Whether you’re taking a road trip across the West Coast or embarking on a two-week adventure in Europe, traveling can be extremely exciting. But to ensure that’ll you come back with wonderful memories and not a total headache, you need to be careful with how you use your credit card. Otherwise, you could wind up with some serious financial woes.
To keep your money safe (and, hopefully, avoid dreaded fees), keep the following rules in mind when using your credit card while traveling.
Call Your Credit Card Company
Many credit card issuers may say that letting them know your travel plans isn’t necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to tell them just in case. It takes only a few minutes to inform them where and when you plan on traveling.
If you don’t contact your credit card company, your usage could be flagged as fraudulent, since you’re in a completely different location. And once this happens, you won’t be able to use your card, because your issuer will think it’s been stolen. Even if you then call them during your trip, you may experience delays before you can use your card again.
Set Up Alerts
Identity theft can happen anywhere in the world. While it’s not exactly the best thing to think about while you’re traveling, you want to make sure your sensitive information is safe. To help you keep tabs, consider signing up for alerts so you get an email or text whenever there’s a purchase on your credit cards. That way, as soon as you notice a purchase wasn’t your doing, you can alert your card issuer right away.
Other tips to consider are as simple as checking to make sure your cards and identification are on you every day. You may also want to avoid using public Wi-Fi when logging into accounts to prevent hackers from stealing your information.
Bring More than One Card
It’s fine to stick with using one credit card for your entire trip, but it doesn’t hurt to bring a few along to be safe. Maybe a retailer doesn’t accept chip-and-PIN cards, or your card stops working completely for some reason. It’s better to use multiple cards if you have to than to be stranded with no way of paying for your trip.
Pay Your Bill Before You Go
If you’re going off on a long trip, pay your credit card bills before you head out the door; you don’t want to get caught with late fees. And make sure you have a high enough limit so that your purchases won’t be denied when you’re away.
Keep Your Credit Card Information on You
Things happen. You could lose your wallet, leaving you stranded with no way to pay for the remainder of your trip. Having the phone numbers of your credit card companies as well as crucial information, such as your card number, will help you contact them. If you’re outside the U.S., find out which number you can use to call collect, or if the company has an 800 number you can utilize on your travels.
You’ll also want to learn how you can get a replacement card while you’re still traveling. Your issuer may be able to get a new card couriered to you within a day or two, but that can come with a hefty fee.
When making photocopies of your credit cards, keep them separate from where you keep your cards. While you’re at it, you may want to make copies of your identification as well.
Consider a Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees
International purchases can get expensive fast if you opt for a card that charges you foreign transaction fees. This is a fee from your credit card company that occurs each time you make a purchase overseas. Many companies charge a percentage — it can be as high as 3% — of your total purchase. Think about how much that can add up to, especially if you use the card throughout your trip.
Instead, find a card with no foreign transaction fees. If it’s too late to apply for a new card, choose the one you already have that has the lowest fees.
Opt for Paying in Local Currency
If you’re in another country and paying with a credit card, you may be asked if you want to be charged in local currency or U.S. dollars. You’ll want to pay in local currency, since your credit card company will typically give you the better exchange rate.
Even if you plan on using your credit card everywhere you go, having cash on hand as a backup is a great idea. You may not be able to use your card in all places. For example, many street markets in Asia will only accept cash. Or the credit card machine might not work when you’re paying at a restaurant. You get the drift.
As for how much you should bring, a few hundred dollars can help you pay for large purchases, but it’s not too much that you can’t fit it in your wallet. Depending on where you’re traveling to, you may want to have some cash in foreign currency plus a mix of U.S. dollars so that you’re not stuck with cash you can’t use after your trip is over.
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