11 articles General

How to save money when visiting the USA: a seasoned traveller’s pro tips

US dollars on a map

As per the World Tourism organization, Canadians rank 7th worldwide when it comes to spending on travelling. Canadians spend around 1,000 USD per capita on international travel every year. The most favourite destination for Canadians is our southern neighbour: The United States of America.

Every year, around 20 million Canadians travel to the US. I’ve travelled to the U.S from Canada dozens of times. Each time I go I find new ways to save money. If you are looking for ways to stretch a dollar while visiting the US, keep reading. We are going to discuss several ways to do that.

1. Credit cards with no forex fees

No matter how economically you travel, travelling is expensive, even if it is just across the border.
Forex fees are in my opinion one of the biggest “hidden” costs that credit card companies have. Although you can see the fees on your statements if you look closely, I like to say that the forex fees are hidden because many people are not even aware that it exists.

If you’re not aware, most Canadian credit cards charge at least a 2.5% foreign exchange fee for every purchase you make in the U.S, which can add up over your trip.

Whether you are shopping at local stores or trying out local cuisines, you should swipe a card that doesn’t charge foreign currency exchange transaction fees.

Check out these credit cards with no forex fees, especially if your stay spans more than a week.

2. Find alternatives to withdrawing cash or using debit cards

Withdrawing cash from ATMs and using traditional debit cards in a foreign land can also cost you a lot in service charges that won’t add any value to your trip. So, how about having an alternative to that?

Online-only banking has become all the rage in the last couple of years. You can also hop on the bandwagon to save money while visiting the US. You can try EQ Bank as an alternative to your conventional banking cards. It is entirely free to open an account in EQ, which is an online-only bank with no hidden terms and conditions.

EQ Bank has partnered with TransferWise, and you are able to send money to an American account at a much better exchange rate than withdrawing cash at a regular ATM. If you have a trusted friend or relative with a U.S bank account that you will be meeting up while you’re down there, consider using this service to get a cheaper way of withdrawing your cash.

3. Make calls to home the new way

Gone are the days when you would use an expensive landline to call home from other countries. Similarly, the days of international mobile calls also seem behind us, thanks to fast-speed mobile internet. If you are determined to save every single cent while visiting the US, avoid buying international roaming plans.

Instead, make voice and video calls through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, and other chat apps while using Wi-Fi internet and data plans. It will certainly cost you less than international roaming charges, especially if you are staying for longer and making lots of calls back home.

There is a free to download phone app called TextNow that I use while on my travels. It lets you have a free Canadian or American phone number that works over Wi-Fi. I’ve used it in my travels around the world with no problems.

4. Use red-eye flights

If your US visit doesn’t involve tightly scheduled work meetings or other emergencies, you should consider flying red-eye. These flights have obscure flight times that are less in demand. They usually take off and land in a 9:00 pm-6:00 am window.

If you are having a lot of interstate travelling in the US, red-eye flights can save hundreds of dollars on your entire trip.

5. Ditch expensive hotel rooms

Airbnb has become the torchbearer of economical travelling in the last couple of years. It has been estimated that renting out an entire apartment on Airbnb is 21% cheaper than booking a single hotel room. If you haven’t used it so far, give it a try on your upcoming US trip.

But if you are a conventionalist and want to stick to a hotel room (or need what are often more flexible cancellation policies), ask yourself these questions before booking one.

  • Do you need a room with a good view?
  • Do you need that extra lounge space?
  • Are you going to use the fitness room, pool, and other premium amenities?

If your visit involves a lot of sightseeing and other outdoor activities, you will only use your hotel room to sleep. So, look for the cheapest rooms that may not offer those superfluous features and amenities but can provide respite by saving you some money.

Tips to save for long-term stays

If your US visit consists of a couple of weeks or longer, you have to consider some other factors. Here is the list of things that you should do before and while on your long-term stay in the states.

1. Know your financial risks in advance

Before finalizing your trip and flying off, take a look at your financial well-being. See how much you have in savings. Take a look at your credit. Make sure that your current financial state allows you to stay for long. Even if it is a work-related trip, you must know your financial vulnerabilities and strengths in advance. Having this information will help you prevent any unpleasant scenario from springing up in the middle of the visit.

2. Track your spending

Money-tracking is crucial when you visit a foreign country; however, it is easier said than done when your visit is longer than a couple of days. On long-term visits, people remain diligent about their money-spending in the beginning. However, when days turn into weeks, they lose track.

