Traveling overseas with your credit card

Traveling overseas with your credit card

I’ve heard horror stories of people traveling overseas with their credit card and getting their information stolen while abroad. Here’s one thing I learned from my banker: You want to set a travel alert on your account so that the bank knows you’re traveling and that someone else isn’t essentially using your card fraudulently. The banker says that even with notification of the countries you are in abroad, your account is still closely monitored for theft while in those countries.

That’s good assurance, but it doesn’t safeguard everything.

For the most part, Kyle and I take out cash at ATMs and pay for everything via cash. Cards seem like a hassle most of the time. It’s a hit or miss on wether it’ll get accepted and on whether the vendors are trustworthy. Also, if we have to wait for the wait staff to bring us the check in addition to a card swipe, we’d never leave a restaurant in some cities. IT’s much faster to pay by cash at restaurants and then leave.

Here’s some other credit card safety tips while traveling overseas:

Before take-off

Notify: You have to let both your banker and the individual numbers on each credit card know which countries  you are traveling to and for which dates. I would strongly recommend that you go straight to the banker in person, they will call all cards associated with the bank for you so that you can put the account notice on all accounts simultaneously.

You will also want to write down somewhere, the last four digits of each card number and the international phone number for each individual card. This is useful if you run into problems while abroad, or (god forbid) your card gets stolen, you can contact the issuer for replacement.

Build rapport: The other positive of talking to the banker in person, is to establish a relationship with them. This is important. The very first time my husband and I moved to Europe, not only did our cards get rejected abroad, but we had to give our Spanish landlord a cash deposit immediately in order to get moved into our apartment. Standing at the ATM, our cards were rejected. We had all of our luggage with us, and there was no way we could find a hostel right then to take us in the meantime. Luckily (very luckily) we had a great conversation with our banker before we left, we were able to reach her personal contact number with our emergency. She remembered who we were and she was able to correct everything for us right then and there. If we didn’t have this connection with her before we left, we would not have been able to get the situation fixed as fast, without the bank seeing us and our IDs in person.

Only because the banker remembered us, she could validate we were who we claimed we were and push everything through for us quickly.

Also some issuers do not have international numbers to call, in this case, get your personal bankers email information and build enough rapport so they can remember you and vouch for you if anything happens.

Know your fees: Know your banks travel fees. Credit Unions only have a 1% interest on both debit and master cards and no worries about ATM (I believe).

Other banks have a:
3% foreign transaction fee + 5$ ATM withdrawal fee + the Spain bank ATM fee + exchange rate (count all the “+” signs amigo, it equals a lot)

We do see BBVA banks here in Salamanca, so it would be worth looking to BBVA (if you have it in your state) about opening an account and looking into if it charges for Spain transactions, and if so, how much?

I just found out that if you open a debit card with Charles Schwab and put the money that you think you’ll use for Spain in there, that they have zero international fees! Jackpot!

Make copies: You’ll also want to make copies of the back and front of your card, everyone says. Although I don’t truly understand why. They all say it will be helpful if your card gets stolen, but it’s not like I can use it in place of my stolen cards? Or maybe I can, online? I don’t know. I made copies anyway just so I have another place to look up my card’s international phone number if it gets lost.

Chip and pin cards: Most of Europe uses chip and pin cards. Kyle and I have gotten fine without it all these times, but there has been a time or two it would have been easier to have one (like at the Amsterdam train station’s OV chip card refills). According to The Simple Dollar and The Seattle Times, you can sometimes request a chip card from your bank that has both the strip and a chip card that works in most European places. Although the writer warns that not all places will accept it because it’s only a chip card and not a true chip and pin card – but it was rare that the chip card was denied.

I didn’t know this about the chip cards, but apparently they reduce fraud and are safer to use. Why the hell don’t we widely use them in the US?

Safeguard: While Kyle and I haven’t been using the money belt, maybe not smart, but I don’t know? We’ve been very lucky so far, maybe? Okay. Maybe I’ll tell you why, and then I’ll get into telling you a few safeguard tricks.

So first, Kyle and I try to stay out of major cities like Madrid, Paris and Barcelona where pick-pocket is more prevalent and so are tourists. Second, if we do travel to those cities, it’s usually only after we’ve dropped our luggage off at our apartment and hostel, etcetera so that we (hopefully) become less of a target. And/or maybe us both having darker hair and tanned skin makes us look less American? I’m not sure, but Kyle just keeps his wallet in his pocket like normal.

Okay. Safeguarding. While out and about, Kyle and I never have all of our debit and credit cards on us at all times. We always only bring the one card we plan on using and we leave the others in various places.

The Simple Dollar also suggests that you do not use any stand alone ATM machine. This rule applies to the US too. But essentially, it could be a scam machine or a machine with a scam reader on the card insert. Simple Dollar suggests that when traveling abroad with your credit or debit cards, to look for legitimate ATMs attached to a bank or nested inside the walls. Just be cognizant of what you put your card into.

Another good tip. Keep all of your receipts so that when you look at your charges online, you can recognize the charge names all your purchases are under. Or bring with you a transaction book (like the ones you get with your checks) and write everything down so you can cross reference the purchase. Doing the latter may not be as helpful though considering you have to know the euro to USD exchange in order to mark accurately – but anything will help, rather than throwing your hands up with trust to your new carefree European life.

Traveler-safe gear:
You might want to look into investing in some travel-safe gear. Especially if you’re backpacking. I just learned about the existence of these kind of products today. Scottevest for example makes clothes and wallets that help protect against identity theft and fraud. They say that mobile devices containing your personal info can get swiped too. This I didn’t know.

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