January 9, 2009

Tip: Dispose of Traveler's Checks at U.S. Embassies
Istanbul, Turkey

I don't recommend travelers (both short- and long-term) to buy and carry traveler's checks. Not knowing what I do now regarding the sweeping availability of internationally-capable ATMs across the planet, I 'purchased' three US$100 traveler's checks in 2005—and they've been rotting in my backpack ever since.

When you properly mitigate against theft and absolute loss, traveler's checks have no real place in your life.

I'm a cash-only man. I only use my credit card for online purchases—typically for flights—and never in the stores (where such card information is subject to poaching or manipulation of the receipt). 95% of the time I'm using a debit card to withdraw local currency from cash machines that are attached to banks, within banking hours (in the event of a machine malfunction). I don't trust stand-alone ATMs—there are too many scams involving their use.

Yes, I carry a cache of cash with me in the event that there aren't any ATMs, or for visa fees that must be paid in dollars. I dip into this supply with intermittent frequency, such as on a bank-less island in Indonesia, and when I recently paid US$40 cash for the pair of Turkish visas necessary for myself and my son.

Today, I again needed U.S. dollars, and in the process stumbled upon a great way to dump these things without incurring any fees.

Jumping through the Hoops of Travel with Children

Since I was going to be thousands and thousands of miles away from Tatiana for her travels from Turkey to Miami (via London) in January (and eventually onward to Peru in March—then all the way back to this side of the world in April), I needed to make sure she had as little to worry about as possible.

One of my primary concerns was her getting stuck with an airport official that wasn't happy with the generic letter we crafted (that gives my consent for Tatiana to move internationally with Aidric without my presence). This lovely piece of international policy ensures that we have to create and notarize letters like this each and every time we do this, until the year 20206.

Previously on the travelogue: International Travel Consent for the Children of Travelers, International Travel Consent Letter for Children

We asked (and were told by) the travel agent that issued Aidric's infant ticket that a simple notarization in Istanbul would run us a good US$40. This constitutes nearly week's worth of expenses—not cheap.

After hearing this I put a call out to the CouchSurfing community in Istanbul (back in December), asking if anyone was a notary. A family of lawyers responded, and shed some light on the ugly situation:

Here is the all process. First of all u need to translate your letter to Turkish to make it approved by notary. It will be around 20 YTL (17 dollars). Then with your translation and also original paper you will go to notary to get it approved. That will cost between 30-40 YTL (20-25 dollars). BUT if you can find a notary who knows English you do not need translation. Because in order to approve the paper notary has to understand it. We can directly write in Turkish for the notary but in this case in USA officer won't understand. So if you can't find a notary who knows English, you need approved translation also.

Notarized letter of consent

What a mess.

Instead I rallied the troops and off we went to the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, who charges a fee of $30 per notarization. These people could care less what the document says (as it's none of their business anyway), and are merely a mechanism to validate my identity at the time of signing.

I paid the fee with a traveler's check, and got a fresh stack of U.S. dollars back! There was no fee or commission involved, and now I don't need to convert any lira to dollars for all the visas that I'm going to have to pay for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt this spring. The $70, plus what I've got, should be enough for such things.

U.S. embassies and consulates are the perfect place to use traveler's checks.

(photos below of the awesome U.S. consulate in Istanbul, built into and atop of a hill like a modern-day fortress)

Comments:

The United States

superkain

March 5th, 2009

WOW!!! How can you possibly travel on $40 a week?!

Turkey

Craig | travelvice.com

March 5th, 2009

Comfortably and with a smile? :) hehehe

The United States

Erik

March 5th, 2009

Here's what pissed me off. The US embassy in Athens and the consulate in Istanbul? Out of the way for a relatively short duration traveler (still lengthy by American standards at least). I passed by so many other national embassies and consulates. At least in Athens the majority are all on one street but of course the American one was at end far from city centre. Argh!

Since I was only abroad for 2 1/2 weeks this time, I didn't want to waste time trudging to the place for my additional passport pages. I'll just mail it in from home, which reminds me that I need to do this ASAP before the mood strikes me to buy another international plane ticket.

The United States

MB

April 24th, 2009

It's just going to get worse, Erik. Most US embassies are moving out to the burbs. A "security" thing.

(And speaking of security: last time I was in Athens, we drove past the American Embassy, and the taxi driver pointed out the American Embassy as "the most secure building in Athens." A week later it was hit with a rocket attack. D'oh.)

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Craig | travelvice.com

April 24th, 2009

Wait 'till I show off photos of the US embassy in Tel Aviv — easily the most pathetic, unassuming slab of unpainted concrete I've seen for such a structure. Prime beach front access, though!

Canada

Sharon YVR

December 3rd, 2012

Hello Craig:

I have happened upon your blog a few years after the fact, but as this still seems to constitute a Q&A for travellers, I feel I should address this post. I am a Canadian lawyer (and thus also a notary). The rules and practices in Canada and other countries vary, considerably, but in Canada it is poor practice (and I am bolstered by recent Alberta court decision on the matter) to notarize a document that you don't understand. In Canada and the US, there are various types of vexatious litigants (often who say they are not bound by our court systems) who prepare all sorts of documents that have no meaning in law, and seek to have them notarized to lend an air of validity to them (such documents are then used in a variety of ways).

I don't know whether such characters exist in other countries, but you may have a misunderstanding of the ethical and professional duties of notaries, if you think they should be compelled to notarize anything you put in front of them - as I said, others have abused the concept over the years, with the result that notaries need to be cautious not be be used as tools to lend validity to crazy documents.

Cheers

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

December 4th, 2012

Interestingly, when you notarize some non-government documents in PerĂº they validate your identity for the purposes of the document but indicate (via stamp & signature) that said document was not reviewed. [picture]

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