Travelers check

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The traveler's check (also traveler's check , named after English traveler's checks ) was a means of payment , which in foreign travel of payment or withdrawing cash served.


A first forerunner are the letters of credit of the Templar Order from the 12th century. Pilgrims received a receipt for their money paid in Europe , which they could redeem in the Holy Land - or on the way in the Commanderies of the Templars. At that time there was no legitimation through identity papers, but the papers were  easier to hide in luggage than the gold coins commonly used as travel currency at the time and were practically worthless for common muggers - at that time the greatest threat.

First "mass product" the outstanding notes issued in 1874 are likely ( English Circular Notes ) of the travel entrepreneur Thomas Cook apply. The first traveler's check in today's form with countersignature was developed by American Express . After a trip to Europe, an employee of the company complained that he could not exchange cash outside of the European capitals. American Express then developed Traveller's Checks and patented the process conceived on July 7, 1891, which provided for today's countersignature. William C. Fargo, the nephew of American Express co-owner William G. Fargo , cashed the first traveler's check of this type for 50 dollars on August 5, 1891 at the Hotel Hauffe in Leipzig . From 1957 it was offered in a standardized way in West Germany.

The successors

With the introduction of the euro check in 1969, a means of payment in direct competition with the traveler's check became available in Europe and some neighboring countries - but with a few advantages:

  • no or comparatively low fees for customers
  • partially automated creation of check forms on site in bank branches (no pre-order)
  • the account was only debited when redeemed; the checks did not have to be "bought"
  • when filling out, variable in all currencies of the participating states
  • when filling in variable in any amount (with appropriate acceptance also above the check guarantee)
  • when filling out, variable as a cashier's check or for settlement on any bank account of the recipient

Subsequently - from 1980 - the euro check cards - initially only a legitimation document for the check guarantee - gradually received a direct cashless payment function.

At the same time, credit cards became more widespread and allowed - with the global IT network of banks - from the 1990s onwards, international cash payments were also made; at the same time, sales of travelers' checks fell.

The end

In Germany, Thomas Cook closed its traveler's check business in December 2008; American Express issued traveler's checks until December 2015. Travelers checks can no longer be purchased in Germany.


The issuing credit institution procures the travelers checks ordered by the bank customer from the issuer and immediately debits the bank customer with the equivalent value plus fees on his current account . Traveller's checks can, however, also be paid in cash via the over- the- counter shop . When it is issued, the institute ensures that the bank customer signs each traveler's check individually . The security consists in the fact that the bank customer signs traveller's checks a second time when paying or raising money while traveling abroad. The acceptor abroad can also check the legitimacy of the signatures to determine whether both signatures match. The passport or identity card must be presented. If the signatures match, the acceptor can pay out the equivalent of the travelers check or provide the consideration in some other way (sale of goods). Under these conditions, the issuing issuer can no longer raise any objections to the redemption point in the currency ratio. The travelers check has no validity or expiry date and can therefore be used indefinitely. However, bank customers can return unused travelers checks to their bank for credit to their bank account.

It is used to procure cash and mainly not as a means of payment, although it may be used for this. The traveller's check is not cash , but a cash substitute because it is only exchanged when it is countersigned with a signature that cash will be issued. Travelers checks are available in major international currencies such as euros , US dollars , Canadian dollars , Japanese yen , Australian dollars and pounds sterling . Redeemed traveler's checks in foreign currency within the meaning of the Monthly Returns Regulation of the Deutsche Bundesbank as varieties (§ 5 MonAwV).

With the introduction of the euro and the proliferation of credit cards, the use of travelers' checks has decreased. Traveller's checks are not useful and accepted in all countries: in countries like India they are not always accepted for cashing, even in major banks.

In 2006 American Express had a worldwide turnover of travelers checks of around EUR 12.7 billion. For 2017, American Express reported negative cash flow of $ 257 million on travelers checks and other prepaid products. Total liabilities from unredeemed travelers' checks and other prepaid products totaling $ 2.6 billion, of which only $ 78 million outside the United States.


Legal nature

The legal nature of the travelers check is controversial. In its judgment of May 10, 1912, the Reichsgericht did not count him among the checks in the sense of the Check Act (SchG). The Article 12. SchG (Exhibitor liability: the consideration was paid by the customer already), Article 29. SchG (for presentation) and Article 32. SchG (withdrawal) does not match the content design of a traveler's checks. Dorothee Einsele, who has dealt extensively with the legal nature, comes to the conclusion that the legal consequences resulting from the securities law classification of the travelers check fit well with the travelers check. Another view of the classification under securities law is represented by a major comment on the German Commercial Code (HGB), which sees no reservations about qualifying it as a check.

