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Research the Best Payment Methods for Foreign Travel

When paying for a brick-oven pizza in Italy, a personal tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens in England or tickets to a cricket match in India, which is best to reach for: paper or plastic?

Often, individuals who travel abroad will choose a credit card as their go-to payment method, as it offers more security and flexibility with spending than cash. But a recent study found almost half of international credit card holders don’t know whether they’re being charged foreign transaction fees (FTF) — a 3 percent fee tacked onto each purchase.[1]

Individuals should take time to consider their options so they get the most out of each international transaction while still maintaining security.

Working with a trusted online foreign exchange provider can help individuals lock in competitive exchange rates from their laptops, tablets and smartphones.

International Cards

Credit cards are convenient — a big plus when traveling abroad. But an individual’s preferred card may not be accepted worldwide. To find out whether their cards are accepted in certain countries, travelers can simply call their card issuers.

Individuals can find other important information about cards such as FTFs, annual fees or rewards programs by visiting resources such as CardRatings.com, NerdWallet and Card Hub.

Chip and PIN

Used for EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) cards, chip-and-PIN card technology has been the industry standard in England and the U.K. for several years. Now, these cards are making their way to the U.S., as some merchants no longer accept traditional credit cards. For increased fraud security, the magnetic strip on traditional credit cards is replaced with a chip inside the card that is verified by a four-digit PIN code.

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Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano Inc., a marketing communications agency based in Del Mar, Calif., uses a prepaid chip-and-PIN card. “Think of it as a virtual bank,” Abramson says. The EMV card, which is offered in dollars, euros and pounds, acts as a prepaid card with no service charge from the bank when making international transactions.

Always Have a Plan B

Credit cards fail for a variety of reasons. The bank can freeze the account because of presumed fraud or a merchant may simply reject international cards.

To mitigate the risk of being stranded, “individuals should carry a second credit card and enough cash to get them through the day,” says Peggy Goldman owner and operator of Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service travel agency headquartered in Jenkintown, Penn.

When looking for an ATM, note that they are called different names depending on the region. For example, ask for the nearest “Checkpoint” in the U.K. or look for a “distributeur” or “Bankomat” while in France or the rest of Europe.

Making Larger International Payments

While it’s important to have a plan in place for covering small daily expenses, travelers should also consider how they will submit larger international payments should the need arise. Working with a trusted online foreign exchange provider can help individuals lock in competitive exchange rates from their laptops, tablets and smartphones, regardless of whether they're paying for a hotel in Scotland, renting a honeymoon villa in Italy, renting a car for a family holiday in Portugal or taking an all-inclusive vacation in South Africa.

Subscribing to an email market-rate alert makes it easier to send money at a desirable exchange rate. No matter how exotic a dream holiday is, the best bet is to use an online foreign exchange service that allows the largest number of foreign currencies and countries.

Whatever payment methods individuals choose when they travel abroad, it’s important that they do research and keep an eye on their accounts throughout the trip.


[1] “Higher Earn Rate Beats Large Sign-Up Bonuses as Top Reasons to Switch Rewards Cards,” March 27, 2012, PR Newswire

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