Once a must-have on the road, travelers checks have fallen out of fashion as growing global acceptance of credit cards and proliferation of ATMs around the world have made it easier for travelers to make purchases and access cash. Even so, travelers checks serve some important purposes, particularly when you go to remote or undeveloped areas with few ATMs or as a back-up in case of catastrophe, such as lost credit cards and a drained bank account. They also can help you stick to a travel budget, as they are a safe way to bring exactly how much money you intend to spend. Travelers checks essentially act like insured cash. In the event your checks are lost or stolen, you can receive a replacement nearly anywhere in the world, usually in less than 24 hours. Unused travelers checks do not lose value or expire, so you will have no trouble putting them to use should you return home with them still in your possession.
Travelers checks are just like cash, so you can use them to purchase goods and services at home as well as when traveling. To redeem your travelers checks, date them in the upper right-hand corner, fill out the "Pay To" field and countersign in the presence of the cashier or merchant. Any unused value should be returned to you in cash.
Keep Them for Future Travel
Purchasing travelers checks at a bank, credit unit or travel service can be time-consuming. Additional fees, limits and exchange rates may also apply. If you are a frequent traveler, store your traveler's checks in a safe location after you return. They do not expire or lose value and can thus be used during your next trip. Currencies do fluctuate over time, however, so if your checks are in a foreign currency, their spending power could significantly decline or increase should you save them for years at a time.
Turn Them Into Cash
Although your travelers checks will not lose value or expire, you may want to hand them in immediately to free the funds for investment. Like cash, travelers checks do not generate interest, so there is little purpose in holding onto them for long periods of time. Exchange your checks for local currency at banks, foreign exchange locations or – for American Express travelers checks, one of the more venerable brands – one of the many global American Express locations. You also take them to your own bank and deposit them directly into your account.
Like cash or personal checks, travelers checks can also be given as donations. The check must be countersigned before donation, however, as travelers checks can only be endorsed by the original purchaser.
What if Their Owner Dies?
In the event you possess travelers checks that belonged to a person now deceased, store the serial numbers in a safe place and give them to the estate executor for deposit. A surviving spouse may take the travelers checks and death certificate to her bank and instruct the bank to call the issuer of the checks. Alternatively, voided travelers checks and a copy of the death certificate or other related documentation may be sent to American Express for a refund.