Managing money while abroad

Leaving your own country to pursue dreams requires money. Money in different currencies. Money in various accounts. Difficult you say? Not if you have the right tools and accounts.

Know the situation

And adjust your money managing accordingly. Easy you may think, just bring the creditcard and you’ll be fine. Wrong! Even though pretty much everyone has a bank account these days. Here in the Philippines a personal bank account is not a given. It’s not even all that common.

A lot of people here only have an account because their employer requires it. So they only use it to receive their salary and run to the ATM once a week to empty the account.

Paying with a creditcard (or any kind of debit card) anywhere is a hassle. Using your creditcard anywhere but larger businesses and hotels is simply not possible. Very often the business you’re at will only accept MasterCard. Or only Visa card. Or their internet is not working or, or ,or…

You guessed it, this is a CASH country.

Choose your bank

Choose a bank that knows how to handle money world wide. A bank that knows how to do money transfers to any bank in the world, not just inside Europe. A bank that isn’t focused on the local economy in a way that they loose sight of the rest of the world. Many banks do, and it’s restrictive and annoying.

This basically means that expecting your card to work here will be optimistic at best. Downright risky and dumb at worst. So make sure you have an actual credit card. Or a well accepted debit card. I have both.

My actual bank however, they tell me they’re internationally oriented. And that’s important. Local banks do not know anything about payments abroad. So transferring money is either expensive, takes weeks or simply isn’t available to you.

Having a local account in the country of your choosing may help a lot with the going on of things. Especially with transaction costs, sending money to yourself from your western account and more. It’s just convenient.

Decide your budget

When managing your money you may want to decide on some sort of budget. I have a monthly budget that I divide in 5 parts. I rarely meet it, but I don’t go over budget too much. Usually.
4 of those parts are for weekly everyday spendings. And the 5th is bills.

The way I live and do things allows me to set some loosely defined budgets for things like food and rent. This I use as a sort of guideline to see how much I can spend for other things.

I have some larger spendings like the monthly rent and utilities. But other than that I can mostly make do with a trip to the ATM once a week and just use the money that’s in my wallet. Most of the time I make it through the week with some cash to spare.

Go all in

I use a few apps to track spendings. In those apps I track all my money. Only keeping an eye on your wallet is pointless in my opinion. Don’t let your Paypal or Creditcard summary surprise you every month. Just keep track of those, too.

I have several bank accounts and Paypal accounts to keep track off. My credit card has every cent accounted for and I track my wallet too. At the end of every day I count my wallet. Enter my spendings. Every monday or so I check and update the rest.

Sometimes it’s a looong and tedious monday because I lost money somewhere. But in the end I know exactly what’s what.

Use software to mind your money

I collect receipts in my wallet. Every end of the day I enter those in “Debit & Credit” the App I use on my laptop (macOS). For the things I do not get a receipt for I enter those in my phone using an App called “Daybook” (Android). This is not really a money tracking app, but it makes a nice list of items with amounts and a category. At the end of the day I transfer that to the laptop, too.

Income gets entered too and as a result I can easily see how much I have, where it came from and where it went. Sometimes I notice I spent too much on hotels or fancy restaurants. Other times I’m surprised by how cheap groceries were that month.


Managing money is important in any situation. Even if you’re just in your own country leading a regular life. But it’s even more important to know your way around the system and to set budgets if you’re in a culture on your own. Don’t get stranded somewhere without money or, worse, knowing you have plenty of money. But you can’t access it.

I’ll never forget a few incidents where I had to drive more than 200km to find a working ATM. Or to “just” go an use the ATM and have it withdraw money but not actually give me money. Or to have my debit card blocked because of the incompetence of the banks available to me.

Not fun, not recommended. So be prepared.

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