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Using a credit card internationally
Here are a few questions you might have about using your credit card overseas or across the border.
You’re going abroad, and you’ve got money on your mind. Specifically, you’re wondering how your credit card will work when you’re traveling abroad.
Should I use my credit card abroad?
There can be big advantages to using your credit card while traveling. For one, it helps you carry less cash, which is one way to combat pickpockets. You also don’t have to convert your currency, as your card will do it for you, often at a favorable exchange rate.
Though a credit card can be convenient, you might not want to solely rely on it when traveling. Some merchants may only take cash — especially small mom-and-pop establishments. Credit card acceptance also varies by countries and even cities. For example, you can probably use your card everywhere you go in Sweden, but you’ll need lots of cash in Germany.
How should I prepare before my trip?
Before going abroad, make a few preparations to ensure you can use your credit card with no problems.
- Highly consider getting a Visa, Mastercard or American Express. These brands—especially Visa and Mastercard — are more likely to be accepted abroad. You may be able to use Discover cards at some locations, but you’ll find that many merchants won’t accept it.
- Make sure you have an EMV card with a PIN. If your card doesn’t have an EMV chip, you may have issues using it in some countries abroad. Also, if your card doesn’t have a PIN, call your card issuer and ask them to provide you with one.
- Take more than one card. Anything can happen to your card, from theft to getting it blocked. Having a backup card can save you from unpleasant situations abroad.
- Take multiple travel money options. Consider adding a debit card to your wallet for ATM withdrawals, cash to use for incidentals like taxis and tips, and if you have a prepaid travel card, consider taking it as well.
- Give your card provider a heads-up. If your card company sees a foreign transaction on your card, they may put a hold on your account for suspicious activity. To avoid this, give your provider a quick call letting them know where you’ll be traveling.
- Know who to call if you have a problem with your card while traveling. Your card might get stolen while you’re traveling, or you could lose it. In these cases, you’ll need the right number to call for a replacement card. Make sure the number is local to your destination.
- Know where you’ll get cash once you arrive. Even if you have a credit card, it’s smart to have cash on hand. So you don’t waste time or money, plan out beforehand where you’ll get your cash. Check if your bank has international partnerships that allow you to use some ATMs for free.
Tips for using a credit card abroad
- Consider a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Some credit cards have up to a 3% fee of the amount of each transaction made abroad. Avoid such cards to save money.
- Consider getting a credit card with complimentary travel insurance. Depending on the card, you can get trip cancelation insurance, travel accident insurance, car rental insurance and more.
- Set up internet banking so you can manage your accounts at home easier. Plus, you can monitor your account for unauthorized charges.
- Set up regular credit card payments to avoid any late fees while you’re traveling.
- Never let your credit card out of your sight. Otherwise, your card information could be compromised.
- Ensure the merchant only swipes your card through one machine and if you suspect any foul play, contact your credit card issuer immediately.
- Call your bank immediately if you lose or misplace your credit. This can help ensure no one else will use it, and most issuers can provide you with a replacement card even abroad.
- Keep all receipts until you have had a chance to reconcile your credit card statement.
- Don’t write your PIN down, and, if you change it, don’t use your birth dates or any other personal recognizable date.
- Be aware your balance will be affected if a hotel or hire company has performed a temporary transaction on your account. The charge will eventually be reversed.
What fees should I know about?
You can incur the following fees if you use a card abroad:
- Foreign transaction fees. This fee can range from 1% to 3% if you use a credit card abroad or with a foreign merchant online. This fee is common with cashback credit cards.
- Avoid it with a travel credit card.
- Currency conversion fees. You’ll pay a fee when a foreign merchant converts your purchase into dollars, instead of charging you in the local currency. This is called dynamic currency conversion, and it’s expensive.
- Avoid it by declining payment in US dollars. Instead, always pay in local currency.
- Cash advance fees. When you use an ATM with your credit card, you’ll probably be charged a cash advance fee. This is a flat rate or a percentage of your transaction, such as either $10 or 5% of the transaction, whichever is higher. On top of that, you’ll start paying interest immediately.
- Avoid it by using a debit card for ATM withdrawals.
- ATM fees. The ATM company itself may also charge fees.
- Avoid it by using a no-fee debit card, like the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account where you can use it for cash withdrawals, and then be reimbursed for any fees you incur.
How to protect yourself when you arrive
Following these precautions should help ensure your trip runs smoothly:
- Don’t carry a lot of cash.
Travelers should avoid carrying a lot of cash or wearing expensive jewelry. This might attract negative attention and can lead to unpleasant experiences.
- Safely store your cards, cash or checks in various secure areas.
Carrying all your cards and cash in a single location or wallet is not advisable. It is better to carry an alternative wallet which can store excess cash and other important items. It is also better not carry the main wallet in your back pocket, but rather somewhere secure that you can see.
- Keep your passport safe.
It’s also important to store your passport securely. If you have a secure place to store it, keeping your passport with you is a good idea as this is your primary legal document as a traveler.
- Report any emergency situations immediately.
As mentioned, make sure that you have all of your necessary contact numbers on you. This should include those of your personal emergency contacts, your credit card providers, and your insurance provider. This will ensure that you can get in contact with the relevant people in the chance of an emergency.
Once you’ve made these arrangements, you’re all set to use your credit card on your next trip. Safe travels!
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