Depending on where you’re going in the world, it might be entirely possible to travel without cash. By that, we mean never having to visit an ATM or carry wads of bills and coins around with you. Besides avoiding pesky ATM withdrawal fees on top of currency conversion fees, you will also feel safer knowing you don’t have all of the cash for the trip on you for someone to steal or for you to lose. Through mobile payment apps, SMS payments, and credit cards, it might be entirely possible for you to come back home from a trip realizing you don’t have any foreign currency as a keepsake.
Why Would I Travel Without Cash?
Depending on what age you are and where you live, you may not use much cash on a daily basis. In some countries around the world, cash is no longer king and you can get around with just your smartphone and credit cards (bonus if they have contactless payment). You can accurately track your spending, and there’s the added perk of not losing your entire trip budget if your cash is lost or stolen. You can also avoid paying ATM fees if you are traveling somewhere that uses a different currency.
All that being said, of course you can’t get around just anywhere without having any cash on you. Countries like Russia and China are increasingly using credit cards (the former) and mobile payments (the latter) but they are not accepted everywhere. Or maybe you don’t want to spend time setting up new apps and storing your payment details that you will only use for a week.
Ways to Pay Around the World
It’s important to say right off the bat that there are only some countries and regions where you can get away with going cash-free. By reading this article and doing a little of your own research, you can quickly find out if it’s feasible or not. In many countries in Asia, and Africa, parts of Europe, and in the US and Australia, you can pay with an app on your smartphone or a credit card most of the time. In fact, many countries with unstable currency, low access to banks, and high mobile phone usage offer mobile payments more widely than in the US. Here are some of the most popular mobile payment apps:
- Apple Pay/Android Pay/Google Pay: These are some of the biggest players in the US. Apple Pay is available in 13 countries, and Android Pay in 9 countries, while Google Pay is in app stores of 28 countries.
- Samsung Pay: Its largest market is South Korea, but it’s also available in 11 other countries.
- AliPay: This one has been around 10 years longer than Apple Pay, and is available in 110 countries. It’s primarily used in China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand.
- PayPal: One of the oldest mobile payment options, you can find it in 202 countries, although it’s used the most outside of the US in the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. This is mostly used to pay for things online or person-to-person rather than at a business.
- M-Pesa: If you’re going to Kenya, you should download this app. Although it’s used in 10 countries, Kenya is the largest market.
- Paytm: You will only find this one in India, but if you’re planning to travel there you should download it, as it’s widely used.
- DumaPay: One in 10 African adults uses a mobile money account. Used in African countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya, DumaPay allows you to pay multiple ways via the app: with a card, with mobile money, or even by email.
What Countries Are the Most Cashless?
The first thing to know is that no countries are completely cashless yet. But there are some where you can likely spend a week there without having to visit an ATM.
Sweden: The country is on track to be the first in the world that is completely cashless. It is already fully acceptable by law for businesses in Sweden to not accept cash. Its Scandinavian neighbors Norway and Denmark are also places where you don’t necessarily need cash on hand.
Canada: Credit and debit cards with contactless payment are widely used in the US’ northern neighbor. You will also find that most chain stores will accept things like Apple Pay.
South Korea: Payment apps and digital payment are very popular here. So popular, in fact, that the government is considering doing away with coins.
China: The country has seen the largest growth in cashless payments of anywhere in the world. Thanks to apps like AliPay and WeChat Pay you can pay for many things without having cash on hand. It pays to have a QR code reader or one of these apps downloaded and ready to use if you plan to travel to China because you can pay for most things this way rather than with credit cards.
Somaliland: It isn’t only economic superpowers that are making the move to more cashless payment methods. In this autonomous region of Somalia, mobile payments (usually by SMS rather than in an app) are common because of the huge rate of inflation and the high rate of mobile phone use.
UK: You will find it’s easy to pay with a credit or debit card or via contactless payment in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It might be more difficult to find places that accept digital payment like Apple Pay. While you likely won’t be able to pay for a pack of gum at a kiosk this way, you will be fine without cash at most restaurants and stores, especially in larger cities.