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Using a credit card in Europe

Credit cards are widely accepted across many European countries – however it's best to travel with some cash on you as well.

Cash is still king in many European countries. While credit cards are widely accepted in some nations, their acceptance definitely does not compare to our constant use and reliance on them in Canada.

Depending on where you’re going around Europe, it’s best to travel with both credit cards and cash.

Read these tips to learn how your card can be used abroad.

Compare credit cards for use in Europe

Before jetting off to Europe, consider applying for a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees. While these charges tend to be around 2.5% to 3% of your transaction amount, these little fees can add up quickly while spending money overseas.
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Brim World Mastercard
Up to $300 worth of bonuses
1.5 points for every $1 spent
19.99%
$99
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to $300 worth of bonus points when you shop with Brim retailers for the first time through the Brim mobile app. 
HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®
70,000 Points
Up to 6 points per $1 spent
19.9%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($149 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get a Welcome Bonus of 20,000 Points ($100 travel rewards). Plus, earn an additional 50,000 Points and get a 1st year annual fee waiver. Apply by September 27, 2021.
BMO U.S. Dollar Mastercard
N/A
N/A
19.99%
$35 USD
Min. recommended credit score: 725
When your purchases total US$1,000 or more in a year, the next year's annual fee (US$35) is rebated to your card.
Brim World Elite Mastercard
Brim World Elite Mastercard
Up to $500 worth of bonuses
2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($199 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Collect up to $500 worth of bonus points when you shop with Brim retailers for the first time using your Brim World Elite Mastercard.
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
40,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 40,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points in your first year (that’s up to $400 towards travel) Apply by August 31, 2021.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
40,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 40,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points in your first year (that’s up to $400 towards travel). Apply by July 1, 2021.
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Canadian Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted abroad. Check with your bank before traveling to Europe to confirm whether or not you’ll be able to use your credit card during your trip.
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Tangerine World Mastercard
1.95% rate on balance transfers for 6 months
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 680
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
BMO CashBack Mastercard
5% cash back
Up to 3% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to max. spend of $2,000). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
3.99% rate on balance transfers for 9 months
N/A
12.99%
$20
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Scotiabank Value Visa Card
0.99% rate on balance transfers for 6 months
N/A
12.99%
$29
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by July 1, 2021.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
1.95% rate on balance transfers for 6 months
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 680
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
HSBC +Rewards™ Mastercard®
20,000 Points
2x points per $1 spent
11.9%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($25 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 630
Get 20,000 Points (up to $100 in value), plus get a 1st year annual fee waiver. Apply by September 27, 2021.
Refresh Financial Secured Card
N/A
N/A
17.99%
$12.95
Min. recommended credit score: Any score
Take advantage of a low annual fee, with no credit check and guaranteed approval once you secure your card with some funds.
BMO Rewards Mastercard
10,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 725
Get a bonus of 10,000 BMO Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Apply by October 31, 2021 . Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO World Elite Mastercard
30,000 points
Up to 3 points per $1 spent
20.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($150 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 760
Get up to 30,000 points and the $150 annual fee waived in the first year. Apply by October 31, 2021
Home Trust Secured Visa
N/A
N/A
14.90% - 19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: Any score
Choose from three card options: No Annual Fee ($0 annual fee, 19.99% purchase rate), Low Interest Rate ($59 annual fee, 14.90% purchase rate) or a Low Monthly Fee ($5 monthly fee, 14.90% purchase rate).
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Consider which country you’re going to

Credit card acceptance isn’t uniform throughout Europe. In some countries, you can use credit cards pretty much wherever you go, while in others you’ll have to get by mainly on cash.

  • In such European countries as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, cashless transactions rule. Some retailers may not accept cash, even if you want to use it.
  • Other countries — Germany and Italy, for example — heavily rely on cash, so you should make it a point to carry some at all times.

For Europe in general, you’ll typically rely on cash for everyday spending at markets, on public transportation and at small cafes and restaurants. Be sure to carry enough cash to get you through each day — but don’t be afraid to use your credit card whenever you can.

