Going to abroad? A guide to using a credit card internationally | finder.com
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Using a credit card internationally

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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. Here are a few questions you might have about your using your credit card overseas or across the border.

Why 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.

If you’re worried about losing money on the exchange rate, know that your card provider will likely give you a better deal than you’ll get at a bank.

Our pick for use internationally

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta.
  • Earn one mile for every eligible dollar you spend on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms apply.
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See Rates & Fees

Compare credit cards with no foreign transaction fees

While traveling internationally, be sure you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Thankfully, you’ll find that the best travel credit cards waive these fees.

Name Product Foreign Transaction Fee Annual Fee Purchase APR Filter values
17.99% to 26.99% variable
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
15.24% to 26.24% variable
Build your credit with no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score.
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 15.24%, 19.24% or 25.24% variable)
Earn 3% cash back on up to $10,000 in the first 12 months, then 1.5% on all purchases. See Rates and Fees.
Get 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Rates & fees
See Rates & Fees
35,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. Rates & fees
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($49 thereafter)
16.24% to 26.24% variable
Earn 25,000 enrollment FlexPoints worth $375 in travel after spending $2,000 in the first 4 months. Rates & Fees
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.99% to 26.99% variable
60,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months. Rates & fees
17.99% to 26.99% variable
Earn 75,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you make $3,000 in purchases on your new card within your first 3 months. Plus $100 after making a Delta purchase in the same time. Rates & fees
17.99% to 26.99% variable
Earn 75,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months. Rates & fees
0% intro for the first 18 months (then 13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24% variable)
An 18 months 0% intro APR period on both purchases and balance transfers, plus zero foreign transaction fees, makes this is a strong well-rounded card. See Rates and Fees

Compare up to 4 providers

A-Z list of credit card use by country

So, should I just use my credit card for everything?

Though a credit card can be convenient, you might not want to solely rely on it when traveling. Some merchants at your destination may not accept credit cards, preferring that you pay in cash instead. This could be the case at a lot of small mom-and-pop shops and restaurants.

More broadly, it’s helpful to know whether your destination is credit card friendly. Card acceptance varies country by country, and even city by city. For example, you can probably use your card everywhere you go in Sweden, but you’ll need lots of cash in Germany. And if you go to China, you can easily use your card in Beijing, but you may be out of luck in smaller cities.

All said, carry both a credit card and cash when you travel. Your card will make transactions more convenient, and cash will cover you in a pinch.

Tips for using a credit card abroad.

  1. Contact your bank well before your travel date to inform them you’re going overseas.
  2. Check your current cards’ expiry dates to see if you need any new or replacement credit cards.
  3. Consider taking a chip credit card with you as they have extra security features.
  4. Ask your bank to provide a PIN for your credit card as some countries only accept transactions that can be confirmed with a PIN.
  5. Carry a debit card or prepaid card in addition to your credit card for situations where credit might not be accepted. Also, debit cards have no cash advance APR if you decide to make ATM withdrawals.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Set up internet banking so you can manage your accounts at home easier. Plus, you can monitor your account for unauthorized charges.
  9. Set up regular credit card payments to avoid any late fees while you’re traveling.
  10. Never let your credit card out of your sight. Otherwise, your card information could be compromised.
  11. Ensure the merchant only swipes your card through one machine and if you suspect any foul play, contact your credit card issuer immediately.
  12. 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.
  13. Make inquiries about if you can get a higher credit limit in the case of an emergency.
  14. Keep all receipts until you have had a chance to reconcile your credit card statement.
  15. Don’t write your PIN down, and, if you change it, don’t use your birth dates or any other personal recognizable date.
  16. 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.
  17. Take contact details for your bank, your bank account numbers, phone numbers for lost and stolen cards. Back these up with a copy of all the number you may need in your email account.

Will my credit card work overseas?

If your card has only a magnetic stripe, it might not be accepted overseas. That’s because many countries have upgraded to chip-and-PIN cards. You use these chip-embedded cards by entering a PIN (or personal identification number) when you buy something.

Your card may be a chip-and-signature card, in which case you’ll sign for your purchases when using your card abroad. Even still, there may be some instances where your chip-and-signature card won’t be sufficient. For example, you may need a chip-and-PIN card at an automated ticket machine, where there’s no one to take your signature. (The good news, however, is that many machines offer signature options once they detect your card isn’t a chip-and-PIN.)

If you don’t have a chip card, it’s highly advisable to get one — many merchants won’t accept magnetic-stripe cards. You’ll should be fine with a chip-and-signature card, but a chip-and-PIN card is ideal.

What fees should I know about?

Pay close attention to foreign transaction fees, currency conversion fees, cash advance fees and ATM fees.

Foreign transaction fees

Many cards will charge a foreign transaction fee, which is a fee assessed when you use your card abroad. It’s usually 3% of each transaction.

To avoid this fee, look for top-notch travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus and The Platinum Card® from American Express. These cards charge no foreign transaction fees.

Currency conversion fees

You’ll pay a currency conversion fee when a foreign merchant converts your bill into dollars, instead of charging you in the local currency. This is called dynamic currency conversion, and it’s expensive. If a merchant offers it, say no and save yourself the currency conversion fee.

Cash advance fees

When you take out cash with your credit card, you’ll probably be charged a cash advance fee. This is a flat rate or a percentage of your transaction. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card fee is either $10 or 5% of the transaction (whichever is higher).

On top of that, you’ll start paying interest immediately. So, avoid using your credit card to get cash — use your debit card instead.

ATM fees

Even if you have a debit card, your bank will probably charge you fees when you take out cash from a foreign ATM. The ATM company itself may also charge fees.

You do have options to avoid these fees. The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account, for example, is a popular option for avoiding ATM fees. You can use your debit card for cash withdrawals, and you’ll be reimbursed for any fees you incur.

Capital One’s 360 Checking also doesn’t charge for ATM withdrawals (though you won’t be reimbursed for fees charged by ATM operators).

How should I prepare before my trip?

Before going abroad, make a few preparations to 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 won’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 this, give your provider a quick call letting them know where you’ll be traveling.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Next steps

Before you head out on your next trip, have answers to these questions:

  • Which credit cards will I take? Consider taking at least two. Make sure they’re chip cards and don’t have 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 made preparations with my card provider? Keep your card provider in the loop, and know what number you’ll 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 trip. Safe travels!

Images: Shutterstock

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