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ATMs

Nationwide, the easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a "cash machine" or "cashpoint." The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the country; you can find them even in remote regions. Look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart.

Credit Cards & Debit Cards

Credit cards are the most widely used form of payment in the United States: Visa (Barclaycard in Britain), MasterCard (Eurocard in Europe, Access in Britain, Chargex in Canada), American Express, Diners Club, and Discover. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN.

Visitors from outside the U.S. should inquire whether their bank assesses a 1% to 3% fee on charges incurred abroad.

It's highly recommended that you travel with at least one major credit card. You must have one to rent a car, and hotels and airlines usually require a credit card imprint as a deposit against expenses.

ATM cards with major credit card backing, known as debit cards, are now a commonly acceptable form of payment in most stores and restaurants.

Traveler's Checks

Traveler's checks are widely accepted in the U.S., including the Carolinas and Georgia, but foreign visitors should make sure that they're denominated in U.S. dollars; foreign-currency checks are often difficult to exchange.

The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/492-3344 or 800/221-7282 for cardholders -- this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322) -- AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee (for checks up to $1,500) at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378 -- and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.