other such name) for every cash withdrawal, in addition to the interest. I would be surprised if credit cards elsewhere are more generous in that regard. – user33319 Jun 5 '17 at 4:22
  • @MaskedMan None of my cards have this. Cards targeting the low end of the market may do. However when we are looking at cards that are optimized for forex withdrawals, this is a different market segment. – Calchas Jun 5 '17 at 4:50
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    @reirab The problem is that most debit cards offer a terrible exchange rate (i.e., they "load" the rate up to 3 percentage points away from the interbank buy rate, and pocket the difference). This tends to make them a very bad deal, sometimes worse than buying cash from a bureau de change. I know that a few bank accounts such as HSBC Premier and Advance no longer load their rates, but at the sort of budget end of the bank account market you do have to check that. – Calchas Jun 5 '17 at 4:53
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There are jurisdictions in the States which allow law enforcement to confiscate assets, including cash, if they believe they may be the proceeds of illegal activity. There is no need for law enforcement to give a reason at the time of confiscation, and the procedure for getting the assets back is long and difficult. The fact that such seized cash often goes into the police budget doesn't help. Carrying large amounts of cash has been used as justification for seizing that cash.

Such events are rare, but are just one more reason not to carry large amounts of cash.

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    These events aren't even all that rare, unfortunately. Especially if you are traveling to California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas, you will be stopped ever 100 miles or so on average; Border Patrol set up permanent checkpoints all along the freeways, and if you have any accent or look non-caucasion, be prepared to show all your immigration papers and a request to search your car (and confiscate your money). Hint: if you simply say no, they are supposed to leave you alone, and often, they will. One good thing about the current administration is that these checkpoints are now often closed. – Kevin Keane Jun 5 '17 at 6:01
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    I'm downvoting because this Answer isn't even remotely related to the question. – Johns-305 Jun 5 '17 at 10:53
  • @KevinKeane That isn't true about Texas (source: I live there), unless you're very close to the Mexican border. I've also driven through parts Arizona and New Mexico and never had to stop at a checkpoint at all in either state. – Michael McGriff Jun 5 '17 at 21:15
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    @KevinKeane That's a massive exaggeration. There are some Border Patrol checkpoints, and it's important to know about them and how they work and what they can and cannot do, but you certainly won't be stopped by the Border Patrol every 100 miles driving through California. You will, at most, encounter perhaps one, if it happens to be staffed and open, if you drive north or east of San Diego. – Zach Lipton Jun 6 '17 at 7:37
  • @MichaelMcGriff Most of Southern California is close enough to the Mexican border - basically everything south of I-10. I live here. There are two checkpoints along the 180-mile I-8. The total number in all four states is not published, but supposed to be around 150-200 checkpoints. There are also checkpoints on highway 111, highway 86, highway 78, S-2, highway 94, old highway 80, I-5, I-15. All but the ones on I-5 and I-15 have been staffed 24/7. I did notice a dramatic decrease in staffing two months ago. Whether that is temporary or permanent is too early to tell. – Kevin Keane Jun 6 '17 at 11:43
5

Consider travelers checks as an alternative to using your bank card to withdraw cash, or relying on card payments everywhere. Many banks will convert travelers checks for you, with ID and a signature. Carry your $3000 in travelers checks and visit bank branches to convert $500 at a time (or however much cash you feel comfortable carrying). The process is described here. From personal experience I also know that you can deposit travelers checks directly into a bank account, if you choose to open one in the US, for no charge.

I would not advise traveling in the US with no cash at all. There are plenty of cash-only businesses in the US. For example food carts or even large cafés in cities (here's a popular New Orleans one for example). More commonly, they may have minimum amounts for card transactions. ($5 or $10). Parking meters in many places may require cash. If you go camping in certain places, the camp store may only take cash (this has happened to me once). You also don't want to be caught without cash at toll booths that don't take cards.

RE: Comments about travelers checks incurring forex and transaction fees:

