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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.

1 - 6 of 6
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
35,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that’s up to $350 towards travel). Apply by July 4, 2022.
Walmart Rewards Mastercard
Up to $25 in Reward Dollars
Up to 1.25% cash back
19.89%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to $25 in bonus Walmart Reward Dollars.
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
45,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 45,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that's up to $450 towards travel). Apply by July 4, 2022.
Brim World Mastercard
Up to $300 worth of bonuses
1.5 points for every $1 spent
19.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
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. 
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%
$199
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.
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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
RBC Cash Back Mastercard
N/A
Up to 2% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get 2% cash back on grocery store purchases, and up to 1% cash back on all other qualifying purchases and pre-authorized payments.
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 $2,500). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
35,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that’s up to $350 towards travel). Apply by July 4, 2022.
Tangerine World Mastercard
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn an extra 10% cash back (up to $100) on up to $1,000 of everyday purchases in the first 2 months Until May 31, 2022. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa Card
10% cash back
Up to 4% cash back
9.99% intro APR for the first 6 months, 19.99% thereafter
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get 10% bonus cash back at eligible restaurants and bars for the first 4 months (up to $500 spend). Plus, get a 9.99% introductory annual interest rate on purchases for the first 6 months.
RBC Avion Visa Infinite
55,000 points
Up to 1 point per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to 55,000 Welcome Points. Get 35,000 points on approval and 20,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in your first 6 months. Apply by September 16, 2022.
Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card
5,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Earn 5,000 bonus Scene+ points when you spend a minimum of $750 on eligible purchases in the first three months as a new SCENE Visa cardholder. Apply by August 31, 2022.
Neo Secured Card
15% cash back
5% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn bonuses like 15% cashback on your first purchase at most partners, and earn an average of 5% cashback at thousands of partners and at least 1% cashback guaranteed.
OFFER
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn an extra 10% cash back (up to $100) on up to $1,000 of everyday purchases in the first 2 months Until May 31, 2022. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
EXCLUSIVE
Neo Financial Mastercard
Get $25.00
Average 5% cash back
19.99% - 24.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Get $25 when you sign up for the Neo Financial Mastercard. Plus, earn bonuses like 15% cashback on your first purchase at most partners, and earn an average of 5% cashback at thousands of partners and at least 1% cashback guaranteed.
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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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