Using a credit card in Europe | finder.com
Using a credit card in Europe

Using a credit card in Europe

We know that everyone's situation is unique and we aim to help you find the right product for you. We may receive compensation when you visit our partners' sites or are approved for their products. You can read more about how we maintain editorial independence and how we make money here.

You’re excited about your trip to Europe. But right now, you have money on your mind.
Specifically, you’re wondering whether you can use your credit card. Or if you need to stick with tried-and-true cash.

The answer lies somewhere in between. Credit cards are widely accepted in Europe, but you’ll sometimes encounter merchants that only accept cash. You’ll also make purchases that can be easier to pay for with a credit card, such as a hotel room. In general, it’s a good idea to carry both cash and credit cards.

As it turns out, there’s a lot more you should know about using a credit card in Europe. Before you go overseas, soak up a few more tips so you’re well prepared.

Consider which country you’re going to

Credit card acceptance isn’t uniform throughout Europe. In some countries, you can use credit cards pretty much wherever you go. In other nations, you’ll have to get by mainly on cash.

In such European countries as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, cashless transactions rule. Some retailers may not accept cash, even if you want to use it.

Other countries — Germany and Italy, for example — heavily rely on cash, so you should make it a point to it.

For Europe in general, you’ll typically rely on cash for everyday spending like buses and taxis. Be sure to carry enough cash to get you through each day, but don’t be afraid to use your credit card whenever you can.

A few credit card fees to avoid

International travelers often uncover a nasty surprise: Using a card overseas can be expensive. The main culprits are foreign transaction fees and currency conversion fees.

Credit card fees to avoid

Foreign transaction fees

A foreign transaction fee is assessed when you use your card abroad, and it’s typically 3% of each transaction (though can be more, depending on your card).
Using a credit card in Europe screenshot 1

Most credit cards have foreign transaction fees. However, all good travel cards come with no foreign transaction fees. For a few excellent cards, look into the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Barclaycard Arrival Plus and BankAmericard Travel Rewards.

Using a credit card in Europe screenshot 3Like many travel cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred charges no foreign transaction fees.

Currency conversion fees

A foreign merchant may offer to convert your bill into US dollars instead of charging you in the local currency. This is called dynamic currency conversion, and it’s expensive because you pay a currency conversion fee for it. If a merchant offers it, take a hard pass.

Should I use my credit card to get cash?

You’ll definitely need cash in Europe. Unfortunately, it can be very expensive to get cash from your credit card. That’s because your card provider charges you a cash advance fee as well as a higher interest rate for cash advances.

Check out this card’s pricing information table. As you can see, the cash advance APR is 25.74%, which is higher than the APR you’ll get for purchases or balance transfers.
Using a credit card in Europe screenshot 4

Not only that, but you’ll see that a cash advance comes with a high fee. At a minimum, you’ll pay $10. But you might pay more, because the fee is the greater of $10 or 5% of your transaction. If you take out a $300 cash advance, for example, you’ll pay the 5% fee — that’s $15.

Of course, credit card ATM withdrawals may also be subject to foreign transaction fees. The implication is clear: Don’t use your credit card at ATMs.

Pick up a no-fee debit or ATM card instead

Instead of relying on your credit card to get cash, look for a low-fee debit or ATM card.

A debit card from the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account is one excellent pick. It reimburses you for any fees you may incur at ATMs. And because it’s not a credit card, you won’t have to worry about cash advance interest.

Even better, the card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. That means you can avoid the 1% to 3% fee that credit and debit cards often charge.