You can get around this issue by using a money-tracking app. These apps are your virtual assistant in budgeting, money management, and tracking spending. By using a money-tracking app the right way, you can save hundreds of dollars on a long-term stay.

3. Stay in the peripheral

Staying even at a cheap place in the middle of the city can cost you a fortune when you check-in for weeks. Try to find an accommodation in the peripheral of the city you visit. You can find apartments and rooms on Airbnb in the suburbs of your destination cities.

4. Start cooking

Eating out for, say, 25 days is neither good for your stomach nor your wallet. Make sure your lodging has a kitchen with a cooking space where you can cook some of your meals. You can cut down your dining cost more than half by doing that.

Conclusion

Using the tips discussed here, you can save hundreds of dollars or even more on a long trip to the US. You can also read up on other ways you can save money in Canada. The great thing about these measures is that they let you save money without making any compromise on the overall experience of travelling.

Author Bio – Christopher Liew is the creator of Wealthawesome.com, where he shares money tips and guides for his readers. He’s a CFA Charterholder who has been featured on Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, and The Motley Fool. Read about how he quit his 6-figure job to travel the world.

Credit Verify review: beware of misleading claims and automatic charges

Credit score metre

Credit Verify offers a free Canadian credit score and a $1 credit report. We do not recommend using them.

Automatic monthly charges

During the sign-up process, Credit Verify will ask you for your credit card, noting that it is required in order to verify your identity:

Credit Verify: you must supply your credit card to sign up

The main reason for Credit Verify to get your credit card is in order to charge your credit card a monthly fee (currently $29.95) after 7 days. Compare this against similar Canadian services such as Borrowell, which do not require you to supply your credit card information. You cannot cancel your Credit Verify account online or via email.

You will find a “Cancel” button in the online interface, but it will only lead to a message telling you to send a snail mail or to call them. Their mailing address was previously a US virtual mail service in California, and is now a co-working space in Squamish, BC. If you call their number to cancel, you will be subject to a hold that could be somewhere between 20 minutes and a few hours. You will then be subject to a spiel on the merits of the service, including the ability to correct errors in your credit report, and the reward that they give you each month. However, you will be able to cancel your account.

Credit Verify will not refund a charge they have already made on your credit card.

$25 “reward” each month

Credit Verify advertises the following as a feature of your account:

“You’ll receive $25 in Reward Dollars EACH month you’re a Credit Verify Premium member. Use your rewards however you’d like. Save on popular brands like Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Nike, Lacoste, or Under Armour. Get access to great local deals at the salon, dry-cleaning, car washes, movie tickets or golfing. Or you can save at popular restaurants like TGI Friday’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Subway and thousands more.”

The monthly $25 reward they promote is no better than coupons you might get for free in the mail.

Credit Verify free drink coupon

For example, buy a sandwich and drink and get another sandwich and drink free. Or, get a free drink if you purchase a burger, except you had to use your reward to get the coupon in the first place — and you still have to purchase the burger. We tested some hotel bookings through their travel discounts area, and found their prices to be more expensive than booking through the hotel’s own website.

Professional web presence?

Credit Verify is owned by a US company Credique LLC, whose mailing address is the same virtual mail service that used to be posted on Credit Verify’s website.

There are several typos on Credit Verify’s website, which have been there for months:

Credit Verify: typo for the word 'retrieve'

Credit Verify: typo for the word 'restaurant'

It is also telling that the social media icons in the footer of their website do not have links attached to them.

Other reviews

Be careful if you read a positive review of Credit Verify — scrutinize whether you can tell if the reviewer has actually used the service or is an affiliate of the service (and thus has affiliate links in their review).

Here are some links to other reviews of Credit Verify:

Beyond the rate: Applying for overdraft protection at Tangerine Bank

Overdraft protection at Tangerine

If you’ve ever been hit with an NSF (non-sufficient funds) fee, you know that it’s costly and inconvenient. With overdraft or coverdraft protection, you can avoid such fees, often for free. Here’s how to set up overdraft protection at Tangerine Bank.

