Heading overseas this summer? Don’t forget your credit card. Whether you’re in a pinch or simply picking up the tab on the road, credit cards can be your best friend–or worst enemy. Before hopping on that plane, be sure to follow these tips to make sure your credit card works for you in foreign territory.
1. Shop Around
This is the first step because it’ll take the longest. Considering the amounts of perks, travel rewards and insurance protections now being offered by mid- to high-end credit cards, now might be a good time to apply for a new credit card. Start the process a few months out so you can have it and get it activated before you ship out. If you don’t have one already, look for a card that has:
- Low or no foreign transaction fees.
- Travel insurance
- Rental insurance
- Purchase protection
- Airline rewards
Don’t be afraid to get a card that’s completely unbalanced for domestic use. It’s not only okay to have a card solely for travel, it’s also a good idea (we’ll get to why later). We recommend checking out Miles by Discover and Escape by Discover.
2. Bone Up on Fees
Thanks to the credit card fee shakedown spurred by credit card reform and the recession, your credit card’s foreign transaction fee structure may have changed. A 3 percent or higher foreign transaction fee on every credit card purchase is par for the course, but watch out for foreign currency conversion fees as well. Card issuers may also tack on a surcharge as well. ATMs are a good route to go, since you can pull out a big chunk of cash at once and pay the fee only once, so pack that debit card, too. At any rate, it’s advisable to call your credit card company or read through the fine print of the last terms and conditions packet they sent you to see exactly where they stand. It’ll sure beat a big surprise when you get home.
3. Tell Your Credit Card Company Your Plans
If your credit card company knows you live in Jacksonville, Florida and they start seeing lots of spending in Paris, they’re going to go ahead and put a lock on your account. They’re just doing their jobs. So, to avoid the hassle of having your credit card shut out at inopportune times, call them ahead of time. Let them know where you’ll be traveling and when and make sure they note it on your file.
4. Get an In-Country Customer Service Line
The number on the back of your card is a 800 number, which may or may not work overseas. Make sure you have the local customer service contact number so you won’t be calling long distance back to New York when you’re already in a pinch.
5. Carry a Backup
We’ve already established that you should bring both a credit card and a debit card, but make sure you have a backup credit card from a different bank and issuer just in case. That way, if your Wells Fargo Visa gets rejected for whatever reason, you’ll still have your Bank of America Mastercard to back you up.
6. Store your Credit Card Numbers Online
This may seem like a dubious security blunder, but it just may save your skin. Copy down your credit card numbers, CVV and expiration date and put them somewhere safe online (archived in a password protected email or on a secure password manager). That way, if someone makes off with your wallet, luggage and travel belt, you can still borrow a Euro and pop into an Internet cafe to get your credit card numbers to make some emergency purchases. Otherwise, you’d probably have to chill out until your credit card company shipped you a replacement card, which could take days.
7. Stick to One Card
With that being said, you should only use your primary card unless there’s an emergency. Then, go through your transactions and statements with a fine toothed comb. Do it twice: once right when you get home and again, a few weeks later (some smaller vendors take longer to process credit card transactions). You should be able to follow your itinerary to make sure that nothing got charged erroneously, double-billed or fraudulently charged. This is a lot easier if you only have one statement to look at and you don’t have to sort out your car insurance payments and utilities bills while you’re at it.
Credit cards are a travel essential. But as always, there are liabilities–both in the forms of fees and security breaches. Follow the above tips to lessen the danger of credit cards and reap the most rewards.
Got a travel tip for credit cards? Share with us in the comments.