Compare credit cards

Rates last updated June 20th, 2018
Name Product APR for Purchases ( Purchase Rate ) Intro APR for Balance Transfer Annual fee Product Description
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
14.74% to 25.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months
$0
Earn 15000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Deserve® Classic Card
24.49% variable
$39
Designed to help build credit history with no deposit required and access to benefits.
Apply now Read review
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card
14.74% to 24.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 12 statement closing dates (with whichever is greater, $10 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn more cash back for the things you buy most.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
14.74% to 25.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of a statement credit.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
16.49% variable
0% Intro APR for first 15 billing cycles (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$495
Mastercard Black Card members receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
Apply now Read review
Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of your account opening, and an additional 30,000 points when you spend a total of $30,000 on purchases within the first year of your account opening.
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
23.9% variable
$75 annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
With this card you get a 23.9% variable APR.
Apply now Read review
The First Access VISA® Credit Card
29.99% variable
$75 annual fee for the first year ($48 thereafter)
Access credit even if you have poor or limited credit history.
Apply now Read review
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
16.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles (with the amount of each transfer, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$995
Earn points every time you spend. Luxury Card enhances your purchasing power by providing you with one (1) point for every one dollar ($1) you spend. Every purchase gets you closer to the rewards you want.
Apply now Read review
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$450
Earn 50000 BONUS POINTS after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening* — that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Credit One Bank® Visa® with Free Credit Score Tracking
17.49% to 25.49% variable
$0 to $75 first year annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV, terms apply.
Apply now Read review
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
14.74% to 24.74% variable
0% Intro APR for 12 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
$95
Earn 15000 Membership Rewards Points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it's automatic. No minimum to redeem for cash back.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
17.49% to 24.49% variable
$95
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Quicksilver® from Capital One®
14.24%, 19.24% or 24.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with 3% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Chase Freedom® credit card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater, $5 or 5% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
16.49% to 24.49% variable
$0
20,000 online bonus points offer. Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.
Chase Slate® Credit Card
16.49% to 25.24% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with $0 for transfers in first 60 days. Then $5 or 5% balance transfer fee)
$0
Jumpstart your financial fitness! 60 day introductory balance transfer offer, save on interest, and get your free monthly credit score.
Venture® from Capital One®
14.49%, 20.49% or 24.49% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 bonus miles once after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
14.49%, 18.49%, or 24.49% variable
0% Intro APR for 15 months (with whichever is greater: $10 or 4% balance transfer fee)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases.
Apply now Read review

Compare up to 4 providers

Rates last updated June 20th, 2018
Name Product Product Description APR for Purchases ( Purchase Rate ) Bonus Points Interest Free Period
Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Gold Secured Credit Card
Low fixed interest rates with no penalty rate.
9.99% fixed
Up to 25 days
Apply now Read review
Platinum Prestige MasterCard® Secured Credit Card
You can increase your credit limit by adding funds to the initial deposit.
9.99% variable
Up to 25 days
Apply now Read review
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
A secured Visa® credit card that helps you build your credit quickly.
18.64% variable
Up to 25 days
Apply now Read review
 Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Credit Card
This secured card can help you rebuild your credit with an initial deposit of $200 to $1,000.
9.99% fixed
0 interest free days
Apply now Read review
Platinum Elite MasterCard® Secured Credit Card
With just a security deposit and 19.99% variable APR, start building or rebuilding your credit history.
19.99% variable
Up to 25 days
Apply now Read review
UNITY Visa® Secured Credit Card
Borrow up to $10000 and get your credit score back on track.
17.99% fixed
Up to 25 days
Apply now Read review
SDFCU Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card
Created to help you establish or rebuild credit.
13.49% variable
Up to 21 days
SKYPASS Visa® Secured Card
Earn SKYPASS miles while building your credit history in the United States.
17.99% variable
5,000 bonus points
Up to 24 days
First Latitude Platinum MasterCard® Secured Credit Card
First Latitude Platinum MasterCard® Secured Credit Card
Enjoy no annual fees while building your credit
25.99% variable
Up to 25 days
Apply now

Compare up to 4 providers

Magnetic stripe and chip credit cards

Over the past few years, your card providers have probably upgraded your existing credit cards to one with a chip inside. These cards are called, unsurprisingly, chip cards.

In the United States, we mostly have chip-and-signature cards — you must provide a signature during a transaction to verify your identity. Meanwhile, 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.

Can I use my chip-and-signature card in Europe?

You’re not out of luck if you own only a chip-and-signature card. If you don’t have a PIN, an attendant will collect a signature from you during each transaction.

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 unmanned train station kiosk.

To avoid this conundrum, carry cash: You may be able to use it at the kiosk or simply buy a ticket from an attendant. Additionally, ask your card provider if you can get a PIN for your card. A PIN could let you complete transactions if a signature doesn’t suffice.

To cover your options more completely, consider picking up an actual chip-and-PIN card. Two such cards often recommended by travelers are the State Department Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum and the Andrews Federal Credit Union Visa.

