While many Americans will visit the many U.S. National Parks this summer, spend time sunbathing along the country’s sandy coastlines or take a spin at any number of action-packed theme parks, others will pack their bags and head abroad, soaking in the culture in cities like Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen. In addition to the fun parts of jet-setting, travelers also need to think about using credit cards in Europe and making sure they’re prepared.

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Last year, a record number of Americans traveled abroad, with 72.5 million traveling outside the country, compared to 67.1 million who did in 2015. Of the destinations they sought, Europe was the third most popular, with 12.5 million Americans enjoying the region last year.

In addition to confronting a language barrier and cultural differences, many of these travelers will also need to brush up on strategies for using their credit cards in Europe and beyond. That’s because the ways in which Europeans use plastic, and for what items and where, can differ from what Americans are used to.

Chip Cards 101

While U.S. retailers are incorporating chip and PIN, or EMV, technology into their points of sale, the method of payment is prevalent in Europe, where customers insert their chip-enabled cards into the card reader rather than swiping their magnetic strip to transact. This means travelers with just magnetic strips may run into roadblocks when it comes time to make a purchase.

Most chip readers can read magnetic strip cards, though travelers might have issues with self-serve points of sale, such as those at train stations, parking meters and gas stations. To make sure you can still pay, make sure you also carry cash and coins in case they’re needed. If there is an attendant at a nearby ticket window, make sure the vendor accepts your credit card brand and then explain that your charge needs to be processed with a swipe.

Approximately 72.5 million U.S. citizens traveled outside the country in 2016, compared to 67.1 in 2015.1

Acceptance Will Vary

In the States, we are used to slapping down our cards for something as little as a pack of gum. Not so in Europe. Many small business vendors and even some cafes and restaurants set minimum charge limits or are cash-only operators. To avoid getting stuck, bring enough local currency to get you through the day or, if you are at a dining establishment, check the vendor’s credit policy before you order. It is also a good idea to bring multiple forms of payment when traveling abroad.

Surprise Fees

Would you like to pay in euro or dollars? If you think this is a simple courtesy, think again. By paying in dollars when you’re in another country, you experience what’s known as “dynamic currency conversion,” which is a charge you pay for the vendor to convert the purchase price for you from the local currency to dollars. The issue here is that the exchange rate used might be one set by the merchant, and worse than you might get at a bank or official currency converter.

Another fee travelers need to be aware of? Foreign transaction fees. Some credit card providers charge additional fees based on your transactions. Before you depart, make sure you speak with your credit card provider to understand the fees. If you aren’t comfortable with the fees you’ll be charged, consider other payment options.

Notify Your Card Carrier of Your Travels

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The last headache you need is for your card to be declined. But in an age of heightened fraud, that’s what could happen if an ever-vigilant card provider sees unusual charges from a foreign country. Alerting them to your plans in advance will allow you to charge without worrying about raising unnecessary alarms.


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