Credit cards are a great addition to any trip, especially when traveling overseas. They offer some of the best exchange rates and the convenience and security of carrying around as little cash as possible. Using a credit card also ensures that you won’t be stuck with left over foreign currency at the end of your trip.
Knowing this, imagine that you go on a trip to Europe and spend $3,000. You use your credit card for most of your purchases because, in addition to the advantages above, you earn rewards in the form of extra cash or airline miles for every purchase you make. At each point of sale, the merchant asks if you would like to convert your transaction from the local currency into U.S. dollars. You say yes every time, and are satisfied with seeing your transaction in a currency that you are familiar with.
When you get home and receive your credit card bill, however, you are astonished to find that while you were in Europe you were charged almost $300 more than the value of the things you bought. When you closely examine the receipts, you see that there is almost a 10 percent mark up on all of your transactions.
This extra 10 percent is due to a combination of two things: foreign transaction fees and Dynamic Currency Conversion fees. A foreign transaction fee is fairly typical, and is assessed by most credit card companies when you make purchases abroad – this is usually around 2- 3 percent of your purchase. To keep your costs down while traveling, it may be worth applying for a no foreign fee credit card before you go. Capital One offers the most no foreign transaction fee credit cards of any other issuer.
Dynamic Currency Conversion on the other hand, is a technique that merchants use to make extra cash on electronic transactions made by travelers. They offer to convert your transaction into your home currency, but in doing so charge a fee as high as 7 percent of your purchase to do the conversion, then pocket the difference. This can be easily avoided by simply insisting that your transactions are in the local currency every time.
Another thing you should consider when traveling with a credit card, is which credit card networks are accepted in the country to which you are traveling. The credit cards most accepted worldwide, by a large margin, are credit cards on the VISA and MasterCard networks. American Express also has a global network, but acceptance varies greatly based on the country. The more developed the country, the more American Express is on par with VISA and MasterCard. Discover Card is the least useful card overseas, as it is rarely accepted outside the U.S.
If you’re traveling in Europe, you will notice that most European countries use chip-and-PIN technology for their credit cards. These are smart cards with embedded microchips that are authenticated automatically using a PIN. They are much more secure than the magnetic stripe credit cards that we use in the U.S., so most merchants will want to see your passport for identification purposes before they will allow you to use your magnetic stripe card. Therefore, be sure to carry it with you at all times.
Finally, to avoid any unnecessary headache while on your trip, make sure to notify your credit card company of your travel plans before you leave. The last thing you want is to be without a means of spending, and this will assure that they will not suspend your credit card due to suspicious charges made outside the country.
Now that you have the information you need, a credit card will provide you with a hassle-free trip. Because of credit cards favorable exchange rates, you can rest easy knowing that you’re getting the most for your money – especially if you’re using a no foreign transaction fee credit card and always doing your transactions in the local currency. Make sure you compare credit card offers to get a credit card that not only has no foreign fee, but also gives you the most in terms of rewards. If you know what to look out for and plan accordingly, there is no better way to go.
Disclosure: CardHub.com, is owned by the same parent company as this blog.