There has been considerable talk about Sweden going cashless, but the situation on the ground shows that a vast majority of merchants continue accepting cash. So, this is one aspect you don’t have to worry about.
When it comes to using your credit card in this country, it’s pretty much as good as it gets; Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, with American Express slightly behind.
Something to consider while planning your trip to Sweden is whether your credit card charges foreign transaction fees. Although not large, these fees can pile up over the course of a vacation.
Using a credit card with Visa or Mastercard branding will not present any significant problems, given their widespread acceptability. While acceptance of American Express cards is less common, even fewer establishments accept Discover cards.
While you can use your credit card just about everywhere in Sweden, some small businesses might offer discounts if you pay in cash and some others may not accept cards at all. As a result, keep small amounts of cash handy.
Cirrus, Plus and other networks provide connectivity to ATMs across Scandinavia, so you can use your Mastercard or Visa debit or credit card to withdraw money. Banks in Sweden impose fees when non-customers use their ATMs, and the fee is usually higher for international cards. This fee is in addition to the fee that your bank might charge. Before you leave, consider asking your American bank if your PIN requires reprogramming for international use.
Depending on the card you use, you might end up paying different kinds of fees when you use it outside of the US.
Foreign transaction fees
American credit cards tend to come with 2% to 3% foreign transaction fees, which you’ll need to pay every time to make a purchase outside of the US. The good thing is you can find some cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, examples of which include the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card, the USAA® Rewards™ American Express® Card and the Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card.
Currency conversion fees
What should you do if a merchant in Sweden asks you whether you want your card to be swiped in US dollars? You say no. If your card is swiped in US dollars outside of the US, you become subject to dynamic currency conversion. In this case, there’s no telling what exchange rate you’ll get and there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay a currency conversion fee as well.
Should I use my card to get cash?
Using your credit card to get a cash advance is not recommended and you may think about doing this only in an emergency. While you’ll need to pay a cash advance fee, the cash advance APR is usually noticeably higher than the APR for purchases. Besides, you’ll need to start paying interest from the day of the transaction. The table below serves as an example of how much an overseas cash advance can cost.
Using credit cards in Sweden is largely safe, although it’s best that you exercise some caution.
- Protect your PIN. Use one hand as a shield to keep your PIN hidden from concealed cameras and overly curious eyes.
- Use the right ATMs. Try not to use ATMs located in isolated areas. Ideally, stick to ones in banks or in crowded areas.
- Keep an eye out for skimmers. Card skimmers installed illegally in ATMs can steal your card’s information. If you feel there’s something amiss with an ATM you’re using, cancel your last transaction and use a different ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
While crime levels in Sweden are low, instances of petty crime are not uncommon. Petty theft and pickpocketing are common in Stockholm’s Old Town, popular tourist destinations, museums, amusement parks, public transport, bars and restaurants. Don’t leave your bag or purse unattended in hotel breakfast rooms or in parked cars.
While magnetic-stripe cards are on their way out, you can still use them at most businesses and ATMs in Sweden. Some exceptions include vending machines at gas stations, toll booths and railway stations. Since chip cards offer enhanced security, it is ideal that you use them instead. If you have a chip and PIN card, you’ll need to enter the PIN while your card stays in the machine’s slot.
Can I use my chip-and-signature card in Sweden?
You may not face difficulties in using a chip-and-signature card expect at unmanned vending machines. The merchant will still insert your card in the machine’s slot, and you’ll sign a receipt instead of entering a PIN.
In some instances, machines might prompt you to enter your PIN, and shopkeepers might not know what to do to process the payment, so it’s always a good idea to carry some cash.
- Think Visa or Mastercard. If you want unhindered access to your credit card, consider carrying at least two, preferably with a Visa or Mastercard connection. While you’ll find some takers for American Express, you might have a tough time using your Diners Club card.
- Use a no foreign transaction fees card. Paying a foreign transaction fee does not make sense when you can easily find cards that come without it. The Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Credit Card comes with no annual and foreign transaction fees. The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card and the USAA® Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card come with no foreign currency conversion and overseas ATM withdrawal fees.
- Inform your bank. If you use your card outside of the US and your bank does not know you’re traveling overseas, it may block your card on account of suspicious activity. To avoid such a situation, let your bank know you’ll be traveling before you leave for Sweden.
- Know which emergency numbers to call. These include numbers to call if you lose your card or if you end up needing a replacement.
- Plan your need for cash. While you won’t need cash for much when you’re in Sweden, it’s not like you won’t need it at all. If you need to exchange currency, you’ll get a number of currency exchange centers and banks from which to choose.
You won’t have much trouble in using your credit card when you’re in Sweden, and by asking yourself these simple questions you can look forward to a relatively smooth trip.
- Which card should I use? The top picks are Visa and Mastercard, given their widespread acceptance. American Express follows and Diners Club is next on the list.
- Have I informed my bank? If you don’t let your bank know that you’ll be using your card in Sweden, your very first transaction there might lead to a temporary suspended card. Is that a chance you’re willing to take?
- How much will using my card cost? Find out how much you’ll need to pay as foreign transaction and currency conversion fees. Remember that you can find cards with no foreign transaction fees.
- Where will I get money from? An easy way to access cash is to use your American debit card at an ATM. You can also think about carrying traveler’s checks or exchanging US dollars for Swedish krona.
Using an American credit card will present no significant problems in Sweden, especially if you’re using a Visa or Mastercard credit card. What you need to look for is the most cost-effective option.
See more guides on using a credit card in other countries.
Swedeen is mostly a cashless society, meaning you can use your credit card virtually everywhere, including at hotels, shops, restaurants and museums. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, but some merchants may accept American Express and Discover cards as well.
Despite this, you will still pay foreign transaction fees on every purchase unless you use a travel credit card.