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Money belt, customs - novice traveler here

I'm two and half weeks away from my first trip to Europe. Mostly Switzerland, with a couple days in Venice. As a real novice when it comes to European travel, I've got a couple more questions.

I did buy a money belt, but was wondering if that was as much of a necessity in Switzerland. We'll be spending time in the cities (Bern and Zurich at least) as well as out in little towns and the rural areas. I never really see Switzerland brought up as a big place for theft and pickpockets, so I'm wondering if it would be as necessary to wear the money belt while in Switzerland. Not asking for guarantees on being absolutely safe and theft proof, just opinions based on experience. And I'm assuming that in Venice, a money belt is more of a must, right?

Since I've never traveled out of the country, is there a good place to read up on going through customs? I've dug around the actual customs site, but didn't really find much of a primer on what it is like to go through customs, just what I could and couldn't bring back, which is still a little confusing. What's it actually like to go through customs?

Sorry if these seem like really dumb questions. I think I just have novice traveler butterflies. I've gone just about everywhere in the US, but European travel is foreign to me (no pun intended). Thanks! This place has been invaluable in my planning.

Posted by
2716 posts

Do you really want to spend a day of your vacation at the US Embassy? If not, WEAR the thing. Don't pick and choose. Thieves are MUCH better judges of this they you are.

Customs. You fill out the form on the plane, you hand the form to the offical and unless you are doing something like transporting large volumes of cash, bring back fruits, veggies, meats or spend more then the allowance in 99.9% of the time they just waive you through. No biggie.

Posted by
8899 posts

I am not going to enter into the money belt debate as I don't have one, but since I live in Germany, and speak German and don't look like a tourist, it just isn't on my priority list. I use a neck pouch when I travel on trains and planes and just tuck it under my shirt. I do wear a messenger bag everywhere I go, but seldom carry my passport unless it is needed.

As to your customs questions. Are you concerned about entering Europe or entering the US?. Entering Europe is a breeze, you basically show your passport to an official at passport control in the airport, go pick up your luggage and walk out the doors, to your train or taxi or whatever. It is seldom that anyone will ask to see your bag. No one asks you where you are going or how long you will be here or if you have a return ticket, none of that. So now, you can stop worrying and hopefully your butterflies will settle.

Posted by
518 posts

The ease of entering a country in Europe will be paralleled when you return to the US. You will be given a form on the plane. You will fill it out and hand it to the customs agent along with your passport. That's about it. They will scan your passport. Once you claim your bags, you go through another agent. It takes about an hour in Dallas because of long lines. But it is easy. Sometimes they even say, "Welcome home."

Posted by
182 posts

Hi Kimberly

I think we all can understand your fears and we all wish you a smooth trip. As you suggest in your post, there are no guarantees regarding whether you should or should not use the money belt. If you're really that nervous, wear it or you'll always wonder if you should.

I personally have never worn one and have no plans to, yet. After reading this site for months prior to our recent trip I was almost was spooked enough and went as far as to buy one of those "hidden pockets" and also a neck sling, but in the end, I didn't use either. Went to Germany and Austria. I've been to Switzerland before and didn't have any problems. Haven't been to Venice.

As Thomas suggests, the customs experience should be easy. Much easier entering Europe, but usually no issues returning except sometimes the lines. Fill out the form on the plane, get your passports scanned, get your luggage and go through customs and you're set.

Posted by
1568 posts

In my opinion, customs in Europe was a breeze. However, flying out of SFO for my trips overseas was a pain.

I must be on their watch list (68 year old great granny)because they put me through a very thorough search. They do everything except strip search me.

Boarding in Frankfurt bound for Tel Aviv was thorough.

Departing Tel Aviv for flight home was also thorough.

Never had a problem in customs.

Posted by
2788 posts

Lots of folks on this site ware money belts and lots of folks on this site do not wear them. I prefer to take the advice of Rick Steves who has spent more time throughout Europe than most everyone on this web site COMBINED! Therefore, I wear a money belt when I go to Europe every summer. A minor inconvenience for my piece of mind. Have you gotten RS "Best of Europe" guide book yet? Lots of good information to beginning travelers. Happy Travels

Posted by
43 posts

Thanks all. I think I've reached the "over-thinking it" stage, so I keep coming up with the what if and how questions that are keeping me awake at night. Today I actually did a practice run-through of packing my suitcase. Which turned out well since I did need to edit from my list to my bag.

