You wouldn't think of leaving home without them. But if you're going overseas, there are several things to know before you take off. These credit card travel tips can save you time, money, and worry:
1. Make photocopies of your credit cards. Front and back. Take one copy with you and leave the other with a trusted friend or family member. In the event your credit cards get lost or stolen when you're on the road, you'll have your account number and know where to call to get them replaced.
2. Alert your credit card company to expect overseas charges. That way, if charges from Prague or Paris or Phnom Penh start showing up in your account, it won't be frozen or canceled due to suspicious activity. If you have a Chase or Capitol One card, you can do this online. Otherwise, call the number on the back of the card and inform the agent that you're giving them a travel notification.
3. Have a 4-digit PIN number. Most overseas machines work with these. If your number is longer than four digits, call your bank and request a shorter PIN number.
4. Realize you don't have a smart card... yet. Many countries in Europe and Asia use a chip-and-PIN card instead of one with a magnetic stripe for greater security. So when you go to use your American card to make a purchase, the cashier may be stymied. Know that American Express, Visa, and MasterCard require merchants anywhere in the world to accept valid cards. Ask for a manager to complete the transaction if at first you don't succeed. By 2013, some US-issued cards will feature this newer technology.
5. Use an airport ATM to get local currency. Forget about buying Euros or pesos at home; you'll pay more than you need to. Wait till you arrive at your destination. Then pass up those currency exchange windows for an ATM and withdraw cash there. As always, stay alert to your surroundings.
6. Choose a card without overseas transaction fees. Some cards levy a percentage on top of your purchase for giving you the "privilege" of using it to charge in a foreign country. That's ridiculous! The card I use when I travel is Capitol One, which translates the other currency into American dollars using the day's exchange rate. If your card charges a foreign transaction fee, either talk to your bank about dropping it or get a new card.
7. Don't forget to bargain! Just because you're dealing with plastic rather than paper money doesn't mean you always have to pay the posted price. It never hurts to politely ask a merchant if he can do a bit better.
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