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How to Avoid Credit Card Problems While Traveling

by Contributor

Nothing can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare quicker than experiencing money problems while you are away from home. While certain circumstances will always be beyond your control, here are some precautions you can take that will make managing your vacation finances a breeze:

Avoid Credit Card Problems While Traveling

Credit Cards while traveling1. If you are leaving the country, or even if you are planning to be away from your home for an extended period, it is wise to call your credit card company before you leave and make them aware of your travel plans. If you don’t make your credit card companies aware of your travels, purchases you make in places you don’t frequent might trigger a fraud alert, which could cause suspension of your accounts. This is especially important if you are traveling abroad to countries outside of Western Europe. One simple phone call can save you from a potential hassle and embarrassment.

2. Be aware that many European countries, and places elsewhere, have gone from using credit cards with a magnetic swipe strip (like most of the ones we use in the United States) to ones with an embedded microchip. Cards with magnetic strips should be fine for use in most retail stores and restaurants, but may be useless for purchases in places such as train stations and other public transportation kiosks that use automated systems. Consider going online to pre-purchase tickets for trains or busses, and always carry a small stash of cash with you in case you run into a situation in which your card won’t work.

3. Be conscious of exchange and transaction fees. Most credit cards tack on a 3% foreign transaction fee for any purchase you make that is processed outside of the United States. There are a number of travel credit cards available that don’t charge any such fee, including cards issued from Capital One, and some cards issued by Chase and Citibank. Saving money on fees can leave you with more to spend on fun activities and souvenirs.

4. Always, always, always bring a back up card with you in case your main card is lost or stolen. Don’t carry your back up card on your person, but hide it in your luggage in case of an emergency. An airline credit card or travel rewards card will be a nice option as you can accrue rewards on your travels.

Investigate any perks your card may offer you. Some cards offer travel upgrades, lost luggage insurance, and/or car rental insurance. Call up your credit card company and ask for details. Leah Gerstner, spokesperson at American Express, says, “Really think about more of the hidden benefits.”

Following this advice will make managing your vacation finances easier. After all, going away is supposed to be relaxing, so why not eliminate as many headaches as possible before you embark upon your journey?

About the author: Jason Collazo is a Columbia University student whose interests include economics, personal finance, and marketing. This combination of studies helps the writer shine a unique perspective on the U.S. economy, consumer trends, and business competitiveness. He currently writes about business finance and technology for Forbes and regularly contributes to Business Insider. Aside from being a writer, Jason is also a member of Columbia’s NCAA Varsity Diving Team.

Photo credit: Andres Rueda.


Published or updated July 27, 2011.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hunter @ Financially Consumed

Great tips. There are definitely risks, but I much prefer the credit card safeguards and convenience than using travellers checks. Even cash is a drag when travelling though European countries that have not adopted the Euro.

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2 krantcents

Good points! I also let the credit card company know if I am buying online and shipping the product to a different address from mine. If going overseas, it would good to have a card that does not charge fees for currency exchange.

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3 Gary

I’m pretty anal about where I’ll use my credit card so that has helped for me. I have one CC for online purchases, one for travel, and one for gas and groceries. It works great for me and I can track things better that way. If I wasn’t so conscientious of paying them off right away then it might be a bit risky, so I guess it wouldn’t work everyone.

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