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Using a Debit Card in a Foreign Country

Seven Steps to Safely Use Your Debit Card Abroad

Last Updated: June 15, 2016

When you go on vacation, you expect an interruption in your daily habits, but that hair-trigger use of your debit card probably isn't among them. It's become second-nature, hasn't it? From a $200 grocery trip here, to a $5 coffee there, most of give our debit cards a swipe a dozen more times a week - quicker than cash and, in most cases, smarter than credit cards. But when it comes to foreign travel, while you most certainly can and should take your debit card with you, there are a whole host of reasons to limit its use.

  1. Ask your bank if your debit card is accepted in the foreign country to which you are traveling. If not, ask about your options.
  2. Only plan to use your debit card for cash withdrawals at ATM's. The goal is to avoid having anyone else handling your debit card, as special card readers can be used to copy and store the information on your card's magnetic strip. This information can then be used to create a clone of your card. So if you are going to use a card for purchases, make it a credit card, as fraudulent charges are more easily disputed than that of a debit card.
  3. Ask your bank if there are other banks whose ATM's you can use interchangeably, with no additional fee. Otherwise, just like in the States, you will be charged an extra fee for using an ATM from that of another bank.
  4. Ask your bank what the daily limit is for how much cash you can withdraw from ATM's. Plan your trip accordingly, making daily withdrawals, if necessary, to be sure you have enough cash on hand to fund the entirety of your trip.
  5. Ask your bank whether they charge a flat fee for withdraws, or a percentage of the withdrawal. Then plan your withdrawals accordingly. For instance, if they charge a flat rate for every transaction, the more you can withdraw at a time, the better. If they only charge a percentage, though, your withdrawals can be more flexible and frequent.
  6. Take with you a back-up debit card. Though it may happen rarely, ATM machines do eat debit cards on occasion.
  7. Avoid use of "non-bank" ATM's. Just as in the States, these third-party ATM's charge a higher fee than bank ATM's.
  8. Supplement your debit card - which, again, should only be used for ATM cash withdrawals - with credit cards and traveler's checks.

Following some of this simple steps can make your overseas traveling much more enjoyable. Doing a little homework prior to your trip will alleviate any mishaps down the road. You want to be as prepared as possible before you go on your trip because who wants to spend their vacation time worrying about their debit card and how to get money.

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