What to Know Before Using Credit Cards Abroad


person at ATM

April 3, 2017

International travel can be tricky. From practicing proper mass-transit etiquette (no eye-contact, please) to converting your cash without losing your shirt, each new destination presents unique challenges for missionaries.

While everyone has their own quirky methods for traveling abroad, when it comes to using credit cards overseas, you can pack these essential ideas for keeping your funds accessible and safe—no matter where in the world you land.

Pursue Your Calling

“Just let me know where you’ll be.” It’s the plea of every parent, and there’s some practical merit to it. In credit card lingo, this is known as a Travel Notification, and it can save you a lot of hassle. With one short call or online message to your card issuer, you can share your entire travel itinerary. The more detailed information you provide them, including stopover cities and travel dates, the less chance you’ll have of watching your credit card get rejected overseas due to a fraud alert—especially as you desperately try to buy your first cup of decent coffee in the past three days.

As long as you’re on the phone or online, you may want to check your daily spending limit. Cash has a way of getting gobbled up within the first few days of a trip, let alone if it’s lost or stolen. So be sure you have access to enough money to cover your daily needs. If you need a higher spending limit for a particular day, often all it takes is a call or online message to your customer service rep for an on-the-spot increase.

And, I know it sounds obvious, but now would be the time to ask a national if your card is generally accepted in the area. If it’s not, at least you can make adjustments before you leave the States. Generally, VISA offers the most comprehensive worldwide coverage.

Fee for All

Once you are in country, if you plan to use a combination of cash and credit cards, be aware that a cash advance through an ATM can carry hefty international fees. Most card holders are hit with a 1% to 5% fee by the card issuer, as well as a transaction fee by the ATM merchant. While ATM fees are regulated stateside, they vary wildly abroad. Knowing your card-holder fees ahead of time will at least give you the option of deciding whether the transaction is worth the investment.

Here’s one option if you’re looking for a credit card with no international or annual fees. Spoiler alert, it’s an ECCU Visa Gold Everyday Cashback Credit Card.

Balancing App

Unauthorized charges and unexpected fees have a way of sneaking into your account, especially while you’re busy settling into your new routine. Using your cell phone to regularly access your account, especially through your credit card’s mobile app, is one of the safest ways to check your balance and search your statement.  If you want even faster, customizable security features, most apps (like the new ECCU app) also allows you to set up alerts that automatically monitor your accounts and immediately notify you of specific changes. There are many more options as well, according to Jonathan Strickland, who offers a host of  Mobile Banking Security Tips.

Timing is Everything

Any missionary will agree that there is no such thing as a typical month, especially when it comes to finances. One easy step to avoid constantly juggling bills and paychecks is to consolidate your billing dates so that all of your payments are timed with your deposits, and not draining your account when you least expect it. With a phone call or email, most creditors will adjust your billing date to one that is convenient for you.

By taking some time to plan how you will use your credit cards on the field, you can ensure that that you receive all the benefits of your cards with none of the drawbacks.

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Category: Missionary Minded