10 Money-Smart Credit Card Tips To Know Before You Travel


I love shopping, and understanding how to get the best exchange rate for euros, Pounds, and Kroners allows me to get the most for my money.  Today, I will be sharing money-saving credit card tips that can be especially helpful for international (and domestic) travel.

Related Posts:  In Part 1 of this series, I covered  7 Tips to Save Your  Cell Phone During International Travel.

Disclaimer: I have no financial connections with any banks mentioned in this post.

(Plastic) Money Makes the World Go Round

Negotiating foreign currencies used to be much more of a challenge than it is today.  With so many countries in the Eurozone, there is one currency for much of Western Europe.  Hotels, restaurants, and larger stores in most countries accept credit cards.  In this modern age, it is much less necessary to ‘change money’ into foreign currency.

Here are some savvy traveler’s tips to avoid fees and get the most value out of your vacation dollar.

  1. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Many credit cards charge 2%-3% in foreign transaction fees on every purchase.  Why pay these bank fees when there are an increasing number of credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees?  Call your bank to see if a card you already have is foreign transaction fee-free.

  1. Choosing the right credit card for you – do your research.

Some people have created a science of choosing credit cards.  Important factors to consider include: size of the sign-up bonus, points value, percentage cash back, airline miles, and annual fees.

Barclay’s, Capitol One, Chase, and Citibank all offer at least one card that waives foreign transaction fees.  Some of these cards are co-branded with an airline or hotel.  If so, choose an airline that flies from your home airport to desired destinations, or a hotel brand that you enjoy.

  1. Get a credit card with a chip, and protect it with a RFID blocker sleeve or wallet.

Europe is on the chip-PIN credit card system.  The chip end of the credit card is inserted into the reader and a PIN is entered to authorize transactions (rather than swiping the magnetic strip on our U.S. credit cards and signing the receipt).

Unfortunately, while some American banks have started offering chip cards, none of them are chip-PIN cards – yet.  They are chip-signature cards: you insert the chip into the reader, then a receipt prints out for you to sign.

Be aware – some chip credit cards have a PIN for cash advance.  You will pay steep fees if you use these cards for cash advances.  I hope that someday American banks will catch up and enable chip-PIN cards.

Unfortunately, our chip-signature cards are impossible to use in foreign transportation vending machines that require the chip-PIN to dispense tickets.  We have run into problems in the London Tube, the Paris Metro, and in Norway trying to buy train tickets from machines.  In these cases, find a live person to buy the tickets from.  (These machines will usually take cash).

  1. Use your credit card whenever you can.

Using your mileage or points-earning card frequently – whether at home or abroad – will help get you closer to your next vacation.  Make sure you can make the credit card payments in full at the end of each month to avoid hefty interest charges.  These charges are much worse than any reward benefit the cards may offer.

  1. Certain credit cards may give you protection against theft, loss, and may increase your warranty for certain electronics. The credit card used to pay for your travel can also provide some insurance coverage during your travels.  Know your benefits before you go.
  1. Credit cards usually will give you the best exchange rate in foreign countries if you pay in the local currency.

Some retailers will offer you an option to pay in U.S. Dollars or the local currency.  These stores factor in their own exchange rate, which inevitably will be worse than the credit card bank exchange rate.  Go with the local currency.

  1. Invest in a RFID blocking money belt, and keep your credit cards, passport, and larger amounts of cash in it.

RFID blockers safeguard your passport and chip credit cards from remote identity theft.  There are pick-pockets in many foreign countries, and it is better to be safe than lose your wallet on the Circumvesuvius train, or in St. Peter’s Cathedral.

  1. Keep a copy of your credit card numbers in a safe place (including the bank phone number).  Keep it in your hotel room safe, or in your money belt.
  1. Free smartphone Apps can keep you up to date on currency exchange rates (I use Currency).

Download one and get familiar with it before you leave for your trip.  Have a rough idea of the exchange rate, so you don’t accidentally pay $50 for a sweater you thought was $5.

  1. Some travelers use a prepaid debit card to minimize losses.

That way, if it is stolen, there is a finite amount of money that is lost, and there is online tracking for your card.  It may be better than dealing with $20,000 in fraudulent charges on your other credit cards.  Make sure your prepaid debit card is valid at international destinations… read the fine print before you buy.

My next Blog article will cover savvy tips for cash while traveling.  Armed with these smart tips, you can ensure you get the most for your vacation dollar, and help safeguard your vacation.

Do you have any tips on credit cards and traveling?  I would love to hear them!  Please leave a comment below!  Until then, safe travels!

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