A few credit card fees to avoid

Using a credit card overseas can be expensive. Here are a couple of fees to watch out for:

  • Foreign transaction fees. A foreign transaction fee is charged when you use your card overseas, and it’s typically around 2.5% to 3% of each transaction (although it can be more or less, depending on your card). Most credit cards have foreign transaction fees, however there are a couple of cards on the Canadian market that charge no foreign transaction fees.
  • Currency conversion fees. A foreign merchant may offer to convert your bill into Canadian dollars instead of charging you in the local currency. This is called a dynamic currency conversion (DCC), and it’s expensive because you pay a currency conversion fee for it, as well as receiving a poor exchange rate. If a merchant offers it, decline and pay in the local currency.

Should I use my credit card to get cash?

You’ll definitely need cash in Europe. Unfortunately, it can be very expensive to get cash using your credit card. That’s because your card provider will charge you a cash advance fee as well as a higher interest rate for cash advances. The interest rate is usually charged from the day you withdraw the funds – unlike a purchase interest rate, the cash advance interest rate offers no grace period.

Of course, credit card ATM withdrawals may also be subject to foreign transaction fees. The implication is clear: don’t use your credit card at ATMs.

Instead, pick up a no-fee debit card

Instead of relying on your credit card to get cash, always try to use your debit card. While most overseas ATMs will charge a fee to withdraw cash using your debit card, it is possible to find a debit card provider that belongs to an international alliance of ATMs. These alliances, such as the Global ATM Alliance Scotiabank is a member of, allow you to use specific brands of ATMs around the world for no fee.

Is it safe to use my credit card in Europe?

As with all destinations, there’s the possibility your credit card information or your physical card could be stolen. Here are a few ways to avoid it.

  • Keep your PIN safe. Whenever you enter your PIN, use your other hand to cover the screen. This helps cut down on spying — from both hidden cameras and people looking over your shoulder.
  • Be careful about which ATMs you use. Avoid decrepit ATMs and those in isolated locations. Instead, use ATMs attached to banks.
  • Cancel your ATM transaction if anything seems off. Don’t use an ATM if your card doesn’t slide smoothly into the card slot or if the keypad is difficult to press. The machine may be compromised by a credit card skimmer — a device that steals credit card information.
  • Avoid letting your credit card out of your sight. Out of view, someone can easily take a photo of your credit card. At restaurants, consider paying for your meals in cash so that servers won’t have to take your credit card elsewhere. While most European restaurants often use portable card readers that servers bring directly to you, you can simply use cash if need be.
  • Keep your card physically safe. Thieves don’t just steal credit card information by recording your card number — they can also steal the card itself. Pickpockets in many European cities heavily target tourists. The bigger the tourist destination, the more pickpockets there tend to be. Consider keeping your credit card hidden away in a money belt. This is a fabric pouch that you wear around your waist and hide under your shirt.

How should I prepare before my trip?

Before going overseas, ensure that you can use your credit card with no problems.

1. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees can be a downer on vacation, but they’re easy to avoid if you pick the right card. Travel with at least one credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
2. Consider getting a Visa or Mastercard. These brands are more likely to be accepted abroad. While you may be able to use American Express cards at some locations, you’ll find that many merchants don’t accept it.
3. Give your card provider a heads-up. Always notify your bank or credit card provider of your travels overseas. To avoid declined charges, let your provider know where and when you’ll be travelling.
4. Know who to call if you have a problem with your card while travelling. Your card might get lost or stolen while you’re travelling. You’ll need the right number to call for a replacement card – but make sure the number is local to your destination and toll free.
5. Know where you’ll get cash once you arrive. So you don’t waste time, plan out beforehand where you’ll get cash. See if your bank has international partnerships that allow you to use some ATMs for free.

Next steps

Before you head to Europe, answer these questions:

  • Which credit cards will I take? Consider taking at least two different credit cards with you. Make sure at least one doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.
  • Do I understand the fees I might encounter? Knowledge is power — and it can save you a lot of money on your travels.
  • Have I called my credit card provider? Keep your card provider or bank in the loop, and know what number to call if you run into trouble overseas.
  • What’s my plan for cash? Have a debit card ready, and know which ATMs you’ll be able to safely and easily get cash from.

How to use a credit card in…

Frequently asked questions

Pictures: Shutterstock

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