American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

American Express Travelers Cheques are just like cash, with the added benefit of offering more convenience and security. Travelers Cheques are safer than cash because if they are ever lost or stolen, they may be refunded.

There are thousands of banks and foreign exchange partners in countries around the world where you can exchange your American Express Travelers Cheques for local currency. You may also use your Travelers Cheques like cash to pay for products and services at accepting retail locations, restaurants and hotels.

What Is American Express Travelers Cheque?

The Travelers Cheque is a financial instrument originated by American Express Company in 1891. It provides users with a convenient and safe alternative to carrying cash. The traditional cheque was designed for one purchaser and one user. Unlike cash, however, lost, stolen or destroyed Travelers Cheques may be refunded.

Technically, an American Express Travelers Cheque is an order drawn on the issuer to pay the named payee or holder, on presentation, the indicated amount of the Cheque. It is negotiable only when countersigned by the original purchaser and may be made payable to the order of anyone designated by the purchaser at the time of use.

Cheques are offered in various denominations. For example, U.S. currency Travelers Cheques are issued in the denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. The issuance of $10 Cheques has been discontinued.

You can purchase Travelers Cheques at thousands of banks and credit unions. It is highly recommended that you call the location prior to your visit and verify fees, limits, payment methods, restrictions, exchange rates and availability. Commission fees may apply and can vary by country and / or exchange partner.

Gift Cheques – The Gift Cheque was first introduced in 1987 as a convenient, safe and elegant way to give money and to compete in the gift certificate market.The purchaser is not required to sign the signature line at the time of purchase, because the Cheque is intended for someone else.

Gift Cheques are refundable to either the purchaser or the recipient, depending on who was last in possession of the cheque when it was lost or stolen.They are sold individually with their own purchase record and refund information. Encashment procedures are identical to that of the Travelers Cheque ($10, $25, $50 and $100 only).

Cheques for Two – These cheques were launched in 1992 and are almost identical to the standard American Express Travelers Cheques. The only exception is that two signature lines appear in the upper left-hand corner The words “Signature I” and “Signature 2” appear over the signature lines.

Cheques for Two are available only in U.S. currency. As indicated by its name, Cheques for Two authorize two people to use the cheques. The purchaser and his/her companion must sign the cheques as soon as possible. Either matching signature can be used for the countersignature.

How to Use American Express Travelers Cheques

Using Travelers Cheques is simple:

  1. Sign – As soon as possible, sign your name in the upper left corner to help protect yourself in case of loss or theft.
  2. Record and keep separate – Write down your serial numbers and keep them with you when you travel, separate from your Travelers Cheques.
  3. Protect – Safeguard your Travelers Cheques as you would cash.
  4. Use – To pay, sign your Travelers Cheque in the lower left-hand corner in front of the person accepting your cheques.

Where to Use Travelers Cheques

You can either:

  • Exchange your Travelers Cheques for local currency in your destination (see point 3 in the next chapter), or
  • Use your Travelers Cheques to pay directly for goods and services at accepting retailers, restaurants and hotels (see below).

Exchanging Travelers Cheques for Local Currency

There are thousands of locations in countries around the world where you can exchange your Travelers Cheques for local currency. Please note:

  • Photo identification may be required.
  • It is strongly recommended that you retain and carry your original purchase receipt with you when you travel.
  • Commission charges may apply and can vary by country or exchange partner.
  • Exchange limits may apply due to local regulations and exchange policies.

Using Travelers Cheques to Pay for Goods and Services

Often in the USA and sometimes elsewhere, you can use Travelers Cheques like cash to pay directly for products and services at accepting retailers, restaurants and hotels. Please note:

  • Photo identification may be required.
  • American Express does not guarantee that places will accept Travelers Cheques as a form of payment.
  • Outside the USA, such usage is less common. Always check with the merchant first.

Refunds and Customer Service

Call American Express immediately for assistance with any of the following:

  • You encounter an issue while trying to use your cheques.
  • A service provider is unfamiliar with how to accept your cheques.
  • To obtain a refund for lost or stolen cheques.

Remember to have the serial numbers of your cheques with you when you call.

When in Call
USA 1 800 221 7282
Spain 900 810 029
Italy 800 914 912
France 0800 832 820
Canada 1 866 296 5198

For other locations not listed in the table above, please call collect to the USA +1 801 964 6665 or visit americanexpress.com/useTC.

