Banking Checking Accounts How Traveler's Checks Work in the Modern World Can You Still Buy Traveler's Checks? By Justin Pritchard Justin Pritchard Facebook Twitter Website Justin Pritchard, CFP, is a fee-only advisor and an expert on personal finance. He covers banking, loans, investing, mortgages, and more for The Balance. He has an MBA from the University of Colorado, and has worked for credit unions and large financial firms, in addition to writing about personal finance for more than two decades. learn about our editorial policies Updated on February 28, 2022 Reviewed by Khadija Khartit Reviewed by Khadija Khartit Twitter Website Khadija Khartit is a strategy, investment, and funding expert, and an educator of fintech and strategic finance in top universities. She has been an investor, entrepreneur, and advisor for more than 25 years. She is a FINRA Series 7, 63, and 66 license holder. learn about our financial review board Fact checked by David Rubin Fact checked by David Rubin Facebook Instagram Twitter David J. Rubin is a fact checker for The Balance with more than 30 years in editing and publishing. The majority of his experience lies within the legal and financial spaces. At legal publisher Matthew Bender & Co./LexisNexis, he was a manager of R&D, programmer analyst, and senior copy editor. learn about our editorial policies Share Tweet Pin Email In This Article View All In This Article What Are Traveler’s Checks? Best Ways to Use Traveler’s Checks Evolution of Traveler’s Checks How to Use Traveler’s Checks Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Photo: Matthias Ritzmann / Getty Images Traveler’s checks, once a necessity for traveling abroad, can keep your money safe. While modern alternatives accomplish most of what traveler’s checks do, those checks are far from useless. Traveler’s checks probably don’t need to be your primary resource in areas with an ATM in every town (or on every corner), but they make for an excellent backup plan. What Are Traveler’s Checks, Anyway? That’s a fair question in the modern world. Traveler’s checks are paper documents that can be used like standard paper checks and cash. Traditionally, travelers carried these checks to get cash in local currency and pay merchants. Issuers print checks in varying denominations, and checks can be replaced quickly if lost or stolen. With the spread of digital payment options and ATMs, traveler’s checks have become less popular and more difficult to use. Best Ways to Use Traveler’s Checks Here are situations when you might want to use traveler's checks. Low-Tech Access to Cash In many places, you can get cash in local currency at an ATM, but they're rare in some areas of the world. What’s more, ATMs can malfunction, communication networks might be down, and machines occasionally run out of cash. Traveler’s checks allow you to get local currency at banks, hotels, and foreign exchange offices with a familiar piece of paper. That said, converting a traveler’s check to cash can be challenging and time-consuming. Added Security Traveler’s checks keep your money secure. Recipients are supposed to watch you countersign and compare signatures carefully when you use a traveler’s check, making them lose value when lost or stolen. Credit and debit cards provide similar protection, but they are more attractive to thieves who often use them successfully before you disable the stolen cards. You can replace lost or stolen traveler’s checks or get a refund from the issuer. On extended trips, you can keep traveler’s checks on hand for emergencies without risking large financial losses. Currency Control Buying traveler’s checks in your destination country’s currency helps you avoid surprises when it comes to exchange rates. You might not get the best conversion rates at home, but you can at least secure a portion of what you need at current rates. Evolution of Traveler’s Checks Traveler’s checks aren’t what they used to be. Banks, hotels, and even merchants were once accustomed to taking traveler’s checks from foreigners. Nowadays, you may not be able to find anybody willing to accept a traveler’s check (or the process will be harder than in days past). Prepaid travel cards are the modern version of traveler’s checks. They allow you to get local currency from ATMs and make purchases with merchants—effectively eliminating the need for traveler’s checks. Prepaid cards are not linked to your bank account, which prevents anybody from draining your checking account if the card gets lost or stolen—and you can’t go into debt. Credit cards offer similar (or better) protection, but you might not want to use your everyday card abroad. By using a dedicated travel card, you avoid spreading your card numbers around, which means you can be less vigilant about monitoring your accounts when you get back home. Visa and MasterCard both offer prepaid cards designed for use abroad. Those cards are available online, through travel agents, and at banks or credit unions. Travel cards should feature low ATM fees, technology that lets you operate like a local in foreign countries, emergency cash when you lose the card, and “zero liability” fraud protection. That said, prepaid cards can be expensive, so you need to compare fees against your other cards to decide whether or not a travel card makes sense. As an alternative, if you already have credit or debit cards that you rarely use, reserve those cards for foreign travel. Be sure to test the card if it’s been dormant, check with the card issuer before you leave home, and monitor your accounts after you return. Note Contact your card issuer before you travel. Otherwise, your purchases may be flagged as fraudulent, which could cause your account to be frozen. How to Use Traveler’s Checks You can still buy traveler’s checks in the U.S. and other countries. In the U.S., checks are available primarily from American Express, but you may need to do some legwork to get your hands on new checks. Here are a few tips for using traveler's checks. Keep purchase records separate from the checks: If checks get lost or stolen, you’ll need to provide proof of purchase and check numbers to get a refund. Leave those details with a friend or online for remote access.Sign the checks immediately after you get them: Follow the issuer’s instructions to find out where to sign (and only sign once). You’ll sign the checks again when you use them to make a purchase or get cash.Fill in the payee and date when you’re ready to use a check: Be sure that the payee actually accepts traveler’s checks before you do so.Sign the check again when you complete your payment: The person or business you’re paying must be present to watch you sign. This ensures that the signatures are valid as both signatures must match.Traveler’s checks don’t expire: You can either keep them for future use or deposit them into your bank account once you’re home.If checks get lost or stolen, contact the issuer immediately: You may be able to get replacement checks locally, and the issuer needs to know which checks are potential fraud risks. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Where can I buy traveler's checks? Most traveler's checks in the U.S. are issued by American Express, but you can also buy them through various small banks and credit unions throughout the country. Call your bank, or check online to see whether it offers this service. What do traveler's checks cost? You'll usually have to pay a service charge of between 1% and 4% for traveler's checks. Fees typically will be higher if you purchase from an institution where you don't already have an account. What are the differences among a traveler's check, a cashier's check, and a money order? Traveler's checks, cashier's checks, and money orders are all issued by banks and can be used as cash or personal-check substitutes for purchases in the U.S. However, traveler's checks are the best choice if you're traveling outside the country. They're designed to be accepted anywhere in the world, come in small denominations, and can be easily replaced if lost. They're also fairly secure, because you don't sign them a second time until you're in the presence of the recipient. However, they are becoming less common and are not as widely accepted as they once were. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Express. "Online Travelers Cheques Redemption: Frequently Asked Questions." Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "What Is the Difference Between a Prepaid Card, a Credit Card, and a Debit Card?" Visa. "Visa TravelMoney Prepaid." Mastercard. "Prepaid Travel Card by Mastercard." Federal Trade Commission. "When a Company Declines Your Credit or Debit Card." American Express. "Acceptance of American Express Travelers Cheques," Page 2. American Express. "American Express Travelers Cheques." Frommer's. "Traveler's Checks."