Ready for your trip? Once you’ve packed your bags, left your home secure, and organized your wallet, it’s time to think a little bit more about those credit and debit cards in there. While cards can make spending money on trips a lot easier and more efficient, there are some steps you should take to keep yourself – and your money – as safe as possible. And don’t forget that being smart about cards can save you money in fees!
Try these steps for a better travel experience.
- Let your credit card company and bank know about your trip. If a credit card company or your bank starts seeing purchases overseas, they may flag your card as fraud and freeze your account. This is great if your card had actually been stolen, but less great when you’re traveling and suddenly your card doesn’t work. Let them know the locations you are traveling to and the dates of this trip so they do not freeze your card.
- Be aware of ATMs & point of sale machines. Advances in technology have seen credit card skimming and shimming technology become more sophisticated and widespread. Any machine that looks tampered with or altered in any way should be treated as suspect, and you should seek an alternative ATM.
- Always carry back-up cash. There’s a good chance you’ll encounter places that only accept cash. Also, credit and debit cards aren’t as reliable as you would hope. An ATM can eat your card, credit card machines can be down, or you can run into other problems using your card.
- Ask if there’s a fee to charge. Some places charge a hefty fee for not paying with cash, so double check anywhere you go. Some credit cards charge an additional few percentage points of the transaction as a foreign currency transaction fee.
- Transfer extra funds to a savings account. If you’re bringing your debit card, only have the money in your account you will need for the trip and a little extra for emergencies. Transfer any excess to a savings account. This way if your card is stolen, the thieves can’t wipe out your entire account.
- Know your credit limit. It’s not uncommon to accidentally to go over your credit limit – especially if you’re traveling for weeks at a time. Keep track to ensure you don’t overspend and find yourself with no available credit left.
- Write down the international customer service number for your card(s). The usual 800 number for customer service won’t work abroad so find out the international number where you can reach them if your card is stolen, lost, or you encounter any other issues. Store it in your phone, e-mail it to yourself, or write it on a piece of paper you’ll keep with important documents.
- Make copies of your cards. Take a picture with your phone and make a hard copy of the fronts and backs of your credit and debit cards. This way, if your cards are stolen, you can report it to the local police and the U.S. Embassy.
- Keep an emergency card. You might want to get a backup card, which could be another credit card or a prepaid debit card loaded with a certain amount of funds and tied to your bank account. Carry and store these cards separate from your main card at all times.
- Limit your cards. Choose the best credit card for your travels, and bring one or two.
- Be aware of what’s covered by your credit card. You may be pleased to find out your credit card may offer a form of travel insurance for anything you charge on the card. For example, if you charge a rental car with your card, you can be insured for any damages. Call your credit card company to see what’s covered abroad.
- Protect your cards. Carry your cards in a safe way, like a money belt that wraps around your body or a purse that wraps across your chest. Wallets and purses around a shoulder can be targets, and a backpack can be easily looked through while you’re not paying attention. When you’re putting in your PIN, cover it. Someone can be looking over your shoulder to attempt to steal it.
- Keep track of your card. Don’t let your card out of your sight to reduce the chance someone will copy the information. And of course, always make sure you get your card back before you leave.
- Track your purchases. Keep a receipt for your purchases. Check your statements regularly while you’re still traveling. If you have any charges that shouldn’t be there, call your credit card immediately because time is a factor.
- Act fast if your card is stolen. If your card is missing, contact your credit card company, the local police, and the U.S. Embassy. When you’re home, you can contact the IRS Identity Protection Unit to report any stolen credit and debit cards as a first step in mitigating potential harmful effects of identity theft.