5 Things to Do Before Traveling Overseas With Your Credit Card

Erin El Issa
By Erin El Issa 

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Heading on an overseas excursion? Before you pack up your travel pillow, make sure your wallet is ready for the trip. Here are the five things you need to do before you take your plastic overseas.

1. Make sure your credit card has the right features for overseas travel.

Just because your credit card works fine in the States doesn’t mean it’s the best option for traveling abroad. There are several features you should look for in a credit card to take overseas, but two stand out — EMV capability and no foreign transaction fees.

An EMV chip is more secure than a traditional magstripe. That makes it an ideal option for traveling anywhere because travel opens you up to fraud. More importantly, EMV chips are the norm in many countries around the world. Issuers in the United States that don’t want to incur liability from credit card fraud have to implement EMV chips by October 2015, but many cards already have them. Here are some of our top picks for EMV chip-and-signature cards.

Foreign transaction fees are typically 3-4%, which can add up quickly if you’re making a lot of purchases internationally. Instead, choose a credit card without foreign transaction fees and save your money for more important things, like eating all the amazing food your destination has to offer.

2. Pack more than one credit card.

Having a card with an EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees is great, but you should always have a backup. Not sure that’s necessary? Well this Nerd received a call that her primary credit card was compromised minutes before boarding an international flight. Have a backup card in case your first card is lost or stolen, because it will be harder to get a replacement card sent to a possibly unknown foreign address in a timely manner.

3. Research where you’re going and which cards are accepted there.

Not all credit card networks are commonplace in every country. In general, Visa and MasterCard are usually safe bets, but Discover and American Express credit cards may or may not be accepted. Check out this article on credit card acceptance around the world.

4. Contact your issuers about the trip.

Credit card issuers watch out for transactions that seem fraudulent, so tell them you’re leaving the country. Otherwise, an adult beverage purchase made in Spain will likely be flagged as fraudulent, which could result in your current card being canceled. To keep this from happening, inform your issuers about where you’re going and when you’ll be there. Some issuers allow you to do this online, but you may have to call and speak to a customer service representative.

5. Bring cash.

Yes, even the credit-card-loving Nerds carry some cash when traveling. It shouldn’t be your primary payment method — and you should only use it when credit cards aren’t accepted — but it’s useful to have just in case. Keep cash carrying to a minimum and know where your bank’s closest ATM is in relation to your hotel to avoid paying ATM fees abroad.

While you can probably take a cash advance on your credit card, it’s not the best option. Between the cash advance fee and the higher APR, you’ll end up wasting money. Bring a reasonable amount of cash for the place you’re going and call it a day.

Bottom line: Before you head overseas, make sure you have a credit card with an EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees, a backup card and cash. Also check to see what credit card networks are prevalent in the area you’re traveling to and let your issuer(s) know you’re leaving the country. Whew, that’s it — have a great trip!

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 2024, including those best for:

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