Again, appreciate all the input.

Posted by
307 posts

Kim,
I head to Europe in less than two weeks, and will be over there for almost 6....you are definitely not alone in terms of "overthinking" anything, many of us do that...lol. And although I've been to Europe before( you're gonna love it by the way ) like you, I to have given my bag a trial packing already....lol... being prepared and doing some research in advance is a GOOD thing, don't sweat it, I think your approach will serve you well.
As for customs, like the other posters say, don't sweat it, it's typically a routine and uneventful process.
As for money belts, I have and use one during my trips, but I've also left mine in the hotel safe with no problems( and I don't stay in 4-5 star hotels either, strictly 2 star places. Typically though I will wear my money belt at all times for the peace of mind having my critical documents with me....

Posted by
12154 posts

Overthinking is great. If you do it here now, you get more out of your time on the ground there. I'd rather research what to see and do, then choose based on my personal priorities than come home and have someone ask if I saw such and such and didn't realize it was there.

As far as money belt. If you are in a place with tourists, there will be pickpockets. If you find yourself somewhere with no tourists, you are probably perfectly safe to go without a moneybelt. Most tourists visit the same sites and congregate in the same areas so that's where the thieves hang out.

Posted by
9089 posts

Let's not loose sight of the other function of money belts: they also protect you from simply loosing and misplacing valuables. For me that's just as important. When I was in Oslo a few of years ago, I was waiting at a tram stop, noticed a smallish bag sitting on the bench. I looked inside and it contained cash, passport, and credit cards of an Australian tourist who had obviously left it behind. I spotted a police officer and handed it over....who knows if she ever got it back??? Had she been using a money belt this wouldn't of happened.

Posted by
220 posts

A few years ago I found an Egyptian man's passport on the ground in Bern. I don't know if he dropped it or a pickpocket discarded it, but I know a money belt would have saved him some trouble. It would have saved me 20 minutes of looking for a place to turn it in. The moral of the story is s--- happens, even in Switzerland.

Posted by
1449 posts

Switzerland may not be a big place for pickpockets, but you can bet that anyone in that line of work is going to be in a Swiss city where lots of tourists are and not hanging out in Gimmelwald. And remember that tourists make good targets for bandits, a tradition that goes back centuries. Even if the average Swiss citizen is safe, you may not be quite so lucky. So I'd recommend wearing a money belt or one that hangs around your neck. You don't have to, of course, and you could spend an entire life travelling to Europe without ever hitting a problem. It's just a question of tradeoffs; are you willing to spend the inconvenience of hiding your valuables against the inconvenience of having to cancel credit cards from Europe, replace your passport, etc?

Posted by
1014 posts

Took a lot of cash this trip, so used a money belt for the first time. Around the waist is a pain. I found that wearing it bandolier style across one shoulder, under my shirt, worked better for me. Plus, I could access it without having to drop my pants everytime I wanted more cash.

Posted by
10344 posts

Bandolier style is an interesting option that hasn't been mentioned here much and that might work for some.

"Plus, I could access it without having to drop my pants everytime I wanted more cash."

But let's dispel one myth: Someone who prefers wearing a money belt the usual way, under the trousers, certainly does not have to drop their pants to access it.

Euro Dressing 101:OK, men, let's go over this one more timeIn the morning, you put your shirt on first, then put on the money belt, then put on your trousers--with the result that the m.b. is under your trousers but over your shirt.

Then, if you need to access it during the day (which shouldn't be often because you have your daily spending money more accessible)--you just do the ol' suck in the gut (some of us, me included, have farther to suck it in than we used to), reach down (you shouldn't have to reach down that far), pull the m.b. out, access it, and push it back down.

Your trousers haven't moved an inch, during this entire procedure.

Or bandolier style, whatever works for you--the key thing being it's under some clothing item that the bad guys can't get into.

Posted by
10139 posts

As for customs, I have never seen this mentioned here but this happened to my sister & bro-in-law - We landed in Frankfurt and they had declared 6 cartons of cigarettes they brought with them. They had to pay a fine (?) of approximately 25 euros each for 4 of the cartons. And they thought they would save money by bringing cigarettes from home! They should have just bought more cigarettes in Europe. Or not smoked at all...that would have been my preference!!!

