Credit Infocenter

Credit Card Safety During Vacation and Travel

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: July 24, 2017

If you are planning a trip in the near future, whether it be domestic or abroad, an important part of your vacation planning process should include consideration of how you will handle money and expenditures on your trip. In most cases, a credit card is the best bet when you travel, especially in a foreign country. But there are certain precautions that you should take when traveling with plastic.

When you travel abroad, the odds are in your favor that you will have a safe and incident-free trip. Travelers are, however, sometimes victimized by crime and violence, or experience unexpected difficulties. No one is better able to tell you this than the U.S. consular officers who work in more than 250 U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe. Every day U.S. embassies and consulates receive calls from American citizens in distress.

Keep Your Credit Cards and Money Safe During Travel

Below we've created a list of items you should review and be aware of to use as a guide for credit card and monetary safety during travel.

  • Select appropriate credit cards for your destination.  Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards just about anywhere in the world, so if you have these you likely will be covered. If you have access to a local guidebook for the destination you plan to visit, these generally will address the subject as well. It is a good idea to have two different cards (from different issuers), in the event you have a problem with one.
  • Confirm your card limits and expiration dates.  Likely to be common sense, but many of us are tuned to idiot gages, we don't change our oil until we see the light come on, we don't know our card is expiring until the new one comes in the mail. Make sure the card(s) you bring will be useable for the entire trip length.
  • Find out what fees to expect.  If traveling abroad, call your card issuer and ask what their foreign currency exchange fee or foreign transaction fee(s) are. Fees generally range from 1 to 2 percent, so you should try to select cards with the lowest fees. The Capital One card is the only card that we are aware of that does not charge a fee for foreign transactions.
  • Confirm contact information for your card issuer.  Typically the customer service 800 numbers printed on the back of your card are not good abroad; call your card issuer and get the appropriate telephone number for the region you are traveling to. While you are at it, inform the issuer that you will be traveling at this location, as often an unusual change in charging habits or location may result in the fraud department placing restrictions on your account.
  • Backup your critical information.  You will want to have a list of your credit card information and phone numbers for card issuers in the event they are lost or stolen. Additionally, you should photocopy your passport and airline tickets and keep these in the same place in case those are lost or stolen along with your cards. Keep this separate from your wallet and cards; if you have any secure information on it, you should keep it in a hotel safe or a secure area on the internet that you can safely access. It is also a good idea to leave copies of the front and back of each credit card, and any other important documents you are carrying, with a friend or close relative back home.
  • Confirm acceptance of your credit card prior to your purchase.  The presence of a credit card logo on a door, window or cash register is not a guarantee of acceptance, so it is important to ask prior to committing to the service or meal lest you will be seeking other payment methods.
  • Keep all your receipts.  This is a good rule of thumb for all credit card expenditures, but particularly for those made abroad. If a charge appears later that is inaccurate, you will have the proof available for your dispute. Keep them for several months in the event charges are delayed, which is not unusual with foreign transactions.
  • Treat your plastic as if it was cash.  Don't leave it unattended in your luggage or hotel room; store it in your wallet or money belt, and keep these out of view of others while traveling. Beware of pickpocket scams, a common scenario is someone bumping into you and another distracting you while the pickpocket lifts your wallet or grabs a purse.
  • Beware of duplicate charges.  This may most often occur when you have used a credit card to hold a reservation for lodging or car rental, and then you pay the bill in cash instead. As stated above, keep all your receipts whether it is cash or credit to ensure you have proof of payment in the event of this sort of error.
  • Keep some cash on hand at all times.  Carry enough for a day's safety net in the event that you run into problems with your credit card.

A few preventative measures will help keep the loss or theft of your wallet a minor annoyance instead of a vacation-halting affair, while making your trip a more relaxing and safer adventure.