Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
You’re traveling outside of the US, so how will you pay for your expenses when you arrive at your destination?
Start by notifying your credit card companies before you leave for your trip, so you don’t have trouble using your cards. You’ll also want some cash in the local currency before you arrive.
Find out how to avoid foreign transaction, foreign exchange, and ATM fees when traveling abroad!
World Travel 101 – Index
- Part 1 – Planning
- Part 2 – Travel Documents
- Part 3 – Foreign Languages
- Part 4 – Money
- Part 5 – Accommodations
- Part 6 – Transportation
- Part 7 – Packing
- Part 8 – Health & Safety
- Part 9 – Staying Connected
- Part 10 – Cultural Awareness & Respect
Contact Your Bank Before You Leave
Banks get suspicious when they suddenly see purchases in another country. To prevent fraud, they’ll decline the charges and put a hold on your account.
Usually getting this straightened out is as simple as a phone call. But during high traffic times this could mean a long wait on hold. And if you’re, for example, purchasing a last-minute train ticket, this could leave you in a bind.
So you can save time and frustration by calling the number on the back of your card ahead of time to let them know you’ll be traveling.
Use a Credit Card for Most Purchases
Folks should use their credit card whenever possible, so they can collect miles & points for their purchases. Plus you get fraud protection in case your card is stolen or lost (unlike cash!). But overseas, many cards will charge you a foreign transaction fee between 1% and 3%.
Here are a few cards that do NOT charge a foreign transaction fee:
Note: Remember to pay in the local currency! Employees at shops will ask you if you want to pay in US dollars or the local currency. If you don’t pay in the local currency, even cards that have no foreign transaction fees will charge a foreign exchange fee of ~3%.
It may be useful to bring along a card that has Chip-and-Signature technology.
That’s because we’ve found that vending machines, for things such as bike rentals or train tickets, often don’t accept cards with just a magnetic strip, which is what most cards in the US are.
Many US banks have switched their cards to Chip-and-Signature. Cards that currently offer Chip-and-Signature include:
And this will work in most cases. But there are some places (such as unattended kiosks for bus tickets) that won’t work with anything but a Chip-and-PIN card. These cards require you to enter a PIN code instead of a signature for verification.
So far, these cards are mostly unavailable in the US, but they should be coming soon!
Get Some Local Currency Before Your Trip
It’s a good idea to get some local currency (enough to last 1 to 2 days) before you arrive in the country you’re visiting. Your bank should be able to order the paper money for you. I called my local Chase bank, and it takes 2 business days to receive the currency.
Emily: My 1st time traveling outside the US, I didn’t get any local cash (euros) before I left and relied on my debit card to get around. It was a big mistake!
My friend Kristen and I almost didn’t make it to our hostel in Barcelona because no cab driver would drive us around, and we couldn’t figure out how to use the public transport. Thankfully, a cab driver eventually took pity on us, but don’t make the same mistake we did!
Avoid Exchanging Cash at the Airport!
When you travel abroad you’re likely to run into places that don’t accept credit cards. However, converting currency at the airport can be a ripoff.
You’re likely pay a lower fee by exchanging your cash at a local bank.
Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account
I prefer to use my Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. It’s free to sign-up for an account and it comes with some great perks including:
- NO foreign currency exchange fees
- NO minimum balance or monthly service fees
- Reimbursement for any ATM fees
So you can withdraw money in the local currency for free! And the VISA ATM locator is a great tool!
Before you leave town it’s a good idea to call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling. This can save you the time and frustration of having to call the credit card fraud department to verify your purchase.
Whether you’re at home or abroad, I recommend using a miles or points credit card for most of your purchases, so you can be rewarded for your spending. But not every place accepts credit cards.
If you want money in the local currency, avoid the high service fees at the airport by exchanging cash at a local bank before your trip. Better yet, sign-up for a free Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Savings Account and you can get cash from ATMs without paying any fees!