Financial Tips for Interns and Missionaries
Banks: You will need to check out which bank you want to use prior to arriving on the field. ATM fees, extra charges and lower exchange rate are things that will dip into your monthly support. ALL banks charge something. Several claim they don’t, but they do. Some are better at hiding it than others. Some shave points off the exchange rate (without mentioning it), some charge 1% others charge 3% or higher. Some have extra ATM fees, while others reimburse ATM fees. I recently had to change banks from our small town bank because they could no longer afford what they had initially promised. I mention that because, if banks promise something that seems to good to be true, expect it to change. Enjoy it while you can, but policies change and they are in the business to make money.
Personally, I believe it’s best to find a bank that is set up to service missionaries and their needs from the get go. Find one that has been in the business for years. Expect to pay something.
My personal recommendation (at this moment) is ECCU (Evangelical Christian Credit Union).
Exchange rates: If you’ve spent anytime overseas you know the exchange rate on your money fluctuates. For smaller things this is not normally an issue, but if you are making larger purchases it can really make a difference. I have found that it is normally better to exchange/ withdraw money on Tuesday-Thursday, or, at least that has been the norm in Peru and now South Africa. The exchange rate seems to go down over the weekend and then pick back up in the middle of the week.
In some countries (Peru for example) you would receive a better exchange rate on the street than in a Bank. In other countries you wont have an option. The only currency you’ll have the option of pulling out of the ATM is their currency. When that’s the case you will learn by looking at your statements which bank gives the best exchange rate to withdraw money. If possible never exchange money at the airport.
Credit Cards: I do not promote debt! Dave Ramsey would have a conniption, and normally I would agree with him. Though, I have found that the right credit cards give you the best exchange rate. Also, they allow you to make payments to them electronically which allows you to not have to withdraw money or do any transaction on the field (besides the purchase) which allows for others to get a cut.
If you chose this option, you must find a truly international card. Unlike the banks, there are several of these out there. One that is international, that I used for years, and would not recommend is AMEX. The reason I would not recommend them is that there are several countries that do not accept this card. Stick to a Visa or Mastercard, Visa having the priority over those two.
Personal recommendation (at this moment) is Capital One Venture Visa.
Cash: Many of your purchases will have to be made with cash. There are a couple of risks associated with cash: One, though not very common, is counterfeit notes. Foreigners make a good target to unload bad bills. The other problem with cash is the risk that comes with carrying it. It’s not advisable to have large sums of cash. In some cases there is no option. In those instances, if possible, take a friend along with you for withdraws and payments.