When you’re leaving on an international trip, you probably give yourself a last minute patdown to make sure you have all your important documents: passport, boarding pass, credit cards. But did you know that you should do your homework ahead of time to make sure the credit cards you are carrying are appropriate for your trip? The credit card you use at home to buy groceries and fill your gas tank might not be the best one for you to use overseas! Read on for our top credit card tips for international travelers.
Book Your Travel With the Right Credit Card
Let’s face it – travel can be expensive. Plane tickets can cost a pretty penny, and rates for rental cars and hotels can really add up. But you can make the most of your travel expenses by putting them on a credit card that will give you bonuses for your travel purchases.
Many airlines offer branded credit cards that allow you to earn airline miles with your daily purchases, and bonus miles if you book travel using the card. Some of these cards offer additional perks, like early boarding of your flight, access to airline lounges, or even reimbursement of your Global Entry membership fee! If you have one airline that you fly often, it’s worth considering their credit card options to see if they offer attractive benefits.
If you fly a number of different airlines, you may want to consider getting a credit card from a major bank that offers benefits for travelers. Like the airline cards, these credit cards allow you to earn points that you can use towards flights and other travel rewards, and will typically give you bonus points for the money you spend on airfare, hotel, and other travel expenses. The benefit to these cards is that they don’t restrict you to using your rewards on just one airline or hotel chain, which will give you more flexibility in planning your travel.
For help in figuring out which card is best for you, we like MileCards.com, which analyzes all the available cards and bonus offers with an eye toward helping travelers make the most of their credit card spending.
Choose the Right Card to Use Overseas
Using a credit card for your purchases overseas can help you make sure you get the best possible exchange rate. It also saves you the hassle of trying to find the right bills and notes in a foreign currency! But not every credit card is a smart one to use on your travels. Did you know that most credit cards will charge you an extra fee for every purchase you make overseas? It’s true. You’ll wind up paying an extra 3% every time you pull out your card, unless you choose a card with no foreign transaction fees. Here’s some good news, though – many of the airline and bank credit cards aimed at travelers do not have foreign transaction fees, so you might just be able to use the same card to book your flight to Argentina and to pay for your steak dinner in Buenos Aires!
Travelers who rely on American Express or Discover cards for daily purchases in the US should definitely consider getting a different credit card to use while traveling. Visa cards are accepted almost everywhere, and MasterCards are widely accepted all over the world, but American Express cards are accepted at fewer merchants. Discover cards are particularly difficult to use overseas, as their network outside the US is very small.
Travelers to Europe Need Special Credit Cards
Europe uses a different credit card security system than what we’re used to in the States. Credit card machines with chip readers were standardized in Europe long before they began to be used in America. You may have recently gotten a new credit card with a chip, which can be inserted into the credit card reader instead of being swiped. However, your credit card with a chip will probably not work in European chip readers!
European credit cards use what is called “chip and PIN” technology. After inserting the card into the card reader, you have to enter a PIN number, much as you would at an ATM. In the US, chipped credit cards use a “chip and signature” system, in which you sign the electronic pad, just like you would if you had swiped your credit card.
You may be able to use your normal US credit card at some places in Europe, particularly at hotels or major tourist sites. Some merchants may ask to see additional identification, so it’s a good idea to carry your passport with you. You may also be able to get a “chip and PIN” credit card for your trip to Europe – this is particularly a good idea for people who travel to Europe often! But if you don’t have a “chip and PIN” card, and you’ll be traveling off the normal tourist routes, you should be prepared with cash to pay for your purchases.
Use Your Credit Card to Get Cash from ATMs
Did you know that you can use your credit card to withdraw cash from Automatic Teller Machines all over the world? It’s a quick and convenient way to get money in local currency wherever you go. One benefit of using ATMs to get cash with your credit card is that the exchange rate will be the “bank rate,” the most favorable rate available. You’ll get more local currency for your dollar than if you exchange money at the hotel or at a currency exchange stand. However, you will have to pay some fees for using the ATM. Most credit cards charge a fee of approximately 3% for using an ATM out of the country, although some have a flat rate fee instead. If your credit card charges international transaction fees, you’ll have to pay the international transaction fee in addition to the ATM fee, so you could wind up with total fees of up to 6% of your withdrawal!
Call Your Card Company Before You Go
No matter where you are traveling, it’s a good idea to call your credit card company before you leave. You can confirm whether your card has international transaction fees, and find out what the fees would be if you use your card to withdraw cash at an ATM overseas. Most importantly, you can have a note put on your file that you are traveling. If you don’t let your credit card company know that you are going to be in a different country during a specific time, they are likely to flag the international charges as fraudulent and shut down your account for safety! It’s miserable to have to deal with a cancelled credit card at the best of times… you definitely don’t want to have your card cancelled when you are out of the country and trying to enjoy your trip!
When you call, you can also ask if there is an assistance line that you can call collect when you are traveling. That way, if you have a problem like a declined card or your wallet being stolen, you’ll have a number you can call for free to get help.
Special Services from Your Credit Card Company
Your credit card may offer you additional travel benefits beyond being able to easily pay for your morning cappuccino and your afternoon gelato! One common perk is rental car insurance if you use the card to pay for your rental fees. Your card may also offer some form of travel insurance, or a helpline you can call for legal assistance or a referral to medical facilities.
So before you head out on your next trip, make sure you go through that last minute checklist: passport, boarding pass, credit cards. Check!