• Tips for using your credit card while traveling abroad

    Nick "Brainy Traveler"
    We’ve all done it, right?  You are trolling through Duty Free at the airport in some foreign country, on the lookout for that perfect souvenir to commemorate your first visit.  There it is!  The perfect tchotchke to add into your collection!  It’s one in a million (literally there are a million of them in each store)!  You stroll up to the cash register, pull out your personal plastic only to see your dutiful clerk shake their head.  What’s that?  You don’t take Discover?  So sorry, please use this shiny new Visa instead.  A smile, a slide, a pause … denied.  No, no I pay my bills on time and in full every month, please try again.  Denied.  Huh, that’s just so odd?  So, it’s out to the ATM, agree to pay an absurd transaction fee, pull out five times more foreign cash than you really need, and head back to said storefront to secure your souvie. 

    What you’ve just experienced is a very common fraud protection practice from your card provider.  When they notice foreign transactions their first instinct is to block the transaction, contact you and wait to open the card up until they’ve heard from you directly.  It may seem like an annoyance at the time, but it can be a real boon if you find your card has been compromised in any way.  Here a few tips and tricks to consider when using a credit card in a foreign country.

    Before travel

    • credit_cardInform your credit card provider: Call your card provider and let them know you’ll be traveling internationally so they don’t put a hold on your card because of potential fraud.
    • Know your credit limits: Charges can add up quickly on international trips, so ensure you have a high enough credit limit to get you through your trip.


    During travel

    • Know your card brand: Find out if the item or service you intend to purchase can be bought with the credit card you have. Some merchants may only accept certain credit card brands and not others.
    • Be aware of technical differences: In North America most credit cards are processed by swiping the magnetic strip on the back. But when purchasing certain products and services in select European locations, such as rail tickets, gas, or road tolls, magnetic strip credit cards may not work. Many European credit cards are issued with a microprocessor chip and a personal identification number (PIN) to be entered rather than the swipe-and-sign approach. Some credit cards issued in North America are starting to offer the chips, so if you have one, you may have an easier time making payments.


    Backup plans

    • Travel with more than one credit card: If one card isn’t accepted, you’ll have at least one more option to try.
    • Carry cash: Make sure you have at least a small amount of cash in the local currency in the event your credit card is not accepted.
    • Consider purchasing a pre-loaded chip-and-PIN debit card: Travelex, a currency exchange company, offers a prepaid card equipped with the chip-and-PIN technology that can be loaded with Euros or British Pounds.


    As a reminder: if you’re traveling for business, check your company’s travel and expense policies to ensure you’re using the approved payment methods.

    Do you have any tips for other travelers using credit cards abroad? We’d love to hear them!

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