Credit cards are a very popular form of payment for both international and domestic travels. Cards allow us to spend money without the risks associated with carrying loads of cash around and they often provide some protection from theft and subsequent fraud.
Here are a few tips on using credit cards on your next trip.
Make a call to your credit card company before you start your trip. Good credit card companies are constantly monitoring for signs of fraud. Imagine your card has been used only in Topeka and the surrounding area for the last decade and suddenly, there are charges in Buenos Aires or a string of charges at gas stations along the Pacific Coast Highway. These charges could trigger a hold on your account. This can easily be prevented by calling the customer service line for your card before you leave. In order to put the travel notice on your account, you’ll need to answer a few questions about your travel dates and itinerary.
Some may brush this off as overkill for domestic trips and in many cases it might not be necessary, but why take the chance? I know from experience that fraud departments are very sensitive to gas purchases made in multiple states during the same day. It’s easy for card thieves to check the validity of a card by trying to run it at a gas station so these charges are particularly suspicious. Make a proactive call and don’t cause yourself grief by having your card declined during your trip.
Check into a pin-and-chip card for international travels. Americans like to be different. You know how we use the standard system versus the metric? Well, our magnet strip credit cards are also not widely used in other countries these days. Many countries, particularly those in Europe, are changing to the pin-and-chip cards. These super secure cards have an embedded microchip that authorizes the charge if the correct pin is entered. Some vendors have machines that will only accept pin-and-chip cards. I didn’t run into a problem with this during my travels to Switzerland or Greece last summer but I know others who had problems in France and Belgium. Generally, large hotels, shops, and restaurants will be able to run your magnetic strip card but gas stations, train station kiosks, and smaller shops may not have the capability. When in doubt, ask. Of course most merchants will do whatever they can to help you pay because they do want your money.
While there is news of more American card companies issuing these cards upon request, it’s still not the norm. I tried to obtain one last summer and learned that I would have to change my account type and wait two months. If you’re worried about this, and again I had no trouble using my card, plan ahead. Call your card company early and ask about a pin-and-chip option. They’ll be able to give you information on the specific countries you are visiting and other tips on how to ensure that your card will be accepted.
Don’t lose the customer service number for your card. If your card is stolen during your vacation, you’ll want to contact the card company ASAP. Keep the customer service number in your phone or with other important paperwork.
Ask about the fees. Learn what your card company is charging in fees on international transactions. Some of these companies charge obscene amounts. If that’s the case with your company, consider getting a new one. You can do a little research at Bankrate.
Don’t convert. A kindly shopkeeper may ask if you’d like to have your purchases converted to US dollars. It sounds like a nice offer but say no to dynamic currency conversion. You’ll get the least favorable conversion rates and wind up paying more than you’d hoped.