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How Do Travelers Checks Work?


Understanding how traveler’s checks work is instrumental in making an informed decision regarding your financial safety during times of travel.

Checking Account versus Traveler’s Checks

Although they look like checks and have many of the identical elements of a check, they are far superior for traveling in many ways.

  • Traveler’s checks are a more secure method of receiving payment because they have been prepaid, unlike personal checks that offer no security or collateral backing. Because they are more widely accepted, this helps to ensure that you won’t be stuck without a payment method while away.
  • Traveler’s checks offer similar convenience to cash, as the checks are purchased in predetermined denominations which means you don’t have to worry about the hassle of filling out a blank check.

How to Purchase Travelers’ Checks

Travelers’ checks are available at banks, foreign exchange bureaus, and some travel agencies. Never purchase a traveler’s check from a private party.  When you purchase a traveler’s check, you must immediately sign it in the presence of the issuing authority on one of the two signature lines.  Similar to money orders and bank checks the fees for travelers’ checks vary depending on the institution of purchase.

Remitting Traveler’s Checks

Never fill out any other portion of a traveler’s check prior to using it to purchase goods or services. The receiver of the check must bear witness to you signing it in person.  At the time of purchase, fill in the date and the second signature line.  Just as with cash, if the total owed is greater than the denomination of a single check, the traveler fills out additional checks until meeting or exceeding the total due.

For safety purposes, you should always record the number of the check, to whom it was paid, and the date the check was used in records not carried with the checks. By storing or carrying the payment record separately, they would still be available to reference should the checks be stolen. Easy reference to what checks were used and which were not ensures easy replacement if lost or stolen.


While some restrictions do apply, traveler’s checks offer a higher level of safety than cash, checks, and credit or debit cards.

  • By signing that signature line immediately, you are ensuring that the check can no longer be used by just anyone.
  • If lost or stolen, they can be replaced much easier than cash.
  • By witnessing the person using the traveler’s check sign it and matching it to the authorized signature, the receiver can determine with reasonable assurance it hasn’t been stolen.

Counterfeit Checks

Counterfeit checks generally have identifiable differences that reveal them as fraudulent. Traveler’s checks contain a watermark on the front side of the check. A fraudulent check may be missing the watermark or it may be present only on the backside.  If the signature area is discolored or worn, it could indicate that the original signature has been removed by artificial means. Traveler’s checks also contain a holographic thread which counterfeiters have trouble duplicating. It should be highly metallic and shiny in appearance.


Expert Opinion

Quote: “With the wide-spread international acceptance of credit and debit cards, demand for traveler’s checks is now greatly diminished. However, there are some individuals who still prefer to buy traveler’s checks over using plastic, or use them as an emergency money alternative if their credit or debit cards are lost, stolen, inoperative, or simply not accepted.”

Source: How Do Traveler’s Checks Work?



“FAQs.” American Express Travelers Checks. American Express, n.d. Web. 25 June 2010.

“MRA – Spotting Fake Travelers Checks.” Michigan Retailers Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2010.

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