Last week, Shane returned from a week and a half-long business trip to Amsterdam. It was his first time to Europe and neither of us were sure about what he could expect. Fortunately, he traveled with his boss, who had visited the city a few times before.
I hope he doesn’t have to leave the country without me again for a long time (if ever! Bring me, bring me!) but if he does, there are a few things we’d do differently next time. Here’s some financial things we learned:
– Even if your company gives you an international calling card to use to phone home, it isn’t saving you much if you’re calling someone’s cell phone. Oy. Shane called me from the hotel landline, but we don’t have our own landline — just some cell phones. The calling card came through as an international call on my end. I’ll have the privilege of paying $1.29/minute. Let’s just say that’s going to add up real fast.
After our first call, I realized the call didn’t come from a toll-free or American phone number so I called AT&T to find out the sitch. They told me the rate, and said if I wanted to buy an international roaming plan, I could pay $0.99/minute plus a $4/month fee. The $4 fee had to be in place for a minimum of three months, or $12 worth. I opted just to leave my plan alone.
We limited our phone calls to just a few minutes per day, but we could have tried something else.
I could have gotten my own international calling card (say, from a site such as Pingo) and called him at the hotel instead of having him call me. Or I could have used Skype. Or anything else that would have been cheaper than $1.29/minute.
I feel dumb for not even thinking of other options until he had just one more day away. Lesson learned: Don’t just accept expensive international phone rates! Shop around.
– Next time Shane goes to Europe, he’ll be sure to spend as many of his Euro coins as possible. He came home with about 20 Euro in coins, since the smallest paper bill is worth 5 Euro or something like that. I don’t know if this is true for all currency exchange places, but for the one he went to, they wouldn’t exchange coins. What? Coins are money! So for now, we’re stuck with it. Does anyone know if some places will exchange coins?
– Know your bank’s international fees. Even though Shane could charge his meals and expenses on his corporate credit card, many places throughout the city didn’t take plastic, including his taxi and some restaurants. So, he had to use his cash that he brought for souvenirs and the like. That cash started to run low, so he used his debit card on the non-reimbursable expenses (such as museum admission). Well, I check our bank account online every day or so, and I was a bit perplexed to see a bunch of charges of $0.06 and $0.10 and whatever. Turns out, our bank charges a 2% fee for international use. This didn’t add up to much, but it was good to know!
Next time, it would probably be a good idea for him to take more cash so he could have for those cash-only situations.
I was surprised that he was able to use his card overseas. I thought maybe the bank’s fraud alert system would wonder what was going on and put a freeze on the card until they could confirm he was the one using it. Maybe you have to spend a certain amount of money before that happens.
– During the time he was away, I ate out quite a bit. It’s really hard for me to be motivated to cook just for myself. So I found myself at Subway a lot. I did eat some meals at home, though, and overall I think what I spent on food would have been what I typically spend on food each week. It’s just normally, I spend the bulk of the food budget at the grocery and just a small portion at restaurants. That week, it was reversed.
– Even though his travel expenses were covered, this wasn’t a free trip for him. We’ll be out the $100 or so that will appear on my next phone bill. He also spent some money on museums and souvenirs (chocolate and refrigerator magnets) and photo processing charges. In all, I think it will cost less than $200 for his trip to Europe, which fortunately we can absorb that in our budget.