  1. In my experience, you can buy travelers checks denominated in USD from your home country and pay the prevailing rate of exchange. My bank in my home country (ICICI Bank) didn't charge me anything for the checks themselves (admittedly they might have made up the costs with the forex rate spread).
  2. At no point did I recommend paying for stuff at businesses with travelers checks. Cash them or deposit them into a bank account that you open in the US. In my experience there was no charge for this at Wells Fargo Bank.
  3. I haven't done any price comparisons between the charges on withdrawing cash with a travel card vs travelers checks. Obviously if you find that banks charge higher fees to cash travelers checks than ATMS charge on foreign debit cards, don't use travelers checks.
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    I'm not sure if this is why you were downvoted, but could you elaborate on your observation that there are plenty of cash-only businesses in the US? Personally, I know of only three - in my experience enough places will take credit/debit cards that I normally carry no cash at all. My point being, it might be helpful to say more about where one might encounter a lot of cash-only businesses, what kinds of businesses they are, etc. – David Z Jun 5 '17 at 3:45
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    I'm not your downvoter, but I personally find traveler's checks to be obsolete and irritating nowadays. Nobody wants to spend part of their vacation searching for a specific bank that accepts them and waiting in line for a teller. They carry fees, both transaction fees and on the exchange rate, that are likely similar to the foreign transaction fees on a credit card that charges such fees, and there are no-fee cards available in many markets. They're an option that's worth considering, and I'm glad you brought them up here, but it's hard to see why they're better than debit and credit cards. – Zach Lipton Jun 5 '17 at 5:21
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    Travelers checks used to be a good idea 20 years ago. Today, very few businesses accept them any more, and if they do, they may charge outrageous fees. In the reverse direction, traveling to Europe, a few years ago, the fee for cashing a traveler's check ended up being about a quarter of the total amount. I realize that this may or may not be the same when traveling to the USA, but generally, travelers checks aren't what they used to be. – Kevin Keane Jun 5 '17 at 5:55
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    You pay to buy your traveler cheques, you pay again to get your money and if you have any left over you have to pay again to get your money back. (Not your downvoter but I do agree with the downvote for that part of your answer.) – Willeke Jun 5 '17 at 8:18
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    @DavidZ I live in the U.S., and encounter plenty of cash-only businesses, expecially the very small and temporary, which are precisely the sort I'd want to patronize if I were visiting. Also, sometimes the best reasonably-prices restaurants in an area accept only cash, because they can: with a line out the door at all times, they don't need to pay a bank 3%. This is not the case everywhere (you don't need cash in Manhattan), but there will be times you'll be glad to have some cash. Also, credit cards are often read by a separate machine, which isn't always so reliable. – Jeffiekins Jun 5 '17 at 16:40
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The USA is very credit card friendly. Cash is not required for most stores, restaurants, motels, gas, etc. Why not just pre-fund your credit card with that 3000 and use the card.

2

I'm a UK citizen who successfully opened a US bank account when I was there. All I needed was my passport. I use internet banking to control it.

However, there's a new online "bank" called Revolut which looks worth investigating. They claim you can spend in GBP, EUR or USD at the push of a setting in a mobile app ...

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    Revolution looks too good to be true. The only bummer I can find in their FAQ is not practical for cash from ATMs. Anything over two hundred euro a month has a two percent fee. I think I might take a chance on it. – WGroleau Jun 5 '17 at 16:51
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    Stupid autocorrect. Revolut reviews: far too many rip-off complaints. And moreover, even though they tout their ability to handle U.S. dollars, they apparently do not serve people who live in USA. Which makes me wonder why they put their app in the U.S. store. – WGroleau Jun 5 '17 at 21:03
  • @WGroleau Perhaps so that visitors to the US can download the app once they get there? (Just guessing -- I have no connection with Revolut, have never used their services, etc.) – David Richerby Jun 6 '17 at 13:32
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    I'm a happy Revolut user and I've never had a problem with their service. The 2% ATM fee is a pain but still cheaper than using my UK debit card with its bad currency conversion rates and fees on top. – JenniP Jun 6 '17 at 14:36
  • In order to download from the U.S. store, you have to have a U.S. Apple ID. Instead of one store with optional location restrictions on individual apps, they have a separate store for each country. Nuisance. – WGroleau Jun 7 '17 at 12:17
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Uhm, are you sure about the not being able to get money from an ATM in the US? There are cheaper ways, such as the already mentioned travel cards, but I just tell my bank I'm going abroad and that is it. I just have a debit card with a free student account with NatWest, and I doubt there are accounts with fewer features and abilities.

Having said that, I did recently bring a large amount of cash (<10,000 USD) into the US with no problems. If you are in London check the exchange booth in Covent Garden and haggle with them for a good rate. I have extensive experience with changing GBP to USD in London I can assure you that the rates there are very good. Certainly better than the rates a bank would give.

  • Sadly, it is risky to have a lot of cash in your possession at any time anywhere in the U.S. these days (see the many references to this above). Sadly, you're more likely to have it taken from you by police than by a mugger. I remember when people sometimes bought autos with cash, but no more. Even 25 years ago, I bought an expensive piece of jewelry, and when I asked for a cash price, the salesman looked at me as if I'd asked for a moon rock. I actually had to clarify to him that I had paper money with me. (He also gave me a huge discount.) I don't think I'd do that today. – Jeffiekins Jun 5 '17 at 16:45
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    @DavidRicherby As a Londoner I can confirm that Covent Garden is very touristy, but having extensive experience with changing GBP to USD in London I can assure you that the rates there are very good. Certainly better than the rates a bank would give. At least that has been my experience. But as stated previously, unless there is an explicit need for cash, cards work just fine. – ic_fl2 Jun 6 '17 at 12:41
  • @ic_fl2 Thanks for clarifying that. I've edited your comment into your answer and upvoted. Please do check I've not mangled your words. – David Richerby Jun 6 '17 at 13:31

protected by JoErNanO Jun 5 '17 at 14:56

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