Tag Archives: money

Arrival in Praha

When arriving at the Praha hlavní nádraží station, you’ll almost immediately see the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern.  The station (shortened on routes and maps as Praha hl.n) contained vestiges of its past glories as an important kingdom of the Austrian Hapsburgs (it was originally named in honour of Franz Josef I. In the new entrance, there is a distinctly more modern touch.

Your “money’s worth”

The Czech Republic is a part of the European Union, but is not a part of the Euro zone, and therefore not replaced their local currency with the Euro. If I had researched that before I had arrived there, perhaps I would have been less confused! One Euro is the equivalent of about 24.5 crown (koruna). This meant that every time I looked at a price, I would multiply it by about 0.04 to understand its relation to Euro. Although this was helpful for a budget (to keep me from spending all my money in one instance), it was highly impractical in trying to connect that value of my labour with the value of the item, as is usually done when one shops for goods and services. During both exchanges to crowns, I had lost some value of my US dollars to the exchange spread (a currency exchange’s difference between the value of a sold and bought currency). The value of each currency had fluctuated as well, distorting any easy translation in my head. Of course, I could have prepared an Excel sheet detailing the amounts lost and gained by exchange rates and costs, but I decided that wouldn’t be an efficient use of my time.

Money to blow

Please excuse the song reference, but the title aptly describes the way that I imagined the Czechs must have thought of my and anybody else for that matter. As I was keeping properly hydrated, I needed to use the restroom (the toaleta or toilette as it’s called in Czech and French respectively) more than 3 times while in Prague. For each time, including the one where I could barely make it up the stairs from holding it in so long, I had to dig in my pocket, count the crazy money and pay someone! Another time, there was this lady who held the keys to the “public restroom” on the hill near Prague Castle. She grumbled that I was disturbing her from her purchasing groceries in the store next to the toilets. She then swung the door open and angrily pointed to the sign that stated that I would have to pay 10Kč or 0.50 Euro. Now, anyone with half a mind can see that paying in crowns would save me the most money. The problem was, the idea of whole tens values on coins was still confusing to me. So seeing 10.00, while thinking how big that number seemed, while sifting through the Euro I had in my pocket only added to the confusion. Surprisingly, the lady for the first time in our encounter seemed nice and offered to count out the 10Kč for me. She quickly snapped up what I knew to be a 20Kč piece! I asked her to see it, pretending like I wanted to know how it looked for next time. She held it back for a while and shoved me to the restroom. I stood my ground and demanded to see it. She then flung it back at me and rudely pushed me out of the doorway and put the door in my face. I won’t write the thoughts that rushed through my mind at that moment, but I will say that I was happy to find an outdoor toilet that accepted 5Kč for 15 minute admission (I only needed 1 minute!).

Buyer beware

I purchased some groceries from a little food store located at the Praha Hlvani train station. I was trying to see how long the Czech currency I had bought earlier would last, so any time I could buy something with Euro or my credit card, I did. With mutual smiles and laughs, I left the register with food in hand, not bothering to understand what the gibberish on my receipt meant. Well, after walking upstairs and deciphering it, I realized that the sum she gave me in cash and the sum listed on the paper were off by about 100 crown. I immediately marched back down to levels to retrieve my missing money from her to the manager. Getting my money, even without understanding a word the other was saying, I was able to get the manager to have one of the cashiers give me the money. I am still a bit curious as to why she didn’t suspect me of lying, seeing as I had been from the store for a good 15 minutes, and she had not witnessed the sale herself.

Finally, I must caution you about any tour buses you pay for when you visit Prague. The bus service I used had a schedule of stop times, but clearly I must have either I been reading the list upside down or they simply didn’t care about customer satisfaction after a certain time. I stood at one of the last route locations with 3 more stops left for the day, after two of the times had passed, I realised that I had been gypped. You can see my lonely spot in the attached gallery (last photo).

Tip
  • When you exchange currency at a bank, exchange centre, or as a part of the purchase of commodities, always remember to properly examine your receipt. Languages are as different a they come, but mathematics will always make sense in any part of the world. Don’t leave the counter or the immediate room until you have verified your money.
  • 1 crown consists of 100 hellers (haléř), abbreviated as hal.Heller coins have not been in use as of September 1, 2008, but hellers are still incorporated into merchandise prices. The final price is always rounded off to the nearest crown value.The approximate value of 100 CZK is 4 EUR/6 USD. [cited from]
Please stay tuned to my posts or follow my Facebook to find out what I bought in the grocery store to eat that day.
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Storing your money

During the planning phase of my trip I purchased a money belt under the assumption that it would provide the most convenient and secure way of carrying my money.  The belt has easy-open zippers for your to quickly retrieve cash, but I believe that if one was to zip it open in public, it would appear make others think that you had a reason to hide your money, and that perhaps it is a large sum. This obviously unnecessarily increases security risk. The best solution is to take a few bills out of the belt to keep in your pockets. Bigger bills and the majority of your money can then be kept safely from the eyes of bystanders.

