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Traveling abroad? Know these 5 credit card facts

By Peter Andrew

Traveling abroad? Know these 5 credit card facts

Do you believe that 41.8 percent of adult Americans failed to take a single vacation day in 2014? And that another 16.1 percent took fewer than five? Those figures, which comes to you courtesy of the Skift travel website, are derived from an online survey with a sample base of 1,500, so they're hardly bulletproof statistically. But do you share my sneaking suspicion they could be correct -- or at least pretty close to correct?

It wouldn't be surprising. In 2013, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a list of the paid vacation time provided in each of the 21 most advanced economies. The U.S. was alone in providing none. Add paid holidays to paid annual leave, and some countries were startlingly generous. You won't be surprised by the 31 days in France, but how about the 34 in Germany and Denmark or the 27 in Australia and New Zealand? Even the Japanese are guaranteed a minimum of 10 vacation days a year.

But not Americans. And yet vacation time can have an important influence on how we feel about ourselves. A few months ago, Gallup found some amazing results when it asked survey respondents about taking proper breaks from work. Those who earned less that $24,000 a year but took regular vacations said they were happier (reported higher well-being levels) than those who earned $120,000 each year but didn't vacation regularly.

If you have a vacation scheduled for later this year, why not treat it as the rare and precious resource it is? And, if it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip, then be sure you make the most of it. A good starting point is to ensure you have the right credit cards for the traveling job -- and that none of them is going to give you any nasty surprises.

1. Avoid declined transactions

It's bad enough to be told your card's been declined when you're in your local Pizza Hut or Target. Imagine how you'd feel if it happened when you're thousands of miles from home in a place where English is a second language. And it's quite likely it will.

If your credit card companies' IT systems are used to your spending patterns at home, and you suddenly try to buy lunch in Prague or a rug in Istanbul, you're going to run up some serious fraud flags. Preventing this is easy: Simply call your card issuers' call centers before you go and share with them your itinerary.

2. Don't give away $100s

Many (probably most) cards charge you extra when you use your plastic outside the U.S. Although the amount varies, it's typically 3 percent of the value of every transaction. And, on a special vacation, that adds up.

If you feel sorry for your card issuer, and would like to make a voluntary contribution to its profitability, then fine. Otherwise, get credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. They're easy to find.

3. Earn $100s

Hunt around for sign-up bonuses on travel cards, and you could get extra miles for nothing. At the time of writing, one card is offering 40,000 bonus miles worth a $400 statement credit just for getting approved for the plastic and spending $3,000 in purchases on it during the first 90 days you have it.

That particular offer may have expired by the time you read this, but you can always explore comparison shopping sites like CardRatings.com and IndexCreditCards.com (disclaimer alert: I write for both!) to find the latest credit cards with miles promotions.

4. Save $100s

This is more of a long shot. But it's quite possible that your credit cards come with travel perks of which you may be totally unaware. Check to see if any of your issuers offer preferential rates on travel insurance. If a card has a concierge service, call it to see if you can get any extra freebies (room upgrades, maybe) by booking through it.

By all means check to see if your card offers a collision damage waiver (CDW) for auto rentals (most do), but don't rely on it until you've made sure it provides all the coverage you need.

5. Take reasonable care

Abroad is probably not as scary as it first seems. Apparently, lots of people live there permanently.

But it makes sense to take extra precautions when traveling. In particular, make a little bundle of paperwork that you keep locked in your hotel room safe the whole time. This can contain the original or copies, and should complement any documents you carry around with you:

  1. Out-of-country emergency numbers for any concierge or emergency assistance service you're using.
  2. Copies of key documents: passports, driving licenses, tickets, reservations and so on.
  3. List of credit card numbers, together with the out-of-country telephone numbers you can use to report theft or loss.
  4. Insurance documents.

If you've got that bundle safe, there's very little that can't easily be fixed in most advanced countries. So once you've got that in place, you can relax, enjoy your vacation and appreciate just how lucky you are to be having it.

Peter Andrew has over 25 years of experience writing about marketing, advertising and management. He regularly covers consumer credit card topics for IndexCreditCards.com and other personal finance publications including Fox Business, TheStreet and MSN Money. He also writes frequently about mortgages and auto loans. Peter has spent extended periods living overseas, in the UK, France and Africa. He lives with his partner of 20+ years, and wastes too much of his time on cryptic crosswords.

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1 Response to “5 Critical Tips for Using Credit Cards Abroad” 

  1. Jordan says:

    Very important tips here! I can't tell you how many times relatives of mine have forgotten to tell their credit card companies that they were travelling abroad and had their card declined. Thanks for sharing!

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