What if I don’t have a chip card at all?

If you’re still stuck with a magstripe card, call your provider and get a chip card. You can get by in Europe with a chip-and-signature card, but many retailers simply don’t accept a magstripe card.

Is it safe to use my credit card in Europe?

For the most part, you’re quite safe from credit card fraud in Europe. You’ll rarely be on the hook for fraudulent transactions. Even if you owe money, US law states you can only be charged a maximum of $50.

As with all destinations, however, there’s the possibility your credit card information could be stolen. Here are a few ways to avoid it.

  • Keep your PIN safe. Whenever you enter your PIN, use your other hand to cover your inputs. This helps cut down on spying — both from hidden cameras and people looking over your shoulder.
  • Be careful about which ATMs you use. Avoid decrepit ATMs and those in isolated locations. Instead, use ATMs attached to banks.
  • Cancel your ATM transaction if anything seems awry. Don’t use an ATM if your card doesn’t slide smoothly into the card slot or if the keypad is difficult to press. The machine may be compromised by a credit card skimmer — a device that steals credit card information.
  • Avoid letting your credit card out of your sight. Out of view, someone can easily take a photo of your credit card. At restaurants, consider paying for your meals in cash so that servers won’t have to take your credit card elsewhere. (European restaurants often use portable card readers that servers bring directly to you, but you can simply use cash as a precaution.)

Credit card fraud, skimmers and keeping card information safe

Keeping your credit card (physically) safe

Thieves don’t just steal credit card information by recording your card number — they can also steal the card itself.

Pickpockets in many European cities heavily target tourists. The bigger the tourist destination, the more pickpockets there tend to be.

To decrease the chances your credit card will be stolen, consider keeping it in a money belt. This is a fabric pouch that you wear around your waist and hide under your shirt or in your pants. Also consider neck pouches, hidden pockets or a belt with hidden pockets.
Using a credit card in Europe screenshot 2

Clockwise from top left: Money belt, hidden pocket, neck pouch, belt with hidden pocket.

How should I prepare before my trip?

Before going abroad, ensure that you can use your credit card with no problems.

1. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees can be a downer on vacation, but they’re easy to avoid if you pick the right card.
2. Highly consider getting a Visa, Mastercard or American Express. These brands are more likely to be accepted abroad — especially Visa and Mastercard. You may be able to use Discover cards at some locations, but you’ll find that many merchants don’t accept it.
3. Give your card provider a heads-up. Your card company hates fraud because it loses them money. If they see a foreign transaction on your card, they may put a hold on your account for suspicious activity. To avoid declined harges, let your provider know where you’ll be traveling.
4. Know who to call if you have a problem with your card while traveling. Your card might be stolen while you’re traveling, or you could lose it. In both cases, you’ll need the right number to call for a replacement card. Make sure the number is local to your destination.
5. Know where you’ll get cash once you arrive. So you don’t waste time, plan out beforehand where you’ll get cash. See if your bank has international partnerships that allow you to use some ATMs for free.

Next steps

Before you head out to Europe, answer these questions:

  • Which credit cards will I take? Consider taking at least two. Make sure they’re chip cards and don’t come with foreign transaction fees.
  • Do I understand the fees I might encounter? Knowledge is power — and it can save you a lot of money on your travels.
  • Have I called my card provider? Keep your card provider in the loop, and know what number to call if you run into trouble abroad.
  • What’s my plan for cash? Have a debit card ready, and know which ATMs you’ll get cash from.

Once you’ve made these arrangements, you’re all set to use your credit card on your next European trip. Safe travels!

How to use a credit card in…

Kevin Joey Chen

Kevin Chen is a world-travelin', copy-writin', Game of Thrones-watchin' credit cards writer for finder.com. When he's not crunching the numbers on bonus points and comparing APRs, you can find him flying around the world in search of the perfect beer.

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

US Credit Card Offers

Important Information*
Deserve® Classic Card
Deserve® Classic Card

APR

24.49
variable

Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™

APR

16.49
variable

Annual fee

995 For the first year
More info
The First Access VISA® Credit Card
The First Access VISA® Credit Card

APR

29.99
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card

APR

23.9
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
Go to site