Traveling outside the United States is much different — and considerably more intensive — than taking a vacation closer to home. You need to have a passport for starters, and you’re much more likely to face a variety of new customs and languages you’ve never dealt with or heard before.
Still, international travel can be immensely rewarding and educational; instead of simply reading or hearing how the world works, you get to see it all with your own eyes. And sometimes, huge lessons can be gleaned from experiencing everyday life a world away from your own.
Before you begin planning for your first overseas trip, however, it helps to know how credit cards factor in. You should absolutely bring one with you — and maybe even more than one — but there’s more to planning your trip than simply packing a credit card in your wallet before you hit the road.
Here’s everything to consider concerning your credit cards before you pack up and head abroad.
Notify Your Bank
Before you leave the United States with a credit card, you should notify your card issuer of your travel plans and dates. Doing so ensures your overseas purchases won’t be flagged as fraud and denied at the point of sale, which can be an embarrassing experience.
In addition to contacting your credit card issuers, make sure to put a call in to your bank if you plan to get money out of an ATM. Once again, calling your bank to inform them of your plans makes it less likely your transaction will be blocked out of fear of fraud.
Beware of Foreign Transaction Fees
Another consideration is whether your credit card charges foreign transaction fees — or added fees for purchases made abroad that normally add 3% or 5% to each purchase you make. These fees — which tack on $3 or $5 for every $100 you spend abroad — are entirely unnecessary since many credit cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees at all.
The bottom line: If your credit cards charge foreign transaction fees on each purchase you make outside of the United States, you should shop for a new credit card. (See also: Best Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees)
Is Your Credit Card Accepted Abroad?
Also keep in mind that some credit cards aren’t widely accepted outside the United States, although it really depends on where you’re traveling. For example, Discover credit cards don’t have foreign transaction fees, but they are not accepted all over the world like Visa or Mastercard. If you look at Discover’s acceptance map, you’ll find that you cannot use Discover cards at all in many countries in Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, for example.
American Express, on the other hand, is more widely accepted abroad but not accepted as many places as Visa, Mastercard, or Discover in the United States due to the high transaction fees they charge retailers.
Before you travel outside your home country, find out if the credit card you have will be accepted in the destination you’re traveling to. If not, consider getting a Visa or Mastercard since they’re accepted more places around the world than other cards.
Are You Earning Rewards?
If you find out you need to shop for a new credit card before you travel abroad, it’s smart to consider travel rewards credit cards that offer points and miles for each dollar you spend. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Card lets you earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. You also earn an initial 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Once you’re ready to redeem, you can cash in your points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel, and even 1:1 transfers to airline and hotel partners. This card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, although there is a $95 annual fee.
Watch Out for Credit Card Perks
Also note that some premier travel credit cards come with outstanding travel perks like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay coverage, airport lounge access, a Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit, annual travel credits, and more. If you plan to travel abroad, these free cardholder perks could help you save money or travel much more comfortably.
Carry Cards from Different Issuers
Another tip: Consider carrying more than one credit card from different issuers — for example, you could carry a Chase credit card as well as a Capital One card for each international trip.
Having cards from different card issuers ensures that if one of your card issuers blocks your overseas purchases out of fear of fraud, you won’t be stuck without another form of payment. This is important when you travel abroad since you won’t be close to home where you could easily access money in the bank or pick up another credit card.
Pay in Foreign Currency
Another factor to consider won’t come up until you arrive in your new destination. Some retailers abroad will ask you whether you want your purchases to be charged to your credit card in the local currency or your own. No matter what, you should tell them to charge your credit card in the local currency and not USD. This part is important because you’ll receive a much better conversation rate from your credit card than you’ll get if they take care of the money conversation on their end.
Keep Credit Card Details Separate
Finally, you may want to keep your credit card details written down separately from your credit cards and bring them along. It would be helpful to have your credit card numbers written on a piece of paper, for example, along with the contact information on the back of your cards.
Having this information will be absolutely crucial if your credit cards are lost or stolen abroad and you need a replacement or, at the very least, to prevent someone from using your card for purchases while you’re on vacation. And if you don’t have your card numbers and customer service information written down, you’ll have to spend your valuable vacation trying to figure things out.
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