What Travelers Need to Know About Credit and Debit Cards
From double-rewards-points on hotels to ATM skimmer fraud, there’s a lot for travelers to think about when using credit cards abroad. Fortunately, it’s possible to enjoy the best of the world without worrying about the contents of your wallet. Just keep a few basic things in mind:
Tell your Bank Your Plans. Banks and credit card companies are working 24/7 to keep you protected from identity theft and hacking. That means they’re constantly checking your account for unusual activity ... and stopping by an ATM in Vienna or buying lunch in Cusco certainly qualifies. By letting your bank and credit card companies know your itinerary ahead of time—a quick phone call to each is all it takes—you can make sure that your cash flow doesn’t get cut off by overzealous computer software trying to protect you.
Learn How Your Cards Work. This might seem like a strange suggestion—after all, isn’t it pretty intuitive? However, there are finer points to every debit or credit card that you don’t want to discover the hard way while traveling. For instance, some cards have a daily withdrawal limit (to, again, protect you from identity theft) that you might want to have increased while traveling. Many foreign ATMs allow you to withdraw money only from your primary account, so be aware of how your funds are distributed—if you need to transfer money from savings to checking (or one checking account to another), it might be difficult to do that on the fly. Plus, there are some positives to find out about: many credit cards offer concierge services, discounts on travel medical insurance, savings on hotels, and much more. Consult your credit card company or bank to learn more.
Change the Due Date. Some travelers find it inconvenient to have a credit card bill come due in the middle of a trip. So change the date! Though they don’t advertise it, many credit card companies are willing to adjust due dates to accommodate their customers. A simple phone call might enable you to push the date back until after your return home.
Be Smart About Fraud. Whether you’re exploring a charming village in Tuscany or running to your local grocery store, protecting yourself against fraud is a fact of modern life. One simple way to protect yourself is to keep an eye out for card skimmers. These devices attach to the front of an ATM, allowing thieves to duplicate your credit card info when you go to make a withdrawal. These devices can sometimes be spotted if you give the front of the ATM a quick tug. If anything seems at all loose, find a different ATM. Another easy way to protect yourself is to avoid checking your bank accounts over public Wi-Fi. Open Wi-Fi (such as what you find in coffee shops, malls, airports, or train stations) is easily hacked, so it’s an appealing target for data thieves—especially in locations frequented by tourists. Though it could be tempting to review account balances while sipping espresso in a café, don’t do so.
Consider a Chip and Pin Card. Many countries throughout the world—especially in Europe—have adopted a new system for credit and debit cards. This system replaces the tried and true
magnetic strip on the back of your card with a microchip embedded in one end of it. Customers are asked to pay by sliding the chip end into a scanner and then typing a four-digit pin. Though many larger businesses still accept traditional cards as well, you should be aware of the different formats—in small towns or local restaurants, a magnetic-strip card may not be accepted. If you’re traveling to a country that favors these “chip and pin” cards, you may be able to request one from your bank. As some countries only allow four-digit pins (numbers only—no letters), make certain that your bank allows you to set one.
Know Your Network. Most banks belong to one of the major ATM networks, but that doesn’t mean your card will work at every ATM abroad. Generally speaking, if your debit card has a Visa logo, it will work on the PLUS network. If your card has a MasterCard logo, it will work on the Maestro or Cirrus networks. Keep an eye out for these logos when choosing ATMs. You may also search for PLUS locations here and Maestro/Cirrus locations here.