Use credit cards with care while traveling

By Claudia Buck

The Sacramento Bee (MCT)

Published: Monday, May 12 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

MINIMIZE FEES: Most credit cards add a 1 to 3 percent currency conversion fee to the cost of any purchase outside the U.S., even when you pay in dollars. Some cards however, like Capitol One, have eliminated it entirely. If you have more than one credit card, you might want to check the fees and use the one with the lowest foreign transaction fee.

When traveling overseas, you will likely be hit by ATM fees when you’re getting cash withdrawals in local currency. There are a couple ways to minimize these fees, which can be as high as $5 per transaction.

—Call your card issuer to ask if it has partnerships with bank ATMs in other countries.

—Use a debit card from a credit union, which tends to have lower fees than a bank card.

—When doing ATM cash withdrawals, get large amounts so you’re not making frequent ATM stops and incurring fees.

—Perkins said he typically uses a Bank of America debit card, which charges no fees for ATM withdrawals at its partner banks in France (BNP Paribus), Germany (Deutsche Bank), Canada (Scotiabank), China (China Construction Bank), Mexico (Banco Santander), Italy (BNL d’Italia) or Britain (Barclays).

In general, Perkins recommends using a debit card to make cash withdrawals (because of lower fees compared with most credit cards). For large purchases, like hotel stays, car rentals, shopping, etc., he says, use your credit card.

And Perkins noted: At all costs, avoid going to a currency exchange office or airport kiosk, which typically charge high currency conversion fees.

CHIP OR NO CHIP? If your credit card has been around a while, it’s probably not imbedded with a microchip, a security feature that makes it harder for cyberthieves to steal your credit card info. These so-called microchipped cards are standard in Europe, but many Americans don’t yet have one (although they’re becoming mandatory by October 2015).

In most cases overseas, “a standard old American (magnetic-) striped card will work most of the time, in most places,” said Perkins, who uses both chipped and non-chipped cards and rarely encounters a problem. He said certain situations, such as trying to use a self-service gas station or ticket kiosk, may cause a card to be rejected.

Overall, “If your bank offers the option of getting a chipped card, I recommend it because it decreases the chances of running into a problem.”

PAY BILLS IN ADVANCE: Don’t forget to pay off credit card bills before leaving, so you don’t come home to unanticipated late fees or other penalties. Especially if you’ll be gone for an extended period, you can pay your monthly bill ahead of time or set up an online automatic payment.

CHECK YOUR LIMITS: If you’ll be charging lots on your trip, be sure you’ve got enough available credit on your card. Let’s say your card has a $1,000 limit and you exceed that while renting scuba gear: Your card transaction could be denied or you could get hit with penalties on your next bill. To avoid those unpleasant surprises, contact your card issuer now about raising your credit limit. Otherwise, monitor your travel spending so you don’t go over the card limit.


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