Five Affordable Souvenirs to Bring Home from your Trip to France.

Image and text by Gabrielle.

The other day, we were wiring some money from one of our U.S. bank accounts to our French bank (funds for the cottage!), and I realized I’ve learned a few things about how to move money from place to place that might be helpful for anyone embarking on an international adventure. Here are 5 tips I wish I’d known before we moved.

1) XE.com is our favorite for international transfers.
It’s free to sign up. You can add multiple accounts to draw funds from (we have a personal account and a business account), and you can also add multiple accounts to send funds to. We use it to pay rent on La Cressonnière. And since we get paid in dollars, but run errands in euros, we also use it to transfer our monthly budget from our U.S. to our French account. XE seems to offer the best exchange rates we’ve seen and there are no added fees, so the exchange quote you see is what you pay. I love that.

There are two downsides. First, it takes time. The transfers don’t happen overnight. It usually takes about a week for the funds to make it from one account to another. This means you have to work ahead and think ahead. When we don’t think ahead, we end up using our U.S. debit card for groceries or gas, and there are added fees for international purchases. Which is a bummer. Second, the max transfer is $10,000. Normally that’s way more than fine, but when we were buying our car, the max limit didn’t work for us, so we had to figure out a different way to go. 

2) Make friends with your banker.
We sort-of did this with our personal account. And didn’t do it at all with our business account — which we opened a couple of days before we moved here. And it’s maybe the one thing we would do over if we were starting this move from scratch.

We’ve found it’s so important to be able to call a specific person at your bank, someone that knows your voice and face, and can help you find workarounds for standard bank rules. For example, the bank that holds our business account doesn’t allow for wiring money over the phone. They require the account holder to come into a branch. No exceptions. Obviously, we can’t come into a the branch. But we know from talking to fellow expats, that if you know someone personally at the bank, they can make an exception to that rule.

So we would recommend making a good friend at the bank. Bring in cookies or flowers. Take your banker to lunch. Tell them you’re moving abroad and make sure you have their direct line in case you run into any banking emergencies while you’re out of the country.

3) Small banks are easier to work with.
Similar to item #2, we’ve found our smaller credit union has been much more flexible and helpful than our larger bank. There have been several instances when we needed to get someone on the phone quickly — like when we’ve got a road trip with stops in multiple countries. We try to be good about calling our bank’s card security team and letting them know where we’ll be, but we’ve had many times where a security hold was put on our card anyway. We’re grateful that our banks take a tight approach to security, but it’s also nice if you have a direct number of an actual person you can call and quickly get the hold lifted when you’re waiting at a register.

At our bigger bank, we get stuck with a phone tree, and sometimes it can take a long time to get help. At the credit union, it’s been speedy. In this case, smaller is better.

4) You can still shop from U.S. stores.
The fourth tip is indirectly related to banking, but I still think of it as a financial thing. When living abroad, sometimes you want to buy things from American stores — maybe a Christmas present your son has been wishing for — but either the store doesn’t ship internationally, or the fees are so expensive it’s prohibitive. When this happens, you could have it shipped to your Mom’s house or a friend’s house in the U.S., and they can ship it on to you. But I always feel bad about asking that kind of favor. So instead, I recommend this service. They give you a U.S. address where you can send all your purchases, then they re-box things as efficiently as possible and send everything to you at a much lower rate.

And you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to use this service! So if you are French, but want to buy stuff from Target, this would work perfectly.

5) Sign up for a VPN.
The last tip: Sometimes there are websites that redirect to a foreign url, even if you type in a U.S. address. For example, if I type in google.com right now, it will automatically redirect to google.fr. This can happen with stores or banks as well. It can be frustrating! If you need to access the U.S. site, you can use a VPN which stands for Virtual Private Network. We use a service called Strong VPN. We pay $50 a year and they issue clear instructions on how to use their service. Basically, when we need to access U.S. sites, we turn on VPN and then type in the URL we need, and the VPN makes it look like we are logging in from a U.S. city. It’s like magic!

And we don’t just use this for practical stuff. It’s also how we stream shows on Amazon or watch things on Hulu. Did you know you can’t access Hulu’s content outside of the U.S.? Or stream videos? But if you log-in with a VPN, the sites work seamlessly. We use our VPN service daily. But we didn’t know about it until we’d been here several months. I can still remember how frustrated we were without it!

So there they are. Five tips that will hopefully give you a smoother financial transition if you’re moving abroad — or even taking a long trip. And I’d love to hear your tips as well! Have you ever had to figure this sort of thing out? What tips would you add?

P.S. — The play euros pictured at top were originally featured in my post about 5 French Souvenirs under $5.