Travelling overseas often means considering a few different ways to access money while you are away, and cards are almost always at the top of the list of payment methods.
While the interest charges that can come from using credit cards may have an impact on the total cost of a trip, there are other specific benefits to using credit when you go overseas. Credit card security services, for example, provide a lot of protection against fraud and card theft when you are overseas, while the complimentary insurance offered by some cards can save you money on the cost of the trip.
Considering all of these things before you go overseas means that you can make smarter decisions about how and when to pay for travel expenses. But if it seems like a lot to think about, this guide is designed to help you understand the major factors that can affect card use so that you can get the most out of credit when you go overseas.
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The ability to pay by credit card overseas depends on whether or not merchants accept cards, and what payment processing network (or networks) they use.
Visa and MasterCard both have huge global payments network, which means credit cards processed by these two companies are likely to be accepted anywhere you can pay by card overseas. American Express, on the other hand, has a smaller network so Amex cards may not be accepted everywhere you go.
It’s also important to realise that the way you pay with a card could also be slightly different. PayPass and PayWave, for example, may not be available for your cards when you are overseas. You could also have to swipe your card instead of inserting it, or have to verify purchases with a signature instead of a PIN (or as well as a PIN in some cases).
Regardless of the type of cards you decide to take with you, it’s also a good idea to have other options on hand. As NAB explains, having at least two ways to access money overseas means you can “keep your options open and make sure you’re never stranded without funds”.
“Whether you’re off for a long or short holiday, it’s good to have a couple of ways to access your money,” the bank says, adding that you should “choose a mix that suits your needs.”
That could mean taking a couple of credit cards, a debit card, some foreign currency or even travellers cheques. An easy way to figure out what will work for you is to think about how you currently pay for things, and adapt it to suit your destination.
Security is one of the biggest concerns people have when using a credit card overseas. According to the Better Health Victoria website, travellers are often targeted by criminals overseas.
“Unwary tourists can make easy targets for thieves because they stand out in a crowd, are unused to their surroundings, and are generally carrying money, credit cards and valuables like cameras.” the service says.
Meanwhile, the SmartTraveller website notes that there is also a chance of ATM and credit card fraud, including skimming, while you are overseas – particularly if the payment process is slightly different to what you are used to.
“You should always keep your credit card in sight to ensure your details are not copied. Avoid using ATMs that open onto the street and instead use ATMs in controlled areas such as banks, shops and shopping centres.”
The good news is that credit cards often come with more protection than other payment methods, such as 24/7 fraud monitoring, zero liability for most fraud and chargeback services if you are charged for goods or services that you don’t receive.
To get the most out of your card’s security features, make sure you contact your credit card issuer before you go overseas and let them know where you’ll be and how long you’re away. That way they can monitor the transactions with more accuracy and contact you directly if they detect anything suspicious.
If you haven’t already got a frequent flyer credit card you might want to apply for one where you will earn more points for the spending you do while you’re overseas. These do exist, but you’ll have to check the rate on each card you’re interested in. If you’re one of the lucky ones heading off to other continents a few times each year this would really make sense. While you still end up paying the same amount of money for your trip, you can consider it like pre-paying for part of your next trip away when you maximise your points earning.
The way to find out whether a card you’re interested in offers additional points is to check out the terms and conditions around the reward program. One example of a popular card is the HSBC Qantas Platinum card. There are plenty to choose from though, and the earn rate on overseas purchases is always worth knowing before you apply.
Fees are another common concern people have about using cards overseas, with international transactions typically costing more than those made locally. There are basically three different charges that could be applied for card use when travelling in another country:
All of these charges can be managed to some degree when you’re overseas. But as NAB has noted, “with credit cards, you won’t know what currency exchange rate you’re going to get, which can make budgeting harder.”
In the case of currency conversion, asking your issuer about the rates applied before you go away could help you factor it into your budget. Plus, regularly checking your account will also show you how much money is being charged to the card after conversion.
When it comes to vendor and merchant fees, it can be hit-and-miss. Asking before you start a transaction is often the most effective way to minimise or avoid these fees because it gives you an opportunity to use a different payment method or go elsewhere.
