About 6 months before we left (so while we were still working) we each got a current account with a building society that doesn’t charge for overseas cashpoint withdrawals, and two credit cards that were at the top of Moneysavingexpert’s list for cheapness of use overseas, one Mastercard, one Visa. It was important to do this while we could still show a good income. We also acquired an American Express card that doesn’t charge us an annual fee – Amex is the only kind of overseas card that Indian Railways accept for online transactions.
As we already had two current accounts, that means we each have 5 cards with which we can get cash, and 6 with which we pay for things. Overkill? Maybe, but not all cards work in all ATMs (on Lembongan the only machine on the island did not take Visa cards!), and there’s always a risk that a card may be swallowed. Horror stories of travellers trying to sell their possessions to buy food because they have no cash are not unknown.
By getting brand brand new accounts it meant the cards were valid for at least 18 months before we needed to worry about getting new ones. We did have Lloyds credit cards, and they had assured me that we could have new cards issued before we left – but when I tried to do this they wouldn’t issue them until they were within 6 months of expiry, and they still had 9 months to go when we left (they hadn’t mentioned this when I first enquired!). So we cancelled the cards.
Because of the risk of card skimming we have arranged things so that the cards we normally use in cashpoints will only access a limited amount of cash, because those accounts are drip-fed by standing order from another account, which in turn is fed from a third. The middle account is the one from which all standing orders and direct debits are paid. The first account in the chain is where we receive our income, and we never use that card. We set up the standing orders a couple of months before leaving, to check that they worked OK, and we have a note of what happens when, so when we check balances we know if money is due to go out or has already gone.
We did phone all our banks/credit cards before we left to let them know our travel plans, and generally speaking it’s worked. We’ve only had problems with one of the credit cards – a couple of times they have blocked an online transaction (bizarrely, for flight tickets which of course are in our name!). It appears that banking institutions are starting to offer customers the facility to notify travel plans online, which is a great help.
Most banks have an extra security step involving a text or phone call when you set up a new payee for online banking, which can make things difficult if your normal phone number isn’t working. So before we left we set up all the payees that we thought we might need (eg HM Revenue & Customs, the letting agent, our accountant) plus two people who we could trust to make payments on our behalf if necessary.
Finally, a week or two before leaving we had to notify our change of address and switch to paperless statements where possible.