American Express Travelers Cheques Quick Reference Guide

Destination and Cheque Currency How to Use Your Cheques Where to Use Your Cheques Typical Charges ID Requirements
Australia

Australian Dollar or  your native currency Cheque

Use like cash at some major department stores (David Jones, Myers) and hotels or exchange for local currency at accepting banks – widespread acceptance American Express Foreign Exchange (including branches at Australia Post); Australia and New Zealand Bank (ANZ); Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA); National Australia Bank (NAB); Westpac; St George All Cheques: Acceptors may charge  1% – 1.1% or minimum transaction fee of between A$7 – A$8 Photo ID required Passport recommended Original purchase agreement may be required
Canada

Canadian Dollar or your native currency Cheque

Use like cash at accepting retailers, restaurants and hotels (Canadian or US Dollar Cheques only), or exchange for local currency at accepting banks Bank of Montréal (BMO); Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC); Royal Bank of Canada (RBC); Scotiabank; TD Canada Trust (TD) All Cheques: Fees may be charged Government-issued  photo ID required,  passport preferred
China

Yuan (encashed at some Bank of China branches), your native currency Cheque or US Dollar

Exchange for local currency – large bank networks Bank of China (Yuan Cheques cashed at certain branches only – see pdf on americanexpress.com/useTC) All Cheques: 0.75% standard  regulatory charge Passport and original purchase agreement may be required
France

Euro

See general comments on Eurozone countries above American Express Foreign Exchange at Nice Airport; Bureau de Change Kanoo in Paris & Bordeaux American Express: 2% commission (min. #3)

Kanoo: 2.5% commission (min. #3) for Euro Cheques, others fee-free

Photo ID for EU citizens Passport may be required for all others
Germany

Euro

See general comments on Eurozone countries above ReiseBank (100 branches at most main railway stations and airports; also city centre locations) All Cheques: 1.5% or a minimum fee of E6.50, whichever is the greater amount Photo ID required

Passport recommended

Greece

Euro

See general comments on Eurozone countries above Alpha Bank; National Bank of Greece Alpha Bank: All Cheques: Flat fee of E2 per Cheque, E1,000 limit Photo ID required

Passport recommended

Italy

Euro

See general comments on Eurozone countries above American Express Travel office in Rome; some branches of Banca Carige and UniCredit Bank acceptance very poor

Expect fees even at Amex office

Photo ID required

Passport recommended

Japan

Japanese Yen or your native currency Cheque

Exchange for local currency Mizuho Bank (FX Shops only); Sumitomo Mitsui

Banking Corporation (FX shops only); World Currency Shop; Japan Post Bank

No fees at most acceptors, although some may impose a fee for Cheques in Yen Photo ID may be required; obligatory for encashments above 2 million yen

Passport recommended

Mexico

US Dollar

Use like cash in beach destinations at accepting retailers, restaurants and hotels or exchange for local currency at accepting banks Banco Multiva; BBVA Bancomer; IXE Banco (US$300 limit) All Cheques: Commission charges may apply and can vary by location NB: There is a regulatory encashment limit of US$500 per day per customer and a maximum of US$4,999 per month per customer per financial institution Photo ID may be required Passport recommender
Portugal

Euro

See general comments on Eurozone countries above BancoBIC All Cheques: 2% Photo ID required

Passport recommender

South Africa

Your native currency Cheque or US Dollar

Exchange for local currency – large bank networks American Express Foreign Exchange; ABSA Bank;

Nedbank; Standard Bank; Bidvest Bank; Master Currency

Acceptors charge between 1.2% and 2.2% and all have a minimum fee of between 60 and 130 ZAR Passport required

An address in South Africa is required

Spain

Euro

See general comments on Eurozone countries above American Express Foreign Exchange (Madrid Barajas

International Airport); a few branches of CaixaBank;

El Corte Ingles (Department Store) will accept Euro Cheques as payment

All Cheques: Commission charges may apply and can vary by location Photo ID required

Passport recommender

Thailand

Your native currency Cheque or US Dollar

Exchange for local currency – widespread bank networks Siam Commercial Bank; Bangkok Bank All Cheques: A fee of 33 Thai Baht per cheque Photo ID required