International transaction fees, on the other hand, can only be avoided if you get a card that does not apply them (or use cash). There is a growing number of credit cards with no international transaction fee, including the 28 Degrees MasterCard, Aussie Platinum card and all platinum Bankwest credit cards. The percentage charged can also vary between issuers, so you could be able to reduce how much you pay by shopping around for a better deal.
A lot of credit cards offer travel insurance as an added perk for cardholders, which can save you hundreds of dollars and provide peace of mind while you are away. But before assuming your card covers you, it’s important to check what terms and conditions come with this particular extra.
For example, most of the cards that have complimentary travel insurance specify that you have to pay for some or all of the pre-travel costs using your credit card, particularly when it comes to airfares. A travel insurance company also typically underwrites the insurance provided, so the terms and conditions for making a claim, as well as the coverage itself, does vary.
Citibank recommends taking the time to review the terms and conditions of the insurance whenever you plan to use it, and says to “make sure you pay special attention to the benefits, eligibility and exclusions.”
“It is particularly important to do this before travelling or purchasing goods as your cover may not be sufficient for your personal circumstances.”
This process could also help you budget for any excesses you may have to pay if you need to make a claim. You can also ask your credit card issuer or the insurance provider for more specific information if anything is unclear, so that you get the most out of this credit card feature.
The convenience of paying by card, as well as the wide range of features that come with credit cards these days make them a great option for travellers going anywhere in the world. But there are a few credit card elements that have the potential to impact your budget when you are away, particularly when it comes to interest charges and repayments.
While the regular rate of interest is applied to most overseas purchases, some transactions could count as “cash advances” and attract a higher interest rate (as well as other fees) as a result. Being aware of when you could be using the cash advance facility – such as when withdrawing money from an ATM, placing bets, or buying foreign currency from a vendor – will help you factor in these costs so that you have a better idea of what you’ll need to repay when your bill comes in.
When it comes to actual repayments on the other hand, you can check when they are due and factor it into travel plans accordingly to make sure you don’t miss a payment. BankSA suggests setting up internet banking or even registering for automatic repayments so that you know it will be dealt with even if you’re on holidays.
Depending on how long you’re away and how much you plan to use your card, you could also apply for a credit limit increase before you go so that there is less chance of over limit fees.
As NAB highlighted, currency conversion is one of the biggest challenges with budgeting for overseas travel costs. In fact, previous research from Australia Post found that exchange rates were the most common hidden expense travellers faced and meant that a huge number of Australians returned from trips with a bigger balance than expected.
This cost can be managed by regularly checking your credit card balance when you are away can help you keep track of the total charged to your account. Another option is to consider a multi-currency prepaid card that lets you load international currency before you go so that you can spend it without worrying about conversion costs. Whatever you decide, considering the amount you spend before, during and after you go overseas will help you manage your credit card balance and your finances as effectively as possible.
Credit cards and debit cards are a convenient, fast and safe way to pay for things almost anywhere in the world. But, just as with any payment option, there are factors that can work for or against paying with plastic.
So reading up on specifics of your credit card before you go overseas gives you a chance to make smarter decisions about what payment options you take with you. Everyone is different when it comes to payment methods, which is why it’s important to think about what will work for you. That could mean using both a credit card and debit card, a prepaid travel card, cash, or a combination of these options depending on where you’re going and how you want to pay for things.
But whether it’s card acceptance, security, fees, complimentary insurance or simply the way credit works, this guide can help keep your credit card working for you when you go overseas. That way you can get the most out of both your credit card and your travel plans.
Founder of Creditcard.com.au. Roland has extensive knowledge about credit cards in Australia. Known as a credit card expert, he has been featured on tv and in various publications. Some popular offers on our site right now include the ANZ Low Rate. Ever popular with no annual fee first year, low purchase rate and 0% balance transfer. Have a look also at the 0% balance transfer HSBC offer with no balance transfer fee, plus an annual fee waiver each year you meet a spend criteria.