Using a credit card in Latvia
This EU member state is relatively well set up for tourists who want to spend and withdraw euros using a credit card.
Formerly part of the soviet bloc, Latvia has plenty to offer tourists – from its elegant art nouveau architecture and ancient castles to the sprawling forests of its National Parks.
Most retailers, hotels and restaurants in its capital city of Riga will accept credit card payments using Visa or Mastercard. Smaller credit card networks aren’t as commonly accepted, but you may still be able to use them here and there. The main exception is the famous local markets (which are a destination in themselves) – you’ll most likely spend euros in cash when buying your souvenirs or meat-based snacks.
In smaller Latvian towns, credit card payment isn’t as widely accepted, especially in rural parts of the country. As you might expect, Riga is better set up with ATMs than other parts of the country, but most machines across the country will charge a fee – so it’s well worth withdrawing some euros before you head out to the Baltic nation.
What about fees?
As you’d expect, there are a few potential fees to watch out for when you’re paying with plastic in Latvia.
It’s also worth noting that when it comes to cash advances and non-sterling transactions, many card issuers will start charging interest on the day your account is debited, rather than the customary “up to 55 days interest-free” that usually applies provided you clear your balance in full each month.
EU ban on credit card surchargesIn January 2018 the EU required member states to adopt the Payment Service Directive 2. The PSD2 is a ban on card payment surcharges – when a retailer adds a fee because you’re paying using a credit card. However, it’s important to note that there are limitations and exceptions to this directive and there are other fees that may apply when you pay by credit card. If your card is from a non-EU bank, uses a network other than Visa or Mastercard, or is a business/corporate card, then the merchant may still levy a surcharge.
How can I avoid the fees?
It’s likely that ATMs – or “bankomats” as they’re often called – will charge a fee for cash withdrawals. Many have a withdrawal limit of 250 euros.
Consider taking out a credit card offering commission-free currency conversion (see table below), even if you only use it when you’re out of the country. These cards will convert currency at the standard Mastercard or Visa rates
Once you have one of these cards, if a merchant offers to take payment in pounds, say you’re happy to pay in zloty, since you know that your own bank won’t add a margin.
Generally speaking, it’s not a great idea to use credit cards to withdraw cash, but some travel credit cards won’t penalise you for this either.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Latvia
Are American Express cards accepted in Latvia?American Express isn’t as widely accepted as Mastercard or Visa, so you’re best off withdrawing some euros or taking another card as a safety net. Additionally, merchants may levy a surcharge for Amex payments.
Contactless and chip-and-PIN payments
Some 51% of Latvians have a contactless bank card, and this is growing year-on-year, according to a Mastercard survey. As such, you can expect to pay this way when visiting the country.
Chip-and-PIN is used throughout Latvia too. If your card has a four-digit PIN, you’ll be able to pay and withdraw cash this way with no problems.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Latvia?
There have been warnings in the past about dishonest Latvian bartenders over-charging you for drinks. To avoid this scam, always check the amount and your receipt, and you may wish to avoid seedy-looking bars!
Below are some additional general safety tips when using a credit card in Latvia.
- Use an ATM within a bank. If for some reason the ATM eats your card, you’ll be able to quickly retrieve it. Also, ATMs within banks are less likely to be tampered with. Should you use one outside a bank, check for devices attached to the reader and cash return slot.
- Consider taking an additional credit card. You can use your primary card for payments and keep your back-up card in your hotel room safety deposit box. That way, you’ll never be left without money.
- Keep your card in sight. Card cloning is rare in Latvia, but just in case, don’t let your card out of your sight.
How to prepare before travelling to Latvia
- Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees. If you travel often, avoiding the 3% foreign transaction fee can save you a lot of money. Consider getting a travel credit card to avoid the foreign transaction fees.
- Opt for a Mastercard or Visa. They’re the most-widely accepted cards and Latvia is no exception, though you can still use your American Express cards in some locations. There are also enough ATMs around if you want to withdraw cash with these cards as well.
- Carry a back-up card. Try to always carry a second card when travelling abroad, given you don’t know what could happen to your primary card.
- Get some cash. In general, you can pay with plastic almost anywhere in Latvia. But if you want to make a cash withdrawal, keep in mind that credit cards have additional fees while most debit cards don’t.
- Inform your bank you’re travelling to Latvia. If you don’t let your bank know ahead of time the dates you’ll be away and where you’ll be, it may block your card if it suspects the charges are fraudulent.
- Make a note of your bank’s phone number. If you lose your card or have payment issues, you’ll be able to call the bank to resolve it.
Does public transport in Latvia accept credit cards?It’s possible to buy public transport tickets and pay taxi fares using your credit card if you wish to do so.
If you travel to Latvia, you can safely use your credit card to make payments and withdraw cash. You’ll just have to be careful to not incur fees you can otherwise avoid. With a decent Visa or Mastercard travel credit card, you’ll avoid paying foreign transaction fees and card surcharges, and by simply declining the DCC at merchants and cash machines, you’ll also avoid a poor exchange rate or commission.
Get these simple things right, and you can focus on enjoying the stunning scenery, culture and cuisine (we recommend the rupjmaize – a delicious rye bread) that Latvia has to offer.
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