Consumer Comeback Blog

Traveling with Credit Cards: 8 Mistakes to Avoid

Written by Jeffrey Trull

travel-credit-cardsCredit cards are convenient, which is why you might assume they’ll be the same when you travel. But hold up! It’s not always so simple if you’re planning to use credit away from home.

Before leaving on your trip, make sure you’re prepared to avoid these common credit card travel mistakes that cost not only money but also time and frustration.

Forgetting to report travel

It’s recommended that you call and let your credit card issuer know you’re traveling before you go. If you don’t, you might be surprised to find that your card is suddenly not working.

The reason: charges from foreign countries look suspicious. The fraud department will want to verify these transactions with you before allowing any other charges on your card.

Preventing your card from getting shut off is simple — call the number on the back of your card. Find your way to the “report travel” option and be ready to recite the dates and places you’ll be traveling to.

Not checking fees

Just because your credit card is accepted in other countries doesn’t make it free to use. On many cards, you’ll be subject to 3% for “foreign transactions fees.” While it’s not a huge fee, it’s a cost that’s easily avoided.

Before you go, check the fine print to find your card’s policy or ask customer service when you call to report travel. They’re usually happy to provide you with an answer so you don’t have to go digging.

Some cards don’t charge any foreign transactions fees and are preferable when you’re abroad.

Planning on credit being accepted everywhere

Credit cards often aren’t as ubiquitous in foreign countries as they are in the U.S. Credit isn’t even part of everyday life in Europe yet, where cash is often still more common or preferred.

Credit card acceptance varies depending on where you are. Check a travel guide to see what they recommend. For example, the Lonely Planet guide for China has a whole section on credit cards and warns that you’ll likely need cash on hand as credit isn’t accepted everywhere.

Not ready for compatibility issues

Even in places that accept credit cards, U.S. cardholders might have trouble using them from time to time. I found this out the hard way in Paris when I was rushing to board a train yet struggled with ticketing machines that wouldn’t accept my credit card. I found out later that it’s not uncommon for a “chip and pin” credit card to be required at certain locations in Europe.

Find out about any compatibility issues ahead of time, and plan accordingly with other forms of payment when needed. Keep in mind that certain credit card brands, especially Discover and American Express, aren’t accepted in many places outside the U.S.

Not protecting your credit against theft

Theft is very common in many popular tourist spots, and foreigners that are busy taking in the sights are often the easiest targets. Because of this, you’ll need to be extra protective of your money and credit cards

Pick up a money belt, or a “portable safe” as travel expert Rick Steves calls it. It’s much harder for pickpockets to snatch your valuables in a money belt compared to a wallet or purse.

Don’t keep all your money and credit cards in the same place, either. If your backpack is stolen, you don’t want all your cash, credit cards, and passport to go with it.

Not carrying customer service numbers

Losing a credit card while traveling is very possible, so you should be prepared for it to happen. If your card is lost, you’ll want to minimize risk and the hassle of dealing with unauthorized charges by calling customer service quickly.

Remember: If you’re outside the U.S., many credit cards have an international number instead of the usual toll-free one. Keep this info handy in case you need to cancel your cards or contact your credit issuer.

Failing to maximize rewards

Many travel credit cards offer the best benefits when you’re traveling. Several airline credit cards offer savings like free checked bags. Don’t pass these offers up, and remember to factor in the cost of checking bags when comparing different flights.

Tossing receipts

I like to hold on to any receipts for large purchases I make internationally for a few reasons. First, it’s tough to decipher charges on your card that show up with a description that’s a translation from another language. Without receipts to back it up, it’s hard to sort out fraudulent or incorrect charges.

Secondly, charges you make in foreign money will appear in your home currency on your statement. The amount you actually paid in local currency when traveling will already be converted, making the amounts a bit confusing. Again, with receipts in hand, it’s a easier to do the math and make sure you weren’t overcharged.

(image: jaaron)

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