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Using a credit card in Pakistan
While some merchants accept Visa and Mastercard, it's best to carry cash for your everyday expenses.
In Pakistan, cash is king – but that doesn’t mean you can’t use your credit card at all. You’ll find that some merchants in large Pakistani cities accept credit cards, but elsewhere, most businesses opt to take cash only. Visa and Mastercard are most likely to be accepted, although more high-end establishments might also accept American Express cards.
Compare credit cards for use in Pakistan
What credit cards can I use in Pakistan?
American Express cards are accepted, but only in high-end hotels and restaurants. As of July 2019, there are currently no American Express ATMs in Pakistan.
Potential credit card fees in Pakistan
You should always keep an eye on credit card fees, especially when spending money overseas.
- Foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards issued by Canadian banks and credit card providers come with foreign transaction fees that cost 2.5%. You’ll need to pay this fee every time you use your credit card outside of Canada. Fortunately, there are a few credit cards that charge no foreign transaction fees in Canada.
- Currency conversion fees. If someone gives you the choice of paying in Canadian dollars or rupees with your credit card, always choose the local currency of rupees. Paying in Canadian dollars with your card will subject you to a dynamic currency conversion (DCC) that can lead to poor exchange rates and currency conversion fees.
- Cash advance fees. If you use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, you’ll face a cash advance fee as well as the cash advance interest rate, which is usually charged from the day you withdraw the funds. To avoid the high APR, use your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM.
- ATM fees. Even using your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM will likely have you facing an ATM fee. To avoid this fee, use a debit card issued by a bank that belongs to an international ATM alliance, such as Scotiabank.
Can I avoid all of these fees?
Yes, here’s how:
- Apply for a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
- Avoid conversion fees by always paying in the local currency.
- Avoid the high cash advance APR by using your debit card (instead of your credit card) to withdraw cash from an ATM.
- To skirt around ATM fees, you’ll need to use a debit card from a bank that belongs to an international ATM alliance – plus you’ll need to stick to ATMs that belong to that network.
ATMs in Pakistan
All ATMs in the country require a four-digit PIN to make a cash withdrawal. You can find ATMs inside banks, shopping malls and on the street. Pakistan remains a cash-based society, so it’s recommended to have enough rupees to cover your expenses at all times. This is especially necessary for smaller establishments, or when travelling in lesser-known towns or villages across the country.
Should I use my credit card to get cash?
No, avoid using your credit card to get cash from an ATM at all costs. You’ll end up paying a cash advance fee as well as interest, which will start adding up from the day of the transaction. If you need to withdraw cash from an ATM, use your debit card.
Do taxis in Pakistan accept credit cards?
No. Even Uber, which operates in a few cities across Pakistan, accepts only cash.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Pakistan?
There have been reports of credit card fraud in Pakistan, mainly for card cloning. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use your card safely. Be cautious and follow a few simple safety tips:
- Protect your PIN. Don’t write your PIN down anywhere. When entering your PIN, use the other hand to hide it from hidden cameras and onlookers.
- Select ATMs carefully. Use ATMs found inside banks and shopping centres, where the chance of card cloning may be less likely. Avoid ATMs in isolated areas or unsafe districts.
- Keep an eye out for skimmers. If you feel that the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if you think there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and use a different ATM. Someone might have installed a card skimmer on the machine.
- Keep your card physically safe. Instances of pickpocketing and theft are very common. Take extra care when venturing out after dark and always keep a close eye on your wallet or purse when on the streets or on public transportation in larger cities.
How to prepare before travelling to Pakistan
- Carry at least two credit cards. Ideally, take at least two credit cards with you, with at least one being a Visa or Mastercard. That way, you can avoid being left without money if your primary credit card is lost or stolen, or if a merchant doesn’t accept Amex.
- Think about foreign transaction fees. Paying foreign transaction fees does not make sense when you can find cards that come with no foreign transaction fees. For each transaction, you’ll save yourself 2.5%.
- Inform your bank. Banks monitor accounts to minimize fraudulent transactions. If your bank sees an unexpected purchase made in Pakistan, it will have a good reason to temporarily block your card. Let your bank know of your travel plans in advance.
- Carry emergency numbers. If your card ends up lost or stolen, you should know which number to call. Write down your credit card providers phone number and carry it on you at all times.
- Know how you’ll get cash. You should carry cash on you at all times. Use your debit card to withdraw cash in order to avoid the cash advance interest rate that comes with using a credit card. You can also exchange Canadian dollars for rupees at the airport or at a currency exchange place.
You can avoid unexpected problems by asking yourself these simple questions before you leave for Pakistan:
- Which cards should I take? Carry at least one Mastercard or Visa card and have at least two credit cards with you. It’s probably best to leave your American Express behind since they’re not widely accepted in Pakistan.
- Did I inform my bank? Unless you want to deal with the possibility of a blocked card, inform your bank before you head to Pakistan.
- Will I pay extra fees? Check if your current credit card charges foreign transaction fees. If it does, consider applying for a card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
- Where will I get money from? Use your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM – avoid using your credit card unless it’s an emergency. You can also consider converting Canadian dollars to rupees at a currency exchange kiosk.
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