You get charged an NSF fee if there is a debit against your account (such as someone cashing a cheque you wrote) and you do not have enough money in your account to cover the debit. By default, your account is not allowed to be “overdrawn” — in other words, it cannot have a negative balance. Tangerine’s NSF fee is $40. Not only are you charged the fee, but your cheque bounces and you’ll have to re-do the transaction (such as issuing a new cheque) when you have enough money in your account again. You might also get charged another fee by the recipient to cover their inconvenience.

Overdraft protection allows your account to go into a negative balance (up to a certain limit). At Tangerine, you must apply to have this protection enabled. Overdraft protection at Tangerine is free if you do not use it at all, or when you use it, if you transfer enough money into the account by 9:00pm Pacific time / 12:00am Eastern time on the night that your account is overdrawn. Otherwise, it costs $5 in each month that you use it (no matter how many times you use it in a month), plus 19% annual interest until the overdraft amount is paid back. Tangerine will e-mail you whenever you’ve overdrawn your account.

Setting up overdraft protection at Tangerine Bank

First, in your online interface, click the “Overdraft” link on your chequing account:

Step 1: Click the Overdraft link

Then, click the “Apply” button:

Step 2: Click the Apply button

Then, agree to the terms:

Step 3: Agree to the terms

Finally, fill in the application form, which asks for your employment information as well as other personal information:

Step 4a: Enter your employment information

Step 4b: Enter more personal finance information

In some cases, you’re done and are approved immediately. Note that it does a credit bureau check and you might get denied.

How to avoid overdraft fees

If you have enough money in your Tangerine savings account, you can simply transfer the money instantly to the chequing account the same day that an overdraft occurs. Otherwise, if you have enough money elsewhere, consider sending yourself an Interac e-Transfer from another financial institution, since the money transfers close to instantly, allowing for what is usually less than a 30 minute delay between when you send the Interac e-Transfer and when you receive an e-mail or phone link to deposit the money. Many financial institutions offer free Interac e-Transfers on no-fee accounts, including Alterna Bank, EQ Bank, and Motive Financial. (Credit to forum user Adam1 for the idea!)

Not a client of Tangerine Bank? Other financial institutions offer similar overdraft features, including “coverdraft” from Alterna Bank, which triggers an automatic, internal transfer of money between your Alterna Bank accounts whenever one of them is overdrawn.

2019 Canadian personal income tax filing survey results

The results are in! For almost 3 weeks in April 2019, HighInterestSavings.ca ran an online survey of how 201 people file their personal income taxes in Canada.

Have you filed your taxes yet?

15% of respondents wait until the last week in April to file their taxes. 1.5% file in February, while another 1.5% file in May or June. Naturally, the bulk of people file in March (36%) or April (61%). You are average if you file on April 4, whereas the median is roughly the same on April 5.

Who files your taxes?

81% of respondents do their taxes themselves, and of that number, 68% of them believe their tax return is “simple”. 14% of respondents use a tax professional, and of them, 41% rate their tax return as “simple” while the other 59% rate their tax return as “complex”. If you have a family member who does your taxes for free, count yourself as the lucky 4%, or feel guilty that you’re not the 1/201 respondents who said they pay a family member.

How much do you pay to do your taxes?

48% of respondents pay nothing at all, either to someone else or for software. People who pay someone else average $275, although this drops to just under $100 for a self-rated “simple” return. If people pay for software, including donations, the average cost is $26.50.

Software: the Big 4

For those who do their own taxes, 8% of people either eschew software altogether or use only spreadsheets. For the 92% of people who do use software, the vast majority of them (92% of the 92%) use one of StudioTax, TurboTax, SimpleTax, or UFile. The full breakdown of software from our survey is as follows:

  • StudioTax: 27.7%
  • TurboTax: 25.2%
  • SimpleTax: 20.6%
  • UFile: 18.1%
  • GenuTax: 2.6%
  • H&R Block: 1.9%
  • FutureTax: 0.6%
  • myTaxExpress: 0.6%
  • ImpôtExpert: 0.6%
  • TaxFreeway: 0.6%
  • ProFile: 0.6%
  • TaxTron: 0.6%

What are some key features in personal income tax return software? 57% of respondents mentioned that ease of use is important, and to 44% of respondents, free or low cost is important. 15% say they use a given piece of software simply of habit, 5% mention NETFILE as a reason for their choice, and 4% cite security as a key feature.