Although the security factor was definitely provided for, the convenience aspect has been utterly lacking. If you have any sort of fashion sense, you may be horrified by the bulk it adds to your stomach area. What I ended up doing was keeping the money belt in a light bag I had purchased to carry my laptop, other electronics, and travel documents in when walking about. So, from my experience, although helpful, a money belt could be replaced with something less obtrusive that you could keep in a larger (but medium-sized) carry bag. If you wear larger shirts or would rather a pouch that won’t be able to leave lying about, then a money belt remains the best option for you.

Using Your Money Abroad

One of the most important parts of your travel must-have list is your access to money while abroad. As a first line of defense, I withdrew some cash the night before I left, that way if they were any problems with the ATM, I would have been able to find another as opposed to if I had tried to get to one on my way to the airport this morning.

Cash

It is extremely important that you balance your need to for cash with the security risks involved with having it on you. You therefore do not want to withdraw less than the amount you know you will need when you exit the airport on the other side. Nor, do you want to get too much, as this would create additional risk of theft or robbery. If your destination country or countries do not use the same currency as your home, you should plan to make your withdrawal days before so that you can purchase the foreign currency. If you are keen on getting the most for you money like I am, you will want to monitor the varying value of your purchase currency relative to your purchasing currency. A website that I used a lot to track the EURO was http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert/?Amount=1&From=EUR&To=USD.

Electronic Funds

Credit Cards

As discussed in an earlier post, I researched credit cards that offered no foreign transaction fee and made sure to get one, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to be exact. The foreign transaction fee is an ugly and inconvenient one that is tacked onto every foreign currency purchase you make and on any purchase you make outside of the home country. For some cards it’s a flat rate per transaction, and for others it’s a percent of the transaction. When this fee is absent, your credit card company via the VISA, MasterCard, etc network is able to convert your foreign currency transaction to the value of your home country’s using the best rate for that day. This should obviously save you money that you may have lost doing the conversion yourself (purchasing fees, seller using highest rate for the day or an average, etc.)
I realized afterwards, that I also had another card that offers this benefit, as most Capital One cards do. I was happy to still have gotten the second one though, as it is obviously geared towards travelers with its rewards points and double bonus points on travel charges (airlines, car rentals, train tickets) and dining (fast food restaurants, fancy restaurants, etc). In addition to these benefits, I now also have a back-up source of credit in the event my first card gets lost, destroyed, or compromised.

ATM Cards

You may need cash after you’ve run out of the amount you’ve taken with you. You should not want to be charged other bank ATM fees while outside of the country. These are another annoying fee that financial institutions use to raise revenue, that some banks have actually decided to waive or reimburse for certain reasons. My Charles Schwab account, for instance, does not have commercial branches like other banks as their commercial arm operates primarily online. What results is a savings on administrative costs that is passed on to the consumer as higher saving interest rates on checking accounts, whereas many banks do not even offer interest on checking accounts. Another result of this is that there are no Schwab ATMs for customers to use to withdraw the funds they’ve deposited their via mail or other-bank transfer. To account for this, Schwab reimburses charges you incur as other bank ATM fees.
Another bank account that will come in handy on my traveling is Bank of America’s. This bank participates in an international banking agreement, Global ATM Alliance, that allows customers of any of the participating banks to use the ATMs of most of the others without being assessed the other bank ATM fees.

A list of the Global Alliance members and their service countries, care of Wikipedia, is found below:

  • Bank of America (United States)
  • Barclays (United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Ghana, Kenya, and other countries in Africa)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • BNP Paribas Fortis (Belgium)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Belgium, India, Spain, Portugal and Italy)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean, Peru, Chile and Mexico)
  • Westpac (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New
  • Guinea and Solomon Islands)
  • Westpac Banking Corporation (Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu)
  • Westpac New Zealand Limited (New Zealand)
  • Westpac Bank – PNG – Limited (Papua New Guinea)
  • Westpac Bank Samoa Limited (Samoa)
  • Westpac Bank of Tonga (Tonga)
  • ABSA (South Africa)
  • UkrSibbank (Ukraine)