Traveling to another country is a great experience, but it can also be complicated and frustrating. Military families spend a lot of time overseas, whether they are stationed there, on deployment, or just for fun. In many cases, credit cards are the easiest and most economical way to pay for things while in traveling. Credit cards aren’t without their own issues, though. They get stolen, certain types aren’t accepted, you’re more likely to have an unnecessary fraud alert placed on your card while you are in another country, and it may be harder to resolve issues from outside the United States. Make sure that your time abroad is fun, and not frustrating, by following these tips:
Place Travel Alerts
Notify your card issuer of your travel plans. A card is useless if it has been frozen due to suspected fraud. Some credit card companies, like USAA, make it easy to place travel notifications online. Other card issuers require that you call to give them travel updates. Either way, this simple step can prevent a lot of drama.
Unfortunately, even placing a travel alert does not guarantee that you won’t run into problems. When we lived overseas, my bank would suspect fraud every time I bought gas, because the system couldn’t fathom that I was spending $120 at the gas station. Which brings us to tip two:
Have Multiple Forms of Payment
Be sure to have more than one credit card available. Consider adding an American Express card to your wallet. For some reason, different places will and will not accept American Express versus Visa and MasterCard. For example, when we landed at the airport in Copenhagen, none of my credit cards would work. The clerk at the train station happened to notice the American Express card in my wallet, and – thank goodness – we were able to purchase our train tickets to get to our hotel. If you are not comfortable carrying multiple cards, keep two in your wallet and the rest in your luggage or hotel safe.
Depending on where you are traveling, carry cash, and perhaps have an emergency backup stash of cash in your suitcase or car. Cash is more widely accepted in more remote areas.
If you are traveling to somewhere outside the large cities and common tourist areas, think about what you’ll need to do and how you will pay for it. It is no fun to get stuck in the middle of nowhere French Alps because you can’t buy gas because your credit card doesn’t work at the unmanned 24-hour gas station. Ask me how I know…
Choose Your Cards Wisely
Learn about your card’s overseas transaction fees, and consider getting a card that doesn’t have these fees.
Ask if your financial institution offers chip and PIN cards. While most places overseas can process a signature-based transaction, you will run into some spots that require a chip and PIN. Most US-based card issuers have chip-and-signature cards, which look like a chip and PIN card, but don’t work the same. You probably even have a PIN number for your chip-and-signature card, but that doesn’t guarantee that it will work like an international chip and PIN card. I have not yet found a true chip and PIN card offered by a US bank – please let us all know if you have one!
Protect Your Cards
Be thoughtful about how you carry your credit cards, money, and identification. Busy cities and tourist areas have more crime than your hometown. You may want to use a money belt, wear your backpack on your front, or use a cross-body bag instead of carrying your wallet in your back pocket. You can’t prevent all crime, but you can make it more challenging.
Be Prepared For Problems
Carry a list of the card numbers and customer service numbers for each card, including the country-specific telephone numbers, if they are available. Upload a copy of this list to the cloud, by either emailing it to yourself or putting it into your Google Drive, Dropbox, or Evernote account.
If you know what phone number you will have overseas, see if you can add it to your credit card profile. This may make it easier to verify your identity if you have to call the bank or credit union from your overseas location.
Credit cards are a fabulous tool and they make traveling much easier, but they are not perfect. The chances that you’ll have problems with your credit card are higher outside the United States, for a wide variety of different reasons. You can decrease those odds by taking these simple steps. Happy traveling!