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17

Wise (formerly TransferWise) vs OFX comparison: CAD to USD transfers

United Nations flags

At my job at a web development company, we frequently need to make currency exchange transfers to pay contractors and accept payments from international clients. This most often involves transfers in both directions between Canada (CAD) and the United States of America (USD), but sometimes between Canada and Europe (EUR) and between Canada and Australia (AUD) as well. At the beginning, we used our bank (RBC Royal Bank of Canada) but quickly discovered that we were losing a lot of money on currency exchange and wire transfer fees even after we were put in touch with their preferred rate currency exchange business solution. If you need to transfer currency internationally or even between 2 different currency accounts in Canada, it is a no-brainer to consider using a company or service other than your bank. We use a combination of Wise (formerly TransferWise) and OFX (formerly CanadianForex). What I’ve learned in using Wise and OFX can apply to both business and personal transactions.

Wise advertises that they provide you with the mid-market rate, which is true. But they charge you a percentage fee on top. OFX, on the other hand, gives you a rate worse than the mid-market rate (but still much better than you’d get at a bank), and charges a $15 flat fee for smaller transfer amounts (below $10,000 Canadian dollars) and no fees for amounts above $10,000 CAD. (September 16 update: OFX has given me this referral link that waives the $15 fee for new accounts.)

Generally, I have found OFX to be cheaper except for transfers of only a few hundred dollars, where the $15 flat fee is a larger percentage. In terms of pure dollars, OFX is the clear winner for me for larger transfers: for example, for a recent transfer of $23,000 USD to CAD, OFX provided a rate of 1.3109 and no fees, for a total amount received of $30,150.70 CAD. Wise provided a much better rate at 1.3159, but charged fees of $138.17 USD, for a total amount received of $30,083.88.

(It’s important to note, though, that when I first looked into OFX, I had to call them to get the preferred rate that’s currently on my account. This is probably not difficult to get from them, but it does require you to call them. On the other hand, Wise offers the same rate for everybody.)

But the story is not that simple once you dig into the details. First of all, you need to consider whether you’re sending money or receiving money.

If you’re receiving money, do you have a USD bank account in Canada or just a CAD account? It can be convenient to have a USD bank account in Canada to deposit cheques, receive wire transfers, transfer money to CAD at a time that’s right for you, or maybe not even transfer all of the money back to CAD if you need to then pay out some of that money in USD again (thus saving transfer costs x 2). But cheques are slow and require your time to receive and deposit them, and sometimes inconvenient for clients to produce (and mail to you!). If you receive a wire transfer, there is a fee to receive it ($17 at RBC), a fee for your client to send it, and sometimes an additional fee that gets charge in transit — for some transfers I notice that we’ve lost another $18.50 by the time it arrives in our account.

Having a US dollar account in the USA can save you and your clients money. But it also requires setup and additional management. Wise has a killer feature for receiving payments: the borderless account. The borderless account gives you account numbers within Australia, England, Europe, and the USA so that clients can send money to an account local to their country or within the EU. This is incredibly convenient and helps you receive the money much faster, with a much lower or no transaction cost for your clients. I have found the borderless account to be very useful and easy to set up. Although I still default to using OFX to transfer incoming money from USD to CAD, the convenience of Wise sometimes wins out.

For sending money (from a CAD account to contractors’ international accounts), OFX is the winner in my case, although Wise might soon become more competitive. The main issue is that Wise has more limited and costly options for getting the money to them. Wise is currently only a bill payment option for the Bank of Montreal, National Bank of Canada, Central 1 credit unions, and Tangerine Bank. Wise does not support pre-authorized debits for business accounts, whereas OFX does. This means that with OFX you can incur minimal or no additional fees (on top of their exchange rate spread) to send the money. Wise charges quite a meaningful additional fee for sending money using a debit card or a credit card. I actually found Wise’s fees for funding a payment with a credit card to be cheaper than with a debit card, but then I was hit with a surprise cash advance and interest fee on our Scotiabank credit card (which they later did a one-time refund for). Wise claims that the additional Scotiabank charges were the result of a mis-classification of the transaction on the part of Scotiabank that does not happen with all credit cards, although I have not verified this.

In general, I am quite pleased with both Wise and OFX. I can fully recommend them as being convenient, reliable, and much cheaper than using my bank for transfers between Canadian dollars and at least US dollars, Euros, and Australian dollars. There are several factors to consider beyond the rates and fees that Wise and OFX charge, thus it could be worth it for you to be a customer of both of them!