Financial Checklist for Overseas Travel
You probably expect to deal with foreign languages, changing time zones, and different cultural norms when traveling abroad, but international travel can present financial challenges, too. Use this financial checklist for overseas travel to formulate a proactive overseas financial plan that gives you the best shot at a stress-free international get away.
1. Tell your credit card company about your travels.
Many creditors and financial institutions monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. Purchases from an unusual location can sometimes signal potential fraud, resulting in a fraud alert that temporarily “freezes” your ability to use your card until you can contact your credit issuer to verify the purchase, explains financial counselor Andi Wrenn.1
To avoid an inconvenient disruption, alert your credit card issuers and financial institutions of your travel plans — including layover locations and final destinations — before you depart.2 If you intend to use ATMs frequently during your travels, inquire about your bank’s daily limits to confirm you can access enough cash.
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2. Confirm your credit card is suited for foreign use.
Some credit cards charge foreign transaction fees (also referred to as “currency conversion fees”). Though the fees typically range from 1% to 3% per transaction3, they add up if you use the card frequently. Confirm whether the cards you’ll take abroad assess such a fee (not all credit cards do). Additionally, make sure that the card(s) you’ll take on your travels are accepted in the regions you intend to visit.
If you haven’t yet received or activated an EMV smart card (which are currently being issued to American customers, and include a small microchip on the card front, in addition to the magnetic strip back), contact your creditor to secure one before you depart. Though the technology is newer to the United States, experts at CreditCards.com report that it’s been the standard in many European countries for years.4 (In fact, some international payment terminals may accommodate only EMV smart cards).
3. Plan for time and language differences.
Language barriers can make travel a challenge. Wrenn1 recommends securing a “AAA” issued international driver’s permit (IDP), which is an official form of identification is accepted in 150 different countries that translates your name, photo and driver’s license information into ten different languages. “If you plan to drive a car abroad, some countries (like Germany) may require that you have one,” says Wrenn.
Suzanne Garber, the CEO of an international healthcare technology firm,5 has traveled to all seven continents and 80 countries. Before you depart, she advises that you get at least enough money in the local currency that you’ll arrive in to pay for transportation from the airport to lodging. “Depending upon the time you arrive, airport exchange houses might not be open—but taxis and public transportation options from the international airport might not accept credit card payment,” says Garber.
4. Stay connected with changing exchange rates.
Time your international transactions based on optimal currency exchange rates to stretch your travel budget further. Garber recommends an exchange rate app like XE that provides real-time access to exchange rates in various countries.5
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5. Protect yourself against theft.
Though you can (and should) contact your credit card issuers and financial institutions immediately if your wallet is lost or stolen during travel, Garber also advises that travelers to take two wallets in case of theft: In your “real wallet” carry valid identification, some cash, and actual credit cards. Stuff your “fake wallet” with older or expired identification, no more than $50 in local currency, and an inactive or expired credit card, library card, or grocery store loyalty card. “If you are mugged, robbed, or kidnapped, your assailants will want to walk (or run) away with something. Carry a wallet you don’t mind parting with. You might lose $50 but it’s better than losing your life,” says Garber.
Some credit card issuers also offer travel benefits to ease the stress (and cost) of lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations, and lost wallets and passports. Research the potential travel services your credit card issuers offer to ensure you can take advantage of such benefits if the need arises.