The death of traveler’s checks

Gearing up for a trip to Panama, I stopped by my bank to get some travelers’ checks. I haven’t used them for years, but Panama likes people to be carrying a fair amount of cash, $500 apiece, when they arrive (Panama uses the U.S. dollar). With four of us going, I figured travelers’ checks were a good idea. The woman at Bank of America told me they haven’t sold travelers checks for years, and asked me if I have a debit card. I do, though I consider traveler’s checks safer, in an odd way (harder to hack, at least). And indeed, travelers’ checks are in sharp decline and have been for more than a decade, according to Travelers checks sinking beneath a sea of plastic in the LA Times in 2000, though back then American Express still sold more than $23 billion worth of them.

I can still get them from AAA, but I guess I’ll skip it. I’ve gone to Switzerland, the UK, Iceland, Germany and Ecuador in the last decade without getting them. Call me another nail in that financial instrument. They still feel like a better product — cash, but with protection. But there’s too much friction in the system.

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