6 tips to use credit cards abroad

6 tips to use credit cards when travellingAre you travelling this summer? I’ve got some tips on using credit cards abroad. I wrote these to a reporter that is writing an article about travel, and I thought it would be nice if I’d share it here with you firsthand.

1. Call them.

First off, call your card company and let them know you will be travelling. Without doing this, you will probably not be allowed to even use your card, so any other tip will be useless. Call them IN ADVANCE. Bonus tip: give them a way to contact you if anything weird happens.

2. Know Your Credit Card

Use the opportunity to ask about the travel perks your card offers. Know what kind of insurance you already have attached to your card and how you can use them to save money. Paying your rental car with your card can give you auto insurance, and paying your plane tickets with it can give you baggage insurance.

I’ve wrote about the Amazon.ca Credit Card before, and this is a nice card to use when travelling abroad.

3. The B word

Budget! Budget! Budget! Ok, you don’t need to budget for every expense you will face (although it’s a good idea), but at least have a broad idea of how much you will be spending during the trip. This way you minimize the chances of being surprised back home when the credit card bill arrives.

4. Research

Foreign currency can be a b*tch. Have an idea about how much of the local currency one dollar can afford. Do some research and take note of some key values, like “$10 in local currency is the equivalent of something like 3 dollars”. Try to have key values in mind, as 5, 10, 20 (or 50, 100, 200, 1000). It will depend on where you are going. With this knowledge you can do some quick math before feeling guilty to accept that offer from the souvenir shop (that will most of the times be bad anyways).

5. Conversions? Meh.

Once you have a budget in place, stop converting everything to dollar value. If you know a good meal costs R$100 (one hundred Brazilian Reals) and you have a budget of R$400 a day to eat, go ahead and enjoy this R$100 meal, it does not really matter how many dollars it is after conversion. But only do this if and only if you came up with a travel budget. See tip #3 above!

6. Pay less for money

Avoid withdrawing money using your credit card. Your debit card will usually be less expensive. Find alternative ways to get money, like those pointed out by fellow blogger Barry from MoneyWeHave. Be creative. On my last trip to Brazil the ATM wanted to charge me $5 to withdraw $20 (a 25% fee, no-thank-you). I went to the restaurant at the airport and ordered a quick lunch. Then I asked the waitress if the she could charge $20 more on my card, giving me the money. Some will accept the deal, some will not. All you have to do is ask.

What else?

How do you use your credit card when travelling? Do you pay attention to these things or you just go and hope everything goes well? Let us know in the comments, I love when you comment!

* Photo by Martin Cathrae


  1. I try to use cash as much as possible but accommodations and bigger ticket items go on my credit card (usually anything $80+ so I don’t deplete my cash reserves). I create a budget before I go but can get a bit lazy when I’m there :) So cash is my preference since I can physically see how much I have to spend.

    • I can totally relate with the “lazy when there” part, Christine :)
      But I only use cash when absolutely necessary. I’ve developed a nice system to control spending when travelling and using the plastic thing. It just takes the will and a lot of discipline.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I think a $5 charge on a $20 draw is a 25% charge not 20%
    – also it might be worthwhile to find a debit card that reimburses “foreign” ATM fees making cash draws of any size “free” – I have one from TD Bank in the US as I’m there a lot but have not found a CDN one yet – anybody found one?

    • Thanks for pointing this out, gcai. I am sure I thinked 25% but wrote 20%. Correcting now.
      I don’t know any debit card with such feature, sorry :(
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. ps. forgot about the Amazon Visa card (mentioned above), which I have and used on an extended SE Asia trip – worked flawlessly – only cons are that you can not setup an automatic payment (have to manually pay the charge (which can be a pain when you’re on the road (and you do pay off the charges every cycle don’t you ?? wouldn’t want any interest charges) and there is NO CDW coverage for rental cars – which is a bummer

    • Yep, the Amazon.ca card is great to travel. I never got to stay longer than a couple of weeks away, but I can imagine that it may be a stress point when you have to interrupt the trip to pay your card. But look at the bright side: you will be taking care of your budget and finances, right? ;)
      And when I talk about credit cards, I am ALWAYS talking about paying the full balance. I don’t even consider not paying the full balance.
      The Amazon card has no coverage at all. This is why I pay tickets and rental with my main credit card, with all the coverage it offers, and only use the Amazon one for the rest of the expenses. It’s a nice combination ;)


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