Money Information

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Before you travel to the United States, you’ll want to learn more about money culture and common practices, how much to bring, and currency options.
Here are some suggestions to help you plan for your arrival in California.

Money Culture in the U.S.

You may come from a country that is cash-based, where even big purchases are paid for with cash. In your country, companies that use credit cards are hard to find, and many smaller businesses won’t take them at all.

In comparison, many businesses in the United States accept credit cards and debit cards instead of cash — and even for very small purchases. People in the U.S. typically don’t carry a lot of cash — maybe $100 — because ATM machines are so easy to find.

In addition, fewer people write personal checks, although these are still accepted by many businesses if you have the proper identification.

How Much Money will You Need?

You may ask yourself, “How much money will I need?” or “How much is enough?”

The answer to these questions will vary depending on your own situation, but the best response we can give you is to set a budget and then include a bit more.

Ask your new school advisor for guidelines on typical student expenses, including meals, entertainment, transportation, etc., to help you create a budget.

Common Forms of Currency

Now that you know how to plan for your arrival, here is additional information about types of currency you may use.

U.S. Currency and Cash

Especially when you first arrive in California, it’s a great comfort to have some currency already converted to U.S. dollars, or you can convert your currency at the airport after you’ve been through the customs process. A range of $200 to $500 is a good guideline. If you’re planning to take a long taxi or shuttle ride to your school, you may need to bring additional money to cover that.

Be sure to get denominations smaller than $100 bills. Many merchants will not accept $100 bills, but they will be happy to accept any smaller ones.

Debit Cards

Be sure the back of your card has at least one of the following symbols:

  • Interlink
  • Plus
  • Star
  • Cirrus

These symbols indicate that the card can be used at a wide network of banks and ATMs. While getting cash with your debit card is convenient, be aware that you may be charged small fees for international transactions.

Credit Cards

As mentioned earlier, credit cards are widely accepted in the United States.

If you want to get a credit card, it’s a good idea to apply for the card from your home bank before you leave because it’s sometimes difficult for non-U.S. residents to obtain a credit card once you’re in the United States.

The most common credit cards in the United States are:

  • MasterCard
  • Visa
  • American Express
  • Discover

It’s not necessary to have a credit card, but do know that you’ll need one if you ever plan to rent a car.

Traveler’s Cheques

While traveler’s cheques used to be the primary way to carry currency to a different country, the wide availability of ATM machines has made them less popular and harder to find. In fact, many of the large banks no longer issue them.

If you decide to bring traveler’s cheques, here are a few things to keep in mind to use them in the U.S.:

  • Find a bank or currency exchange that accepts traveler’s checks.
  • Larger banks generally will give you better exchange rates.
  • Countersign your check in front of the clerk.
  • Show your photo ID.
  • The clerk will exchange your cheques and give you cash.