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Traveler’s checks have been around for over 100 years, allowing people to prepay for their travel money before departure. Get your American Express traveler’s checks at home, then exchange them for the currency you need at your destination. In some locations it’s even possible to spend traveler’s checks like cash, in hotels and with merchants.
Traveler’s checks offer a safe and convenient option for some tourists. However, in recent years alternatives to traveler’s checks have meant that there are fewer places to exchange or redeem them — especially outside of the US.
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American Express traveler’s checks¹ are paper checks which you can buy upfront in your chosen currency and then either redeem or exchange when you travel. You could buy traveler’s checks in USD and then exchange them at a bank in London for British pounds, for example. Or lock in the exchange rate before you travel by buying GBP traveler’s checks before you leave home, and redeem them for cash upon arrival in London.
Traveler’s checks have advanced security and individual serial numbers which means you can get a replacement if your check is lost or stolen. That gives some peace of mind when you’re away from home, and is far safer than carrying large amounts of cash while you travel.
Traveler’s checks were extremely popular as a way of accessing convenient and safe travel money all over the world. However, as new solutions and technology have appeared, traveler’s checks are somewhat less common now. That can lead to some issues in getting your checks converted, and may also result in higher than expected fees. More on that later,
Buy your AmEx traveler’s checks from your bank, credit union or an American Express travel office². You’ll need to double check availability, fees and exchange rates with your bank or credit union before you head out.
It’s not usually possible to get traveler’s checks online. The only common exception is if you’re an AmEx reward card holder and earn reward points on your credit card spending which you can convert to traveler’s checks. Take a look at your specific card to see if this is an option for you.
When you redeem or cash your American Express traveler’s checks you’ll need to present some documents for security. Exactly what you need will depend on where you are, and what the AmEx partner’s process is. However, expect to be required to show:
- Your government issued photo ID — a passport is ideal
- The original receipt or proof of purchase for the checks
The way you can use your traveler’s checks will depend on where you’re headed. In some countries AmEx traveler’s checks are common — and so many banks, exchange services, hotels and merchants are likely to accept them. In other regions, traveler’s checks are an unusual sight — so finding a place to cash or exchange them may be tricky.
American Express has a helpful locator tool on their website³, which shows all known locations which will accept or cash traveler’s checks. Take a look at this for your destination before you travel.
Here’s a rundown of where you may be able to use your traveler’s checks based on some key destinations:
|Destination country or region||Type of traveler’s check to choose||Where you may use your checks|
|UK||GBP or your home currency|
|Europe||EUR or your home currency|
|Australia||AUD or your home currency|
|💡 Looking for a more flexible way to pay when you’re on vacation? Get a Wise Multi-currency Account and card, to top up in dollars, switch to the currency you need, and spend wherever you see the MasterCard logo. More on that a little later.|
Buy your American Express traveler’s checks before you head off on vacation, and then spend and cash them when you arrive. Here’s how:
Buying your AmEx traveler’s checks:
Using your AmEx traveler’s checks:
Let’s take a look at the most important features of AmEx traveler’s checks.
A key selling point of traveler’s checks is that they’re far more secure than using cash. Each check has its own serial number, which makes it uniquely identifiable — and allows it to be replaced if lost or stolen. Checks have advanced features to stop them being forged, much like banknotes do. And merchant and exchange staff are trained to check the signature and identification of the person redeeming the check to make sure it’s legitimate.
If your American Express traveler’s check is stolen or lost, you’ll need to report it to AmEx, giving them the serial number or numbers. You may also need original proof of purchase and your ID documents to get a check replaced.
AmEx has a 24/7 service, with different numbers depending on where in the world you are⁴.
There may be fees when you buy and redeem your traveler’s checks. There may also be additional costs rolled into the exchange rate used when you either buy a foreign currency check, or exchange a USD check to a foreign currency on arrival.
Fees and exchange rates vary by destination and depending on where you’re using your checks. Ask for details from the bank, exchange service or merchant in advance so you know what to expect.
|Want the best available exchange rate every time? Meet Wise|
If your traveler’s checks are lost or stolen, get in touch with AmEx right away. There are different numbers to call depending on where in the world you are.
From the US call toll free on 1-800-221-7282. For any other location, get the best number to call from the American Express customer service webpage⁴.
|✅ Pros||❎ Cons|
There are plenty of alternatives to traveler’s checks, which we’ll run through shortly. However, there are some reasons why you may still consider traveler’s checks as a form of travel money.
Traveler’s checks can be useful in places where ATM networks are unreliable or coverage isn’t great. Traveler’s checks are less attractive to thieves and can be a good fall back plan in case your primary means of payment is lost or stolen.
That said, traveler’s checks are unfamiliar in some countries — and have very restricted use in many others. Check before you go, so there are no surprises.
Let’s take a look at some smart alternatives you can use instead of — or as well as — traveler’s checks.
Multi-currency cards are often linked to an international online account to allow you to manage your currencies and your spending from your computer or mobile device. Top up your account in dollars and then convert to the currency you need to lock in the exchange rate. You can then use the card to make withdrawals or spend wherever you are in the world.
The Wise Multi-currency Account is a great option if you want a flexible way to spend internationally. Open a free online Wise account online, top up and convert your money using the mid-market exchange rate with no markups. That can be far cheaper than using a standard currency exchange service, and far more convenient than needing to cash traveler’s checks as you go.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Hold 50+ currencies in your account, exchange online or in the Wise app
- Open your Wise account for free with no minimum balance and no monthly fee to worry about
- Wise cards are accepted in 200+ countries, anywhere you see the MasterCard symbol
- Spend in any currency you hold for free — including when you shop online with international retailers
- Make ATM withdrawals when you need cash — at home or abroad
It used to be pretty standard to carry cash when traveling — either in USD or the destination currency. However, this isn’t the safest option, and if you’re carrying dollars you still need to exchange them when you arrive at your destination — nobody’s favorite vacation activity.
Having some cash on hand is usually a good plan. But carrying all your travel spending in cash is usually not the smartest option out there.
Get a prepaid travel card from your bank or any of a range of currency exchange stores and similar operators. You’ll be able to pay in dollars, to have funds loaded onto your card in the currency you need when you travel. Often you can only load one currency onto your card, which may pose a problem if you’re planning on traveling to several places.
Prepaid cards do have some of the same advantages as multi-currency cards, but may come with higher fees, including monthly service charges and inactivity costs.
Using your credit or debit cards when you travel is convenient and allows you to make withdrawals and spend wherever you like. Using credit and debit cards overseas is common and convenient.
There are a couple of things to consider if you want to use your card abroad — many card companies add a foreign transaction fee which may be around 3% — pushing up the costs. You may also be exposed if your cards are lost or stolen when you’re abroad as it’s harder to get replacements or to manage your account if you’re not able to easily contact the issuing bank.
|💬 Still curious about traveler’s checks? Check these articles out!|
Whether or not traveler’s checks work for you depends a lot on where you’re going and how you like to arrange your travel money. Relying entirely on traveler’s checks is not likely to be a good idea, due to fees and sparse coverage in some regions. But having them as a fall back, alongside some alternatives could be an option for some travelers. Use this guide as a starting point to help you decide what’s best for you — and happy travels!
- American Express - Traveler’s cheques
- American Express - Purchase traveler’s cheque
- American Express - Traveler’s cheques locator
- American Express - Traveler’s cheques customer service
Sources checked on 09.24.2021
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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