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  Mike Todd

Paying by cash

Cash is easy to use and universally accepted. But carrying large quantities of cash is not recommended. If you can, try to go around with only enough cash for what you're expecting to spend.

There are three ways of getting cash:

Get it before you travel
while it's a very bad idea to arrive in the US without any cash at all in your pocket, you probably don't want to carry too much. You're not not likely to have it stolen (unless you flash it around), but it's quite possible that you'll lose it. My own personal routine is to start off with about $100 in cash.

Cash can be had from numerous different places - your own bank, online, travel agent or at the airport. Some banks offer "commission free" currency, and you may be able to order it for delivery (but there'll be a charge for the delivery). But watch the exchange rate, as you may find that those offering low or no commission are working at poorer exchange rates.

Cash a traveller's cheque
You can either rely on the change when you pay for something with a traveller's cheque, or you can cash one at a bank or "check-cashing" facility.

Use an ATM
There are cash machines all over the US. You'll find them in malls, gas stations, supermarkets and, of course, banks. Whether or not you can use them, and whether you'll be charged a fee, will depend on the type of card that you have.

Most US ATMs operate on either the Mastercard (Cirrus/Maestro) or Visa (Plus) networks and if you need to find out which machines are available in the area you're staying, the relevant Web sites (Mastercard or Visa) can help. You may also be able to use your credit card, although you'll almost certainly have to pay an additional "cash transaction" charge.

Some ATMs will charge a fee, but you'll be advised of this in advance, and you may also have to pay a fee through your bank. In general, the overall fee is likely to be fairly small (perhaps $1.50 at the ATM and/or 1.75% by your bank). You may only want to use an ATM if you're desperate for cash, but I do know some people that rely on ATMs exclusively for all their cash needs.

Watch out

It comes as a bit of a culture shock to many UK visitors to the US that all American bills look almost identical. There are some who take advantage of this, so beware.

For instance, if you handed over a $50 bill for a $15 purchase, you might find that you get three $10 bills together, but only the first one is really $10, the other two are slightly hidden $1 bills, followed by five $1 bills each individually counted out. It's a surprisingly common scam, so always check your change there and then (don't go back after you've left the counter or checkout, as they won't believe you).