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An overseas adventure can be a lot of fun, but there are potential hazards that travelers should take into account when planning trips.
Beyond physical safety, your financial security can easily be jeopardized by scammers and thieves if you aren’t careful. Here are some tips and tricks for how to keep your money safe while traveling abroad.
What to do before you go
1. Figure out the best plastic to pack
Familiarize yourself with your credit cards' travel-related perks and benefits. Some cards, for example, offer rental car insurance, trip cancellation insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance and more. It's even better if your card is on a network with wide international acceptance (Visa or Mastercard), and if it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.
You should also bring a debit card, in case you need to access cash. But check to see whether yours will reimburse you for ATM fees.
» Learn more: Credit card tips to take with you overseas
2. Order some currency for the country you're visiting
Speaking of cash, getting some in advance of your trip is a good idea. Not only will the exchange rate likely be better upfront, but it also will mean fewer visits to ATMs and other places where your debit or credit cards may be compromised — and therefore less risk of falling victim to scammers. Just be sure to keep your physical wallet secure, and consider carrying cash and credit cards separately so that you still have a method of payment in case you’re pickpocketed.
3. Buy a tamper-proof, RFID-blocking wallet
And speaking of pickpockets, many are experts at finagling physical wallets away from unsuspecting travelers, but these days they can also steal digital credit card information via radio-frequency identification skimmers. Protect against both kinds of theft with an RFID-blocking travel wallet that can be tucked into your waistband or under your shirt to ward off sticky fingers.
4. Inform your bank/card issuer of your itinerary
If your bank/issuer doesn’t know that you’re traveling outside the country, it may freeze your account and apply a fraud alert when it sees foreign transactions. By letting your bank/issuer know your travel plans, you ensure you'll be able to use your card freely. And you can still be alerted if your card information is used outside of your planned destination.
5. Set up account alerts you can easily access
You might not have cell service when traveling overseas, but a Wi-Fi connection will allow you to receive emails or push notifications from your bank/issuer about account activity. They can help you know if your card or account has been compromised.
» Learn more: 10 ways to minimize mix-ups on your first trip abroad
6. Photocopy necessary documents, write down bank contact info
If your physical wallet is stolen, you’ll want to have backup copies of your passport and have access to bank contact information so that you can cancel any compromised cards.
7. Think about getting travel insurance
If you're not already covered by your primary health insurance or your credit card's insurance-related perks, you might want to consider travel insurance. The right policy can protect you from the financial loss of misplaced luggage, travel delays, medical emergencies and more.
What to do while you're abroad
1. Be vigilant about pickpockets
Crowded places are a thief's playground. Be wary of where you keep your wallet, and watch out for people who bump into you, as they may be trying to swipe it. Better yet, avoid carrying your wallet at all if you can.
2. Use your hotel room's safe
Ideally, your hotel room will have a safe in which to store important documents (like your passport), as well as some extra cash and a spare credit card — or some payment form that you don’t have to carry on your person while exploring your destination. If your hotel lacks this option, a lockable suitcase could work, although a locked bag is much easier to carry out of a hotel room than a safe is. Or, ask if your hotel has a safe in the office and allows guests to store items there.
3. Look out for malicious technology, like skimmers
If an ATM or merchant point-of-sale device looks sketchy, you may want to avoid using it. A credit card skimmer, a device that thieves can attach to point-of-sale terminals, can quickly copy your credit card’s information, which can then be sold to others or used to make fraudulent purchases. The devices often are hard to spot because they look like regular magnetic stripe swipers.
» Learn more: How to prevent credit card fraud
4. Be aware of common scams at your destination
Unscrupulous taxi drivers with "broken meters," “friendly” locals who want to show you how to use ATMs, and elaborate ploys performed by street vendors and beggars can trick you out of your money. Research common problems before you go, as scams like these can happen the moment you leave the airport.
5. Be careful about which Wi-Fi networks you use
Entering bank usernames and passwords on your laptop or smartphone while on a public Wi-Fi network can leave you susceptible to fraud and theft. Only use private, secure Wi-Fi networks to check banking or credit card information while abroad.
What to do if theft happens to you
1. Report card theft to your bank or issuer
If you've lost a wad of cash, you're probably out of luck. But if your debit or credit card has been compromised, your bank/issuer should be able to cancel the card, ideally before the thief does too much damage. Remember that fraud protections for credit cards are generally more robust than they are for debit cards. (With the latter, it's your own money at risk, not the bank's.)
2. Report illegal behavior to local authorities
A police report is often necessary if you later file for identity theft relief or have to dispute false information on your credit report. The local police can also benefit from having information about criminals in the area.
3. Use your backup credit card and/or cash
Ideally, you’ve kept a spare credit card or cash squirreled away from the rest of your wallet. If so, it can help tide you over for the remainder of the trip, or at least until you can receive a new card or get to a bank to withdraw more funds.
4. Keep tabs on your credit report
Even after you’ve closed your compromised credit cards, you’ll want to make sure scammers haven’t somehow managed to open anything new in your name and that you don't have unpaid fraudulent charges racking up interest and late payment fees. If you see something that looks odd on your report, be sure to dispute it with the major credit bureaus. You'll also want to ensure that you've updated any autopay accounts that require a new card number, so that you don't miss an important recurring payment.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card