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Using a credit card internationally

Find out if your credit card will work overseas and learn about possible fees you might face.

Save on fees by taking the right travel credit card on your next trip. Compare low fee travel cards

Trying to figure out which countries accept your type of credit card and which still primarily work on cash systems can seem overwhelming along with all the other trip planning you have to.

That’s why we’ve created this guide to using a credit card while travelling internationally. We’ve highlighted tips to help you use your card safely, and outlined the credit card fees you could encounter with tips to avoid them. We also included country-specific credit card details for over 30 countries around the world. So no matter where your travels take you, you can enjoy yourself without worrying about how to use your credit safely and cost effectively.

Can I use my credit card in another country?

Woman paying with credit card while on tropical vacationYes, most countries in the world accept credit cards, at least in major cities. The most widely accepted credit card brands internationally are Visa and Mastercard. Other card brands, like American Express, are generally less accepted by merchants around the world. That’s why it’s always a good idea to carry at least two different credit card brands with you at all times when travelling overseas in case the place you’re visiting doesn’t accept one of your cards. It also doesn’t hurt to have a back-up card in the event one of your cards fails to process or gets compromised.

5 tips to prepare to use your credit card internationally

Before going overseas, make a few preparations to ensure that you can use your credit card with no problems.

1. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees

Most credit cards on the market will charge you a foreign transaction fee every time you pay for something internationally using your card, which is typically 2.5% of the purchase cost. If you plan to use your credit card for most purchases while overseas, consider getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees can add up quickly while you’re on vacation, but they’re easy to avoid if you pick the right card.

2. Consider getting a Visa or Mastercard

While you may be able to use American Express credit cards at some locations, you’ll find that many merchants won’t accept them. One reason for that is that American Express charges merchants a relatively higher fee than its competitors, so merchants have to pay more our of their pocket to accept Amex cards at their store. That being said, with Amex’s increased popularity around the world, it’s becoming more widely accepted. But since there are still many places in other countries that don’t currently accept Amex cards, you should make sure to carry a Visa or Mastercard credit card with you when travelling as well, just to make sure you’re never stuck if a retailer doesn’t accept your usual Amex card.

3. Give your card provider a heads-up

If your credit card provider notices a foreign transaction on your card, they may put a hold on your account for suspicious activity. To avoid this, give your provider a quick call letting them know where and when you’ll be travelling. That being said, many Canadian financial institutions have developed technology to automatically detect when you’re using your card while travelling, so you no longer are required to let them know ahead of time. Just to be on the safe side though, it’s still a good idea to give them a call before heading out.

4. Keep emergency numbers handy

If your credit card ends up lost or stolen, you’ll need the right number to call to freeze the card and to get a replacement. Make sure the number is local to your destination or toll free and keep it on you at all times. You can just copy the contact number from the back of your credit card or call your card issuer ahead of time to get the right contact number. Keep it separate from your wallet in case your wallet gets stolen.

5. Know where you’ll get cash once you arrive

Even if you have a credit card, it’s smart to have cash on hand. To save you time and money, plan out beforehand where you’ll be able to safely and easily get your cash from. Use your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM if possible. Although you’ll likely incur an ATM fee each time you withdraw cash, you can avoid the excruciatingly high interest rates that come with getting cash through a cash advance from a credit card.

Compare no foreign transaction fee credit cards to use 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
50,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($120 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 50,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points in your first year (that's up to $500 towards travel), plus get the annual fee waived in the first year. Apply by August 31, 2021.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
40,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($139 thereafter)
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). Plus, get the annual fee waived in the first year and earn 5x Scotia Rewards points on travel for the first 3 months (up to $2,500 spend). Apply by October 31, 2021.
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The benefits of using a credit card overseas

There can be big advantages to using your credit card while travelling. Some of the benefits include:

  • Carrying less cash. You can avoid carrying lots of cash on you, which can be dangerous. In fact, using a credit card when travelling internationally can be a safer than carrying large amounts of cash.
  • Protection. You’ll be covered against fraudulent transactions.
  • Currency conversions. You don’t have to worry about converting your currency yourself – your card will do it for you.
  • Exchange rates. Your credit card provider will likely give you a better exchange rate than you’ll get from converting cash.
  • Customer service. Should you have any issues, your provider is just a phone call away.

5 credit card fees and how to avoid them while travelling

  1. Foreign transaction fees. When you use your credit card overseas, you’ll be charged a foreign transaction fee. This is usually 2.5% to 3% of the cost of your transaction and will automatically be added. To avoid this fee, consider using a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
  2. Currency conversion fees. If a merchant offers to charge your card in Canadian dollars, politely decline – always choose the local currency. If you end up paying for a purchase in Canadian dollars, the transaction will be subject to what is known as a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). You will likely face a currency conversion fee and a less competitive exchange rate.
  3. Cash advance fees. If you withdraw cash using your credit card, you’ll face a cash advance fee. In addition to the fee, you’ll also likely start paying interest from the day you withdraw the cash. There is usually no interest-free grace period with a cash advance transaction.
  4. ATM fees. Even when you use your debit card at an ATM overseas, you’ll likely incur an ATM fee, usually around $5. If you’re looking to avoid ATM fees altogether, look for a bank that belongs to an international ATM alliance such as Scotiabank. Through this alliance, you can use your debit card at specific brands of ATMs free of charge.
  5. Hidden retailer fees. Some merchants add up to 10% commission when you pay with a credit card. Before you pay with credit, ask if there are any additional charges. Roughly calculate the exchange rate so you’ll have an idea of how much the charge will be once you check your credit card statement. You can avoid this fee by using another payment method, like cash, or heading to a different merchant.

So, should I just use my credit card for everything?

Though a credit card can be convenient, you might not want to solely rely on it when travelling. You’ll also want to avoid using your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM.

Some merchants at your destination may not even accept credit or debit cards, preferring that you pay in cash instead. This could be the case at a lot of small family-owned shops and restaurants, as well as smaller towns and villages located worldwide. Before departing on your trip, it’s helpful to know whether your destination is credit card friendly.

In conclusion, carry a debit card, a couple of credit cards and some cash when you travel. Your cards will make transactions safer and more convenient, while cash will cover you in situations where plastic won’t.

How to keep you cards safe while travelling internationally

Depending on where you’re travelling, you’ll need to be extra careful when using your credit or debit card. Follow these tips to help keep your finances safe:

  • Keep your PIN protected. When you enter your PIN, use the other hand to shield the screen from prying eyes and concealed cameras. In addition, avoid letting your credit card leave your sight when at restaurants and shops.
  • Select ATMs carefully. Stick to using ATMs found in banks, hotels and shopping complexes. Avoid ATMs in deserted or dark areas.
  • Watch out for card skimmers. Instances of credit card skimming are common in some countries, so exercise caution when using ATMs. If you feel the card slot or the keypad is faulty or sticky, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
  • Keep your card physically safe. In places where crime levels are high, you could come across instances of pickpocketing, bag snatching and violence. Tourists are often the target of these crimes, even during the daytime. Remain extra vigilant if you’re in a remote area, especially after dark. Don’t leave your wallet, bag or any other possession unattended in a restaurant or a bar.

Learn more about using a credit card overseas by country

Don’t see the country you’re visiting on this list? Check below for our full guides to the some of the most popular travel destinations around the world.