Involved are the travel Check the Issuer as issuer of traveler's checks, the issuing bank, the bank customer and the accepting redemption location abroad. According to the prevailing opinion today, the traveler's check is probably a commercial certificate of obligation to order ( Section 363, Paragraph 1, Clause 2 of the German Commercial Code) and thus a selected order paper . As a result, a travelers check with a positive order clause can be legally transferred after countersigning by the bank customer through endorsement on the reverse.

Legal issues

The issuance of travelers checks is a banking transaction within the meaning of Section 1 (1) No. 9 KWG and is therefore only permitted to banks as a financial service that requires authorization. The travelers check is not issued by a central bank and is therefore not legal tender , but merely a money surrogate . For this reason, there is no obligation to accept at trade and credit institutions ; acceptance is based on voluntariness. It is redeemed at least at all contracting companies of the respective issuer who have visibly affixed the issuer's logo.

The consequences of the loss of the traveler's check as a result of theft or loss arise from its securities law design as a awarded order paper . According to Section 935, Paragraph 1 of the German Civil Code, the owner of movable property is irrefutable as its owner, unless this property has been stolen , lost or otherwise lost from the previous owner . This irrefutable legal presumption does not apply to money or bearer securities (Section 935 (2) BGB). Since the traveler's check is neither a legal tender nor a bearer paper, the provisions of Section 935 (1) BGB apply in the event of loss, so that the thief or finder of a traveler's check does not acquire property. Is a not countersigned by the bank customers traveler's checks stolen, the thief commits in signature forgery , a forgery in coincidence with theft (§ § 242 , § 267 of the Criminal Code), if he wants to redeem the traveler's check illegal. The theft or loss of traveller's checks must be reported to the issuer immediately by the bank customer; the issuer is only obliged to pay compensation if the bank customer has performed special duties of care beforehand .


The Supreme Court (OGH) in Austria had also issued a position on the legal nature . The promise of the issuing agency to pay the buyer a certain amount of money in exchange for an issued travelers check represents a performance promise to which the provisions of Section 880a of the Austrian Civil Code (ABGB) apply - if the issuing agency is not redeemed. As far as the issuing agency carries out the redemption itself, it realizes its performance promise itself. The traveler's check presented when asserting it must necessarily be supplemented by a countersignature, it represents a security, but is not a check within the meaning of the Checks Act, but best as a qualified legitimation paper where the redemption point is obliged to check the legitimacy of the person requesting the payment of this security.


In Switzerland there were Swiss Bankers Traveler Checks until November 2009 - the form of the Swiss traveler's check licensed by American Express , denominated in Swiss francs . Credit cards and the Swiss Bankers Travel Cash card have supplanted it. Today, travelers checks can no longer be purchased in Switzerland, and cashing them, where still possible, is sometimes associated with high fees.

Individual evidence

  1. Christoph Schulte-Richtering: Kaiser, Kriege und Kokotten , 2012, o. P.
  2. The Unleashing of Money . In: Spiegel history . No. 4 , 2009, p. 71 ( ).
  3. 120 years ago today . In: Sächsische Zeitung , August 5, 2011.
  4. Patrick Robertson: What was the first time when? 1977, p. 192.
  5. ↑ Travelers checks: Amex will discontinue the sale of travelers checks at the end of the year. Stiftung Warentest, February 3, 2015, accessed on March 23, 2015 .
  6. Are there any traveller's checks? . Süddeutsche Zeitung . June 22, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  7. a b Annual Report 2017 ( en , PDF) American Express . December 31, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2019.
  8. RGZ 79, 342, 344.
  9. ^ Dorothee Einsele: Banking and Capital Market Law . 2006, p. 189 ff.
  10. ^ Dorothee Einsele: Banking and Capital Market Law . 2006, p. 192.
  11. Claus-Wilhelm Canaris, Hermann Staub, Peter Ulmer: Großkommentar zum HGB Volume 5 , 2005, p. 596 ff.
  12. so already the RG in RGZ 79, 342, 344.
  13. General Terms and Conditions American Express, Sections 7.3 and 7.4.
  14. ADVOKAT Unternehmensberatung: § 880a ABGB (General Civil Code) - JUSLINE Austria. Retrieved October 3, 2019 .
  15. ^ OGH, judgment of November 25, 1971, 1 Ob 206/71.
  16. Swiss traveler's check before the end. In: The look . June 11, 2009. Retrieved August 17, 2017 .
  17. Matthias Schmid: Cashing a traveler's check turns into negative business . SRF Kassensturz Espresso. January 10, 2018. Retrieved February 4, 2019.