Since smartphones and credit cards became ubiquitous, the humble traveler’s cheque (or check, depending on where you’re asking the question) has fallen out of favor. However, not that long ago they played an immensely important role in the lives of travelers across the United States.
Back when there wasn’t an ATM on every corner and cash was king, they minimized the risk globetrotters faced when traveling far from home. Cash could be lost or stolen. While traveler’s cheques could be too, they could also be reported as such and subsequently replaced!
However, now it’s 2021. Credit and debit cards are as common as dental floss and the once novel utility of traveler’s cheques has worn off. So, with that said, what do you do when you find old ones laying around?
Do not throw away your old traveler’s cheques — you may still be able to redeem them for hard currency. They never expire, so if you have ownership and the cheque’s serial number has not already been redeemed, you’ll be able to cash them at participating financial institutions.
Go dig them out of the garbage if you’ve already tossed them out! Then come back here and stick around, as we’re going to explore the state of using traveler’s cheques in the modern era.
One thing — we’re not financial or legal experts. If you doubt your ability to cash the traveler’s cheques you found, consider calling American Express at 1-800-525-7641. If American Express is not your traveler cheque issuer, simply call the company that issued them.
What About for the Deceased?
There’s a chance that if you’ve found old traveler’s cheques, they were a part of a deceased person’s estate. While it’s possible to cash the traveler’s cheques of a dead person, you have to make sure that you have the right to do so — this usually means being the executor of that person’s estate.
This is more complicated than simply proving you’re related to someone — other heirs may have equal or greater rights to the estate.
If you’re not sure if you have the ability to do this, I recommend talking to a probate lawyer or calling the company that issued the cheques.
Where To Cash Travelers Cheques in 2021
While they’re certainly not as in favor as they used to be, there are still many places that someone can redeem their traveler’s cheques for cash. While we won’t go into every location that will cash your traveler’s cheques here, we will give you a rough strategy for getting them redeemed.
via Purchases as Participating Stores
Many stores, including some Walmarts, offer the ability to cash traveler’s cheques in their store. This often takes the form of buying something with the cheque and getting the change back in U.S. currency.
Be warned — some stores will limit traveler’s cheque redemption to a certain amount of money. Consider a situation where a store only allows $20 cash back. If you paid with a $50 traveler’s cheque, you’d need to spend $30 at the store to get your total amount of money back!
Nearly all banks will allow customers to deposit their traveler’s cheques into checking or savings accounts. The same usually can’t be said if a person doesn’t have an account at that institution (with some exceptions, listed below).
However, not all banks offer this service. To know for sure, simply call your bank.
Many people don’t know this, but check cashing places will usually cash traveler’s cheques. Like all of their other services, this will cost money. How much they’ll charge depends on the individual store policy. As with the other sections, if you’re in doubt give them a call.
Bank of America
Unlike other banks, the vast majority of Bank of America locations allow you to cash traveler’s cheques. Bank of America will often charge a fee, although some locations offer this service for free.
U.S. Post Offices
According to the USPS, you can use travelers cheques to buy postage services as long as at least 50% of the value goes toward the postage service. This means that if you have a $50 travelers cheque, you would need to buy $25 in postage services to get $25 back in change.
American Express actually offers the ability to redeem your traveler’s cheques online. In order to take advantage of this method, you’ll need the following:
- A government issued ID (social security card, passport, or U.S. driver’s license)
- The traveler’s cheques
- Your bank details
Following their online instructions will allow you to redeem the cheques, depositing the money into your bank account.
Will They Ever Expire?
I touched on this in the introduction, but one of the major benefits of buying traveler’s cheques is that they will never expire. You can keep them for 50 years and they’ll be worth the same amount of issuing currency.
However, there is one major caveat to this.
If the issuing company ever goes out of business, it’s questionable whether or not you would get your money back. This makes intuitive sense — who would give it to you if the company was gone? Luckily, American Express is over 170 years old and is unlikely to go out of business anytime soon.
If they aren’t the company that issued your traveler’s cheques, this may be a concern though.
Can You Still Buy Travelers Cheques?
According to American Express, you can still purchase travelers cheques. However, according to the University of Hawai’i Federal Credit Union, American Express travelers cheques were discontinued as of December 31, 2020. As of this writing, this is the only source I can find about the planned discontinuance.
Travelers Cheques Alternatives
If travelers do go the way of the dodo, there are still other ways to accomplish their purpose. Prepaid travel cards are the 21st century replacement for them. They offer the same advantages while also letting you use them like you would a debit or credit card.
Simply fill them with the amount of currency you want to take with you and use it like a debit card until the funds are exhausted.
You should definitely try to hang on to any old travelers cheques you find. If they haven’t already been redeemed, you might have just lucked your way into a small windfall. Even if they have been redeemed, consider holding on to them.
If American Express does discontinue them, you’ll have in your hands a piece of American history!