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How to Pick 2 Credit Cards for Traveling Abroad

March 28, 2014
Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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If you’ve a traveler and you’ve never had the unpleasant experience of having your credit card information stolen, your days are numbered. No one is immune to credit card fraud, and the last place you’ll want to deal with it is while you’re on an international trip.

Why should you be concerned about your card being compromised?

Credit cards are compromised all the time, and you’re likely even more vulnerable while venturing abroad. When you’re traveling, your guard is down, and pickpockets target out-of-towners, especially those who don’t understand the language and culture. As a precaution, you should carry at least two credit cards with you when traveling overseas. Read on for what you should keep in mind when choosing your two cards.

MORE>> How to Pick the Best Credit Card for You: 4 Easy Steps

How will you know if your card is compromised?

If your credit card information is stolen, you’ll likely find out about it because of fraudulent charges. While credit card issuers are pretty good about catching these, some slip through the cracks.

If your credit card issuer determines a charge is fraudulent, you’ll be notified via phone call, email or text. You’ll verify the fraudulent charge, your card will immediately be canceled, and a new card will be issued to you. In this case, your issuer caught the problem before the charge went through, so you won’t incur any liability.

Charges not caught by your issuer can’t be disputed until they have posted on your credit card statement — meaning “pending” charges first have to go through. Once they post, you can call your credit card issuer and let the representative know you didn’t make the charge. Thanks to $0 fraud liability as an added benefit on most credit cards, you likely won’t be liable for any portion of these charges. However, as of March 2014, some issuers may hold you accountable for up to $50 if you aren’t in possession of the card and don’t report it missing until after the thief has made a purchase.

Your card benefits say something about “EMV.” What’s that?

EMV cards were created by (and take their initials from) Europay, MasterCard, and Visa as a way to make payment transactions more secure. The widespread adoption of EMV among credit cards is pretty effective when it comes to detecting fraud. In effect, there’s a chip inside your card that transmits dozens of pieces of information between the card, the terminal and the acquiring bank’s host. EMV cards are much more difficult to replicate, because the chip information isn’t easily skimmed and duplicated.

Even with this safeguard against credit card fraud, you need to anticipate your information being stolen while traveling, especially when traveling internationally. That’s why it’s important to have two cards, just in case you need a backup.

Will you have to pay fees to use your cards overseas?

Not necessarily. You can avoid this by choosing cards without transaction fees. Cards with fees typically cost you 2.7-3% of every purchase. So if you spend $2,000 on your vacation, it will cost you between $54 and $60 in fees. A wide array of cards don’t charge for foreign spending.

Will your cards be accepted all over the world?

When choosing your cards, keep in mind which cards will be accepted in the country you’re visiting. For a safe bet, you’ll want to take either Visa or MasterCard. Discover and American Express aren’t as widely accepted.

Also, understand some countries aren’t very credit card-friendly. If you’re planning a trip to Russia, for instance, you may want to check that Visa and MasterCard are still being accepted.

Bring two credit cards and alert issuers of travel

If one of your credit cards is compromised, you don’t want to be without a card on your overseas excursion. You could use your debit card, but you’ll likely have to pay fees on foreign transactions and you won’t have the same anti-fraud protection credit cards offer.

With two cards, you have a backup. Should bad luck strike and both of your cards are compromised, you should bring your debit card as well as some cash.

When you’re deciding which two credit cards to take and preparing for your trip, here’s some advice:

  • Alert your issuers of the trip. If you use your cards abroad without first alerting your issuers, the charges may be flagged as fraudulent and the cards may be cancelled.
  • Make sure you have cards with EMV chips. It’s not difficult to find EMV cards, because they’re becoming a standard in the industry, but here’s a list to get you started.
  • Don’t bring cards with foreign transaction fees. For recommendations on cards without foreign transaction fees, check out NerdWallet favorites here.
  • Think about which issuers’ cards will be accepted where you’re going.

Now you can enjoy your trip, knowing you won’t be stranded without funds in a foreign land.

Travel suitcase image via