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Financial Wellness

Tips for International Travel with Credit & Debit Cards

Planning for international travel involves more than just packing your bags and booking flights. Ensuring that your finances are in order is crucial for a smooth journey abroad. Before embarking on your adventure, take a little time to review these card tips.

Check if your card is accepted. Choose a U.S. credit card that's widely accepted abroad. Generally, this means taking a Visa or Mastercard rather than Amex or Discover. Call your credit card company to find out how widely it is accepted overseas and what fees you may be charged for purchases in foreign currencies.

Know your credit limit. It's not uncommon to accidentally go over your credit limit—especially if you're traveling for weeks at a time. At home, going over the limit may be an inconvenience or incur a small fee; however, in different countries where credit cards are not as widely used, this may be seen in a harsher light. U.S. State Department websites vaguely suggest that Americans have been arrested for "innocently exceeding their credit limit while traveling abroad." That's probably an unusual situation, but one in which you certainly don't want to find yourself.

Write down the international customer service number for your card(s). The usual 800 number for customer service won't work abroad, so find out the international number where you can reach them if your card is stolen, lost, or you encounter any other issues. Store it in your phone, email it to yourself, or write it on a piece of paper you'll keep with important documents.

Make copies of your cards. Make a copy of the fronts and backs of your credit and debit cards. This way if you're cards are stolen, you can report it to the local police and the U.S. Embassy.

Emergency hotline and funds. Keep a separate note that contains the emergency hotline contact details of your card issuer. Keep this information separate from your actual card and in another location that could not be easily stolen. You might also want to get a backup card, which could be another credit card or a prepaid debit card loaded with a certain amount of funds and tied to your bank account. Again, carry and store these cards separately from your main card at all times.

Limit your cards. You don't need to take your entire wallet and all of your credit cards. This will just make the situation worse if your bag gets lost or stolen. Choose the best credit card for your travels, and bring one or two.

Be aware of what's covered by your credit card. You may be pleased to find that your credit card offers a form of travel insurance for anything you charge on the card. For example, if you pay for a rental car with your card, you can be insured for any damages. Call your credit card company to see what's covered abroad.

Protect your cards. Carry your cards in a safe way, like a money belt that wraps around your body or a purse that wraps across your chest. Wallets and purses around a shoulder can be targets, and a backpack can be easily looked through while you're not paying attention. When you're putting in your PIN, cover it with your other hand. Someone can be looking over your shoulder to attempt to steal it.

Keep track of your card. Don't let your card out of your sight. It's not uncommon for merchants abroad to double-swipe or take it in the back to copy information down. And of course, always make sure you get your card back before you leave.

Track your purchases. Keep receipts for your purchases. Check your statements regularly while you're still traveling. If you see any charges that shouldn't be there, call your credit card company immediately because time is a factor.

Act fast if your card is stolen. If your card is missing, contact your credit card company, the local police, and the U.S. Embassy. When you're home, you can contact the IRS Identity Protection Unit to report any stolen credit and debit cards as a first step in mitigating the potentially harmful effects of identity theft.

Resources: eFraud Prevention