Overseas Checklist For Credit Card Users

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With the summer travel season in full swing, this is another good time to remind readers about what they need to do to ensure that their travel plans go off without a hitch.   I too will be traveling this summer, and this is what I am doing to prepare:

1. Contact your bank. Your ATM and debit cards should be your primary source of cash when you travel as credit cards charge plenty of interest and fees for overseas cash advances.   Let your bank know where you are going and when.   Include all countries where you will be visiting, even if it is just for a few hours or when you are just changing planes.   In fact, even if you are considering a brief cross border trip, you will want to notify you bank.    It is during these brief stops that you may have to use your credit card, especially in the event of  a travel disruption or an emergency.   That would be the worst time to have to sort out a fraud alert.

2. Learn What Your FTFs Are.   FTF stands for foreign transaction fees.   This is a complete rip-off that almost all credit card companies tack on to any transaction taking place outside of the United States.  It has even been reported that this fee has been added to transactions made in dollars when dealing with foreign companies.   The important thing is that not all FTFs are the same.   They tend to vary from 1-3%, with the notable exception of Capitol One, which does not charge an FTF. You can bet I will be using my Capitol One card while my well worn Starwood Amex stays tucked deep in my wallet.   Amex actually raised its FTF to 2.7% last year.   Call it a matter of principal, but I refuse to pay this worthless fee.

3. Minimize Your Cards If you are like most people, you have a wallet filled with all sorts of credit cards, debit cards, store cards, and other various pieces of plastic.   Now imagine that you have lost your wallet in another country.   How much time do you really want to spend sorting that mess out over international long distance.    I would leave all unnecessary cards at home such as your library card, Costco card, and Entertainment card etc.    Bring along maybe just two or three credit cards and an ATM card.   Leave one card in your hotel room, preferably in a safe with your passport.

4. Call your credit card companies Tell them that you will be out of the country.    Like your bank, list any country you may step foot in, just to be safe.   Interestingly, American Express now claims that you do not have to notify them, but Visa and Mastercard are very glad you did.

5. Keep your credit card company’s contact info Every credit card company usually has a collect call number that you can call from another country.    Write these numbers down somewhere, perhaps in an email to yourself.   In the event that a card is lost or stolen, a short, free telephone call should be all that is necessary to report it and request a new card be sent to you.

6. Decline Dynamic Currency Conversion DCC is a scam that some merchants will try to pull on  foreign tourists.    The pitch goes something like this, “would you like to charge this to your home currency?”   It sounds innocent enough.    They claim that the exchange rate is competitive too.   Don’t do it!    The exchange rate may actually be competitive, but they will also be tacking on a huge fee.   To add insult to injury,  you will also get the FTF tacked on by your credit card company.   If you get any kind of pitch, decline it, and make a note on your credit card slip that you are declining FTF, as it may be difficult to tell if it was added in a foreign language.  Save your receipt just in case.

7. Review your statements when you return Check to see if someone stuck a DCC charge on your bill.   Also, make sure your credit card wasn’t skimmed or cloned, only to be used fraudulently.   Remember that a smart fraudster will use the card for a few small transactions first before going for a big score.   If you suspect that an FTF was charged inappropriately, or anything else is the matter, contact your credit card company immediately.   They are usually very generous in resolving these kind of problems.

Finally, don’t be afraid.    I have yet to have a serious problem with a credit card when traveling.  Nevertheless, that is no excuse for not taking reasonable precautions when you visit other countries.

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Paul