Like a plane, boat, passport or luggage, a credit card is important to any trip overseas. Now, you might think I’m just saying that because of my obvious bias, but hear me out and you can decide for yourself. First of all, credit cards help you save given that Visa and MasterCard automatically provide some of the best exchange rates available to consumers. Credit cards also provide better security than cash since you won’t be liable for unauthorized charges if your card is lost or stolen. What’s more, a credit card not only might help you earn rewards on every purchase you make while abroad but is also easier to conceal and carry around than cash – quite important considering all of the walking tourists tend to do and the pickpockets that tend to target them.
There are a few common traps that credit-card-equipped travelers can fall into, however, thereby nullifying the inherent benefit their cards provide. But, by avoiding them, both your trip and your post-trip bill will benefit. So what are these common mistakes, and how can you avoid them? Let’s find out.
Foreign Transaction Fees
Ninety percent of credit cards have a fee associated with overseas use (usually 3% of each purchase), which can quickly add up to a sizeable amount. This can all be avoided, however, by getting a credit card with no foreign exchange fees. Capital One was the first major issuer to offer such cards, but the ranks have since swelled, which means you now have a pretty decent selection to choose from.
It’s important not to wait till the last minute to get your no foreign transaction fee credit card. In fact, you really should apply for and open such a card before booking flights, hotels, etc. Credit card companies often charge foreign fees not only for purchases you make while outside the U.S., but also for those processed in another country – such as might be the case with a plane ticket booked through a foreign-based airline.
In addition, make sure to inform your card company of your travel plans both so your card won’t be suspended due to suspicious use and so you can get a number to call free of charge from abroad in case you have any trouble. Credit card companies are typically pretty good about helping their customers with whatever problems they might have while overseas, and this could certainly come in handy.
Dynamic Currency Conversion
When you arrive in your destination, watch out for dynamic currency conversion, which is when foreign merchants charge unfavorable exchange rates to convert your bill into American dollars. They supposedly offer this “service” to aid American travelers unfamiliar with the local money, but in reality, they do so to turn a big profit. Luckily, avoiding these gratuitous costs is as easy as not signing any bill or check expressed in anything other than the local currency.
Anything Else I Should Know?
While you should rely on your credit card, you also need access to cash, especially considering that the Europeans recently passed a resolution that might make it hard to use American magnetic stripe credit cards in the future. Though most foreign merchants tend to welcome American tourist money and are therefore unlikely to turn down your credit card, certain aspects of the European financial infrastructure – like automated train kiosks – now only accept European chip-and-pin cards. Before leaving, simply open a debit card that you can use at foreign ATMs without extra charge, and your cash will be on demand.
A credit card will help you save on a trip abroad, but you should remain conscious about what such a trip costs the world. Make sure to offset the carbon footprint of your air travel; avoid littering in your destination; always recycle; and take in the scenery. If you don’t, you might be costing your kids, their kids, and their kids’ kids a chance to see the same beautiful sights.