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Travel Junkie: The high cost of living (and banking) abroad

Katherine O'Meara
by Katherine O'Meara, Dimesprnig 30

There are thousands of reasons I love living abroad. I can’t imagine life without Spanish wine, delicious tapas or a house five minutes from the beach. But if there is one thing I’m not quite decided on, it’s using a different currency.

When I’m living my daily life, getting paid in euros and spending euros is no problem. (In fact, I’ve seemed to master the spending part beautifully.) However, the difficulties arise when I am visiting home or purchasing something from a vendor in the United States.

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Since nearly all my money is in euros, I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place when I need to buy something in dollars. Either I need to use my Spanish account and pay a conversion fee, or I have to transfer euros back to my American account, which also comes with a price. It makes every transaction take three times as long, and adds an extra charge to everything.

While this usually results in a lot of grumbling and complaining, it’s manageable. But a large credit card bill from my Christmas shopping recently made this double lifestyle a major headache. It pains me to admit it, but I just paid that bill off this month.

Before now, I’ve managed to never carry a balance on my credit card. It wasn’t easy, but I prided myself on paying off my bill each month. I always used my credit card like a debit card; I could only charge something when I actually had the funds for it.

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This January’s bill took that away from me. Because my bank account was practically empty, I needed to charge all my purchases and later transfer euros to pay off the card. What I didn’t anticipate was how long that could take. A few months delay isn’t awful in the scheme of things, but it’s a hassle I don’t want to repeat.

The one upside to all this back and forth is the extra consideration I put into each purchase. For me buying something doesn’t just have a flat charge, it comes with conditions.

Hopefully I can escape the transfer dance for a while, and focus on spending those euros on wine and tapas instead.

Katherine O’Meara is unable to turn down any chance for adventure. Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, she can now be found teaching English in northern Spain. She does her best to balance her travel and shopping addictions with her desire to eat and pay her rent. Katherine is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.