Croatia, where cultures are as diverse as geography, continues to depend on tourism as a major source of revenue. HBO’s hit Game of Thrones has spurred on an influx of tourists to gorgeous Croatia, but you’ll find so many other reasons to make your way to its sapphire shores.
To enjoy all that Croatia offers, you’ll need a combination of cash and credit cards while traveling. Plastic is accepted throughout Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik and other larger cities.
Smaller cities and establishments on the mainland and island — especially konoba or family inns sprinkled across the country — accept cash only. Some apartment owners might even insist that you secure your room with a cash deposit, especially during the country’s peak tourist season. You might even entice a discount from vendors that prefer Croatian kuna.
Cirrus/Mastercard, Visa/Plus, Maestro, and Diners Club are the most commonly accepted cards in Croatia. American Express is accepted in some places, but this is less common.
Cash machines, or “bankomats” are readily accessible in most parts of Croatia, especially in tourist centres. ATMs can be found in supermarkets, airports, post offices, train stations, and banks. You’ll need a four-digit pin to operate an ATM in Croatia.
Cash in Croatia
To eliminate unpleasant surprises, carry a small amount of cash on you at all times. Smaller shops and restaurants are less likely to process cards electronically. Cash is accepted at hotels, markets, restaurants and on all forms of transportation. Get some cash exchanged before you go, and shop around for the best rate.
Croatia has moved from magnetic-stripe to chip cards, and all banks in Croatia now issue the latter. In Europe, chip-and-PIN cards are standard. With this type of card, you enter a four-digit personal identification number to verify your identity.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you can use it in Croatia just about everywhere you find a staffed credit card machine. If you don’t have a PIN, an attendant will collect a signature from you. However, you may run into situations where your chip-and-signature card won’t work. For example, you might be in a pickle at an unstaffed train station kiosk.
Is it safe to use my card in Croatia?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Croatia, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Additionally, cancel your transactions if anythings unsual, as a card skinner can steal your valuable card information without you even noticing.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s small print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive the cash advance fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Croatia.
Additionally you can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Croatia
Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Croatia, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Croatia is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Croatia does not hit any roadblocks.
Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques with you. Exchanging sterling to kuna is easy and you’ll get several options.
When you’re in Croatia, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
We use banks to take care of all our other financial needs, so surely we should use them when sending an international money transfer, right? Not necessarily. While major UK banks offer money transfer services, they typically present less competitive exchange rates coupled with high transfer fees. Learn how to send money to Croatia the smart way.
Visa and Mastercard are almost on a par. American Express follows at a distant third.
There are no currency restrictions if you’re arriving from another EU member state. Otherwise, you’d need to declare anything over €10,000 or its equivalent.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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