The end-of-year holiday season is the busiest time for travel, so if you’re one of the millions of Americans heading overseas, chances are you’re bringing along at least one credit card on your journey.
Credit cards are incredibly useful for tourists crossing borders, but despite their convenience, there’s still plenty of ways that convenience can breed complications.
We spoke with credit card and travel journalist Jason Steele to bring you these tips to keep in mind when traveling abroad with your credit cards.
1. Notify your bank
One of the first things you’ll want to do before you travel overseas is notify the banks behind the credit cards you’ll bring. You’ll need to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling because a string of charges in Brazil will look suspicious if you spend the rest of the year living in the U.S.
“Once banks know the dates of travel and countries visited, they will make a note to ensure that there are no false fraud holds placed on your accounts,” Steele said.
2. Watch out for foreign transaction fees
Many banks will charge customers a foreign transaction fee whenever they make a purchase outside of the U.S., regardless of whether its physical or online. This fee usually falls somewhere between 3 and 7 percent of the transaction.
“The worst thing is that card issuers receive the lowest possible exchange rates, and they bear no additional costs for processing a transaction that just happens to be in Canada or someplace else,” Steele said. “So the only reason that card issuers charge these fees is because they can, and most cardholders fail to notice.”
If possible, try to find a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
3. Be ready for EMV
An acronym for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, EMV represents a class of cards that featured integrated circuit chips that help authenticate credit card transactions. If you’ve heard of chip-and-PIN cards, this is what they’re talking about.
“Thankfully more and more cards have these features, and many card issuers are able to reissue cards from existing accounts that have an EMV chip,” Steele said.
4. Understand your card’s perks
Some credit cards have travel perks that tend to fly under the radar of customers who don’t take time to read the fine print. These include perks like trip cancellation, trip interruption and delayed baggage coverage.
“For example, many Chase cards have policies that will offer cardholders up to $5,000 of reimbursements if unforeseen circumstances forces you to cancel a trip,” Steele said. “This policy even offers a nominal amount of credit when people use their reward points or miles.”
5. Credit cards offer more protection than cash
This tip isn’t specific to international travel, but it is good to know when you’re thousands of miles away from home — credit cards offer more protection than cash. Although not all international travel destinations are equipped to take credit cards, try to minimize your reliance on cash as much as possible.
If you happen to lose your card or become the victim of fraudulent charges/data theft, you can contact your bank to have the card deactivated and those suspicious charges wiped from your account. As of yet, no service can “turn off” stolen cash.
“When I travel, I carry very little cash and use my ATM card as necessary to withdraw small amounts,” Steele said. “I don’t bother with money belts, as that is the first place a mugger would look. Otherwise, I take care not to use publicly available computers that might harvest my login information, and I try to stay conscious of my surroundings at all times.”
Check out our best credit cards of 2014 before you embark on your next international journey!
Photo credit: dwpub.com, shoreline-solutions.com
Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.