Using a Credit Card Overseas? 3 Things to Do First

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Key points

  • Credit cards can be a convenient way to pay for expenses abroad.
  • It's important to make sure you're traveling with the right card and aren't setting yourself up for needless fees or problems.

If you're planning a trip overseas, there are certain items you'll need to do first, like make sure your passport is valid and check up on COVID-19 protocols. But here are a few important credit card moves you'll also need to make before embarking on your journey.

1. See which of your credit cards don't charge foreign transaction fees

Some credit cards charge a fee for foreign transactions, and typically, that fee will amount to 3%. While that may not seem like a horrendously large number, if you're abroad for several weeks and rack up $3,000 in charges, that's $90 out the window.

The good news, though, is that there are plenty of credit cards that don't charge a fee for foreign transactions, so review your cards before deciding which one to bring along. If you have a travel rewards credit card, that card most likely won't charge that fee (though it is a possibility). If none of your existing credit cards are free of foreign transaction fees, you may want to apply for a new one at least a couple weeks before your trip.

2. Apply for a credit card with a sign-up bonus

If you'll be traveling overseas, there's a good chance you'll end up racking up a pretty large tab. It could be a good time to apply for a credit card with a sign-up bonus attached to it. If you know you'll be spending a lot in the course of your trip, you may have a solid opportunity to snag extra cash back without forcing yourself to spend money just to meet your bonus's threshold.

That said, you'll need to read the fine print before applying for one of these cards. First, make sure it's accepted overseas. Next, make sure foreign transactions count toward your spending requirement. Often, these transactions will count for that purpose, though any foreign transaction fees you're charged generally won't count toward the spending minimum needed to secure that bonus.

3. Notify your credit card company

Once you've decided which of your credit cards you'll be bringing overseas, you'll need to let your issuer know about your travel plans. Often, you can do this by logging into your account or calling the number on the back of your card and using an automated system.

While you're not guaranteed to have a problem if you don't alert your credit card issuer in advance, it's also a risk you don't want to take. Imagine landing in a foreign country and suddenly not being able to use the credit card you were counting on. You're better off taking a little time to loop your credit card issuer in. And if you're unsure about foreign transaction fees, you can always ask to speak to a live person who can walk you through them while updating your account with your travel plans.

Credit cards could make it easy and convenient to cover your expenses while you're abroad. Make sure to tackle these key items ahead of your travels to avoid fees, hiccups, or hassles while you're supposed to be enjoying your time away.

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