Passport recommended The original purchase agreement may be required

United Kingdom

Pound sterling or your native currency Cheque

Exchange for local currency American Express Foreign Exchange (London

Heathrow, Birmingham, Edinburgh & Glasgow

Airports) & Travel Services Offices; Post Office;

Lloyds TSB; Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS); NatWest; Thomas Cook; Thomson; First Choice; Kanoo FES; selected Tesco locations

British Pound Cheques: 1.5% – 3% or a minimum of £3, whichever is the greater amount

Foreign Currency Cheques: No fee at most banks

Photo ID required

Passport or drivers license recommender

United States

US Dollar

Use US dollar Cheques like cash at accepting retailers, restaurants and hotels Exchange foreign currency Cheques for local currency at accepting banks Major retailers who welcome Cheques include: Bloomingdales, Kmart, Macy’s, Sears and Wal-Mart. Exchange for local currency at:

American Express Travel Service Offices, Bank of

Hawaii, Chase, Citibank, First Hawaiian Bank, PNC,

Sovereign, Sun Trust, US Bank

Expect a fee at most banks when exchanging for local currency; limits usually imposed for non-customers Retailers may request a minimum purchase Photo ID may be required

EUROZONE COUNTRIES: Travelers Cheques acceptance in the Eurozone is very limited away from airport locations. This document indicates partners who, at the time of publishing, were known to be encashing Travelers Cheques for non-account holders. You are strongly advised to use the TC Locator americanexpress.com/useTC to confirm the latest position.

Acceptance of American Express Travelers Cheques

The acceptance of American Express Travelers Cheques is based on two principles: authentication and authorization.

These principles give a cheque acceptor the best possible protection against accepting a fraudulent item that might not be honored by American Express.

Authentication is the process whereby the acceptor validates both the presenter and the cheques.

  • The Presenter – Through the standard Watch and Compare procedure.
  • The Cheque – By identifying the security features and ensuring that there are no visible signs of alteration to the cheque or the original signature.

Authorization is the selection of one of the cheques from those presented and submitting the serial number for verification by AmEx’s Positive Authorization system.

  • The system performs a series of checks against the serial number to ensure that it is eligible for encashment.
  • If the cheque passes, the system gives the acceptor an approval code which must be written on all cheques presented. If authorization is declined, the acceptor is given a telephone number (usually toll-free) to call for clarification – this could still lead to the cheque being approved.

The authentication process must be performed first before seeking authorization. An approval code has no meaning if you establish that the presenter and / or the cheque are not genuine.

Standard Features of American Express Travelers Cheques

American Express Travelers Cheques are just like cash and few products offer more convenience or security. But because there are counterfeits being circulated worldwide, you must ensure that the American Express Cheque products presented at your location are valid before accepting them.

All American Express Travelers Cheques are printed on special watermarked paper. The text, border and picture on the face of the cheque are printed from steel engravings that give a relief effect and emphasize sharpness and clarity of details.

Magnetic ink characters or other machine-readable characters are printed in the lower left corner to permit automatic cheque handling. American Express Travelers Cheques are valid without time limit. Therefore, cheques of earlier issue may continue to be presented for payment indefinitely.

There are a number of safeguards built into the design of all American Express Travelers Cheques:

Watermark – Watermark of the Centurion is visible when held to the light.

Euro Travelers Cheque U.S. Dollar Travelers Cheque
American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

Holographic Foil – The holographic foil shows shifting images of the currency and denomination, Centurion and American Express logo when tilted.

Euro Travelers Cheque U.S. Dollar Travelers Cheque
American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

Security Thread – A metallic Security thread reading “AMEX” is embedded in the cheque and can be clearly seen from both sides when held up to the light.

Euro Travelers Cheque U.S. Dollar Travelers Cheque
American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

Smudge Test – Both left denomination panels on the back of the cheque smear when wet and the right panels do not. It is one of the easiest and most effective tests for cheque authenticity.

Euro Travelers Cheque U.S. Dollar Travelers Cheque
American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

Serial Number – Each cheque has a unique serial number.

Euro Travelers Cheque U.S. Dollar Travelers Cheque
American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know

Fraudulent Use of American Express Travelers Cheques

Lost and Stolen Cheques – These generally are associated with losses of other property from customers. When stolen, they are usually connected to another crime.

