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Using a credit card in Romania
The ultimate guide to spending Romanian lei on your credit card
Romania is one of the newest members of the European Union but – in major cities at least – credit card spending is as simple as you’d expect in any other EU country.
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted and there are plenty of businesses in urban areas that will accept American Express too.
You might need to be a bit more cautious in smaller towns or rural areas, as there are fewer ATMs and businesses are less likely to accept credit card payments. If you’re planning on castle-hopping in rural Transylvania, for example, you’re better off grabbing the cash you need before you set off.
Some merchants may only accept debit and credit cards that are compatible with chip-and-pin, so those without this might be better off withdrawing plenty of lei too. When you do pay with credit card, it’s unlikely you’ll be asked to show ID (as is the case for visitors to some countries).
There’s a chance that some retailers will have minimum purchase amounts in order to allow card payments, so if you’re only buying a few stuffed cabbage leaves, you may need cash. You’ll typically need cash to pay for taxis and public transport too.
What about fees?
As you’d expect, there are a few potential fees to watch out for when you’re paying with plastic in Romania.
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.
So how can I avoid the fees?
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. Once you have one of these cards, if a merchant offers to take payment in pounds, say that you’re happy to pay in lei 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. Finally, make sure to check whether any ATM you use is going to charge a fee. High street bank ATMs are generally a safer bet than those in convenience stores or bars.
If your own bank has a local presence or partner in Romania, your best bet is to find an ATM operated by it, as this is most likely to charge low or zero fees.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Romania
Are American Express cards accepted in Romania?Yes, although as with many countries, it’s not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard.
Contactless and chip-and-PIN payments
Mastercard research recently ranked Romania as the fifth biggest in Europe for the proportion of card payments made via contactless. In the first eight months of 2018, around two out of three Mastercard payments were completed contactlessly. This was a 139% increase year-on-year, so it’s safe to say you can expect to make contactless payments during your stay in Romania.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Romania?
Romania was well-known for ATM scams a few years ago. Due to the number of card skimming incidents and ATMs that had been tampered with, bank fraud teams tend to be a lot more careful when transactions in Romania are registered.
For this reason, it’s important to ensure your bank is aware you’re travelling there, or it might block payments for security reasons.
In order to stay safe when using your bank card in Romania:
- 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. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t let your card out of your sight.
How to prepare before travelling to Romania
- 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 across the globe and Romania is no exception, though you still can’t use your American Express card 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. You should be able to exchange pounds for lei before your trip. Some major hotels may accept euros, but lei is the only currency that most retailers will accept. If you want to make a cash withdrawal in Romania, keep in mind that credit cards have additional fees while most debit cards don’t.
- Inform your bank you’re travelling to Romania. If you don’t let your bank know ahead of time when 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.
If you travel to Romania, you can safely use your credit card to make payments and withdraw cash. You’ll just have to be careful to not incur unnecessary fees. With a decent travel credit card, you’ll avoid paying foreign transaction fees. By simply declining the DCC when offered, you’ll also avoid a poor exchange rate or commission.
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