Traveling Abroad? Take 2 Credit Cards — Here’s How to Choose Them

Look for cards with no foreign transaction fees, worldwide acceptance and, if possible, rewards.

Sara RathnerJune 1, 2020
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International trips involve careful planning, but while you’re packing your suitcase and making a list of must-try restaurants, don’t forget one important detail: how you’ll pay for stuff once you arrive.

Plotting out what to pack in your wallet can spare you some serious travel nightmares. Our advice: Pack two cards and grab some cash in the local currency — ideally from a bank ATM with your debit card.

Nerd tip: Don’t forget to notify your credit card issuers of your travel plans before you leave. Otherwise, they may think your overseas purchases are fraudulent charges and lock your card.

Two is the magic number

You may stick mainly to one go-to card back home, but carrying a spare while you travel can help you out of a bind.

Certain vendors may not accept all card networks — Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted around the world, while American Express and Discover are accepted less frequently. If your usual card gets rejected, your backup card can come into play.

What about taking more than two cards? You absolutely can do this, but limiting the number of cards you travel with can save you the headache of countless phone calls to your credit card companies if you get pickpocketed. Consider leaving additional cards in a secure place, like a safe in your hotel room, or having a travel companion carry one of your cards. Carry your wallet in your front pocket. If you wear a purse, opt for a crossbody style that closes with a zipper, and keep your purse in your sight at all times. Don’t hang it from the back of a chair at a restaurant, for example.

What to look for in a travel-ready credit card pairing

  • No foreign transaction fee: This pesky fee tacks an additional 3% or so onto every international purchase. Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees help you save money every time you spend while traveling.

  • Worldwide acceptance: As mentioned earlier, cards in the Visa and Mastercard networks tend to be accepted by more retailers in other countries. There are always exceptions, though, which is why having two cards to choose from can give you options.

  • Different credit card payment networks: Diversify your cards so you don’t carry, say, two Mastercards or two American Express cards. That can help increase your odds that one of your cards will work.

  • A card that will earn rewards on your spending: Traveling often means higher day-to-day expenses — more dining out than you may do at home, tickets to tourist attractions and, of course, lots of souvenirs. Use that spending to your advantage by bringing a card that earns cash back so you can later offset your spending with a statement credit. Or opt for a travel rewards card, which will allow this trip’s expenses to help fund your next adventure.

Remember: Cash can still be king

It’s helpful to carry even a small amount of cash in the local currency, because some retailers (especially small ones) may be cash-only, or require a higher minimum spend before accepting a credit card. Skip the airport currency exchange kiosk for a bank’s ATM that accepts your debit card. Avoid a credit card cash advance, because a high interest rate will kick in immediately and you’ll be subject to additional fees as well.

Upon checking out of your hotel or paying the tab at a restaurant the night before you leave, use up the last of your cash — unless it’s a country that you plan to return to, in which case you can always save your cash for the next trip.

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