Blank Losses – Losses of blank cheques originate with robberies and burglaries of selling outlets and larcenies of shipments missing in transit. Another area of loss involves what is most often termed “SneakThefts” larceny committed in a bank or financial institution and achieved by distraction.

The key to criminal success in sneak thefts as well as in large burglary rings lies in the criminal’s willingness to travel.Victim locations are selected in smaller urban areas where such activity was previously rare or unknown. The American Express Security Department can play a vital role for law enforcement in these situations, acting as a clearing house for investigative information.

Fraudulent Refund Schemes – Such schemes attempt larceny by deception. A Travelers Cheque purchaser reports cheques lost or stolen and applies for a refund, having already cashed the cheques (or having had them cashed by a confederate).

Counterfeit – Because of the liquidity of the cheque, American Express is often the victim of counterfeiting much like that with U. S. Currency. Quite often, the same criminal groups are involved. In those cases where a counterfeit cheque is suspected, the field tests previously delineated (smear test, etc.) should be applied. A call to the 24-hour 800 number should resolve any further questions.

Counterfeiting by Color Copier / Color Digital Computer Scanner – The ever-increasing refinements in the field of document reproduction now present a significant threat to any issuer of security documents. Images are digitized, capable of being manipulated and altered. Storable, they can then be reproduced on a color copier or other color printer. Such counterfeiting operations can be conducted by one individual.

Fraud Encashment Characteristics:

  • Erasure or chemical eradication of the signature (upper) line.
  • Use of a felt-tip pen to disguise alterations or trace type forgeries.
  • “Dry pen” technique issued by experienced passers at the point of encashment. The countersignature has already been traced or simulated as the passer with a dry pen pretends to sign the cheque.
  • Alterations of serial number and magnetic microline are used to neutralize authorization calls.
  • Alterations / raising of denomination buttons to increase profitability of lower denomination, e.g., $20.00 to $500.00.

Accepting American Express Travelers Cheques

There are three simple steps to accepting an American Express Travelers Cheque:

    1. Step 1 – Watch and compare. WATCH the customer countersign the cheque, and then COMPARE the signatures for a reasonable match. Check that there are no additions or alterations to the original signature.
      Euro Travelers Cheque U.S. Dollar Travelers Cheque
      American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know American Express Travelers Cheques: What You Need to Know
    2. Step 2 – Authenticate the cheque. Identify the standard security features of the cheque
      • Watermark
      • Holographic foil
      • Security thread
      • Conduct smudge test

      and ensure that there are no visible signs of alteration to the cheque.

    3. Step 3 – Obtain authorization. There are various methods offered by American Express to obtain authorization.
      • Internet – Online Travelers Cheque Authorization (web-based browser) at americanexpress.com/verifyamextc.
      • IVR (Interactive Voice Response): USA 1-800-525-7641.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • What if I did not see the cheques being signed? It is essential that you see every cheque being countersigned by the customer. If necessary ask the customer to sign again on the back of the cheque(s) while you WATCH and COMPARE.
    • What if I suspect a forged signature? Ask the customer to sign the reverse of the cheque and compare the signature to the original signature on the front of the cheque. Still suspicious? Call American Express at the number shown in Step 3, option B. Press “0” at the end of the transaction to be transferred to a representative.
    • What if the customer said he / she received the cheque(s) as payment for services rendered or goods he / she sold? Authenticate and authorize them to ensure their validity. Please refer to Step 3. As this is regarded as a third party transaction (cheques are not being presented by the original purchaser and you cannot WATCH and COMPARE), you should accept these cheques on a collection basis and wait for them to clear before releasing funds to the customer. However, do authenticate and authorize them to ensure their validity.
    • What do I do if I suspect a counterfeit or altered cheque(s)? Call American Express at the number shown in Step 3, option B. Press “0” at the end of the transaction to be transferred to a representative. Explain to the representative why you suspect the cheque to be counterfeit or altered. The call center will then connect you to the Security Department of American Express who will give you further advice. Please remember not to place yourself or your colleagues in danger.

    Image: A Greta Garbo-signed American Express Travelers Cheque. Credit: Goldin Auctions.

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