Posted by
263 posts

Hello Kimberly,
Switzerland is a pretty safe country....but people will be people. I have done both the money belt and no money belt route, depending on what I am doing, where I am going, what I need for the day. In Venice, I wore the money belt...just because it seemed the more prudent route to take. Don't keep all your money in it, many travelers carry a smaller purse or wallet with "walking around" money while keeping credit cards and passports in the money or neck pouch
Coming back to the US is pretty basic. Cheese is ok, but don't bring meat products or fruit. A friend returned from France with a couple of apples she was saving for a snack on the plane and a pretty little beagle, trained as an apple detector, ratted her out at customs. No penalty, they just took the apples.
Alcohol is another favorite to bring back. I believe customs says 1,000 ML per person, which is strange cause most wine is sold in 750 ml bottles.....Again, I don't believe you will be fined, but if you bring in more than that you could be assessed a tax or duty on the extra bottles.....The customs form will be pased out on the plane and you will be asked to list the amount of money spent on various items, not the number of items you actually have. No one has ever asked me to "prove" my purchases and I admit my $60 in wine might be a few bottles over what is allowed, but then again it has not been an issue in the several trips I have made.
Enjoy your trip

Posted by
1014 posts

Kent, will not work when wearing knit shirt. MB slides down and down and . . .Tried that. Plus, with three belt lines working, underwear (1) Pants (2) and MB(3) I always felt like something was not right down there. Tried bandolier, and worked great. No more hitching up pants, MB and underwear and wondering which was in correct place and which was riding up, which ment going to toilet to adjust.

Posted by
59 posts

Im a 240 pound very well built police officer who loves to go to europe. In most of Europe violent crime is low but the thieves are the best that exist. I have used the money belt and neck wallet under the shirt and armpit where it is not seen but always felt. After awhile it becomes comfortable as long as I keep my passport in the neckwallet and not on my waist (cards and cash on the waist model are very comfortable). I keep petty cash in my pockets so not to have to go to the money belt or under the shirt often but if I need my atm card or more cash there is always a restroom nearby for a quick grab. I am always very alert as to who and what is around me and even with my size and alertness I have had pickpockets sizing me up to try but I smile at them and they know I know what they are. I have never lost a minutes sleep worrying or spent time on a ruined vacation trying to replace what I lost because I have respected the thieves and used the moneybelt. I repeat they are very very good and Im sure Ive had some check me out when I did not know and if I wasnt smart by wearing the belt or wallet I could have been a victim. So have fun planning the trip,stop worrying and losing sleep,wear the neck wallet under your blouse or shirt which is easier to conceal than it is for men and you will have a great worry free trip that you will be telling your family and friends about for years. Have a great time!!!

Posted by
689 posts

Kimberly, see if your hotels have a safe. Almost all do (though hostels probably won't). If so, keep your passport there, and maybe extra credit cards/money you don't need to carry around. This is what I do--I don't wear a moneybelt. Taking a crowded train in Barcelona to the airport with all your stuff, a moneybelt makes some sense. In rural Switzerland it seems pretty silly. It's safer in your room in the safe.

I always wonder what the moneybelt people do when traveling in Canada or Mexico. Do they suddenly develop a trust of hotel safes, or are they wearing their moneybelt under their ski clothes at Whistler or in special waterproof moneybelts snorkling in Cancun? Your hotel room isn't any more at risk of getting broken into in Switzerland than it is in Canada or Mexico.

Re: customs. It IS confusing, especially with food. Sometimes customs officers aren't even sure of the rules, and they confiscate stuff the USDA website said you can bring back. Figure out if there is something in particular you want to bring back--some food item, or something expensive--then look to see the rules on that in particular.

Posted by
818 posts

Huh? Why wold someone use one in Europe and not Mexico or Canada?

Neither my husband or I have ever felt the need for a money belt. He keeps his wallet deep in his front pocket and I wear a sturdy bad around my front where I keep or passports. I don't carry a wallet when I travel - change purse type thing for money and a few credit cards packed/zipped/secured in with our passports. We are both NYC people and are pretty aware of our surroundings - we did spot a pickpocket in Prague but so far have never felt that our belongings weren't super secure.