6 tips to use credit cards abroad

6 tips to use credit cards when travelling

Are you traveling this summer? I’ve got some tips for you about using credit cards abroad! I wrote these tips for a reporter who’s writing an article about travel and I thought it would be nice to share them here with you firsthand!

1. Call Your Credit Card Company

First off, call your card company in advance and let them know you’ll be traveling. If you don’t, you probably won’t even be able to use your card, so the rest of these tips will be useless. Bonus tip: give them a way to contact you if anything strange happens.

2. Know Your Credit Card

Use this opportunity to learn about the travel perks your card offers. Know what kind of insurance you already have on your card and how you can use it to save money. For example, paying for your rental car with your card could get you auto insurance, while paying for your plane tickets with it could get you baggage insurance.

I’ve written about the Amazon.ca credit card before, so for now, I’ll just say it’s a nice card to use when traveling.

3. The B Word

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

4. Research

Foreign currency can be a b*tch. Have an idea how much of the local currency equals one dollar. Do some research and take note of key values, like “10 in local currency equals about $3”. Try to remember these values in increments, like 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000, etc. It all depends on where you’re going. With this knowledge, you can do some quick math so you don’t regret accepting those offers from the souvenir shop (which most of the time are bad anyway).

5. Conversions? Meh.

Once you have a budget in place, stop converting everything to dollars. For example, if you know a good meal costs R$100 (one hundred Brazilian Reals) and your budget is R$400 a day for food, go ahead and enjoy that R$100 meal. It doesn’t really matter how many dollars it costs after conversion. Follow this tip if and only if you set a travel budget (see Tip #3 above)!

6. Pay Less for Money

Avoid withdrawing money with 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 Money We Have. Be creative. On my last trip to Brazil, the ATM wanted to charge me $5 to withdraw $20 (a 25% fee? No, thank you). Instead, I went to a restaurant at the airport and ordered a quick lunch, then I asked the waitress to charge an extra $20 on my card and give me the money. Some will accept that deal and some won’t, but either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

What else? How do you use your credit card when traveling? Do you pay attention to these things or do you just go for it and hope it all works out? Let me know in the comments; I love when you share!

* 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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