Money and Roads Less Traveled

Financial Considerations for When You Travel Internationally

You’ve got your passport and your bags are packed, but are you ready financially to travel abroad?

We’ve been to some pretty interesting places over the years but usually haven’t had issues with getting local currency or being able to use credit cards.

While some time back our favorite credit card was Discover. It offered a generous point system and claimed no transaction fees when used internationally. It took a number of trips over a couple of years to actually give up on trying to travel with our Discover cards. While they claimed that the card would be accepted anywhere the Diners Club emblem was displayed we found that to rarely be the case. So we arranged for Visa and MC cards with no transaction fees and haven’t experienced any difficulties.

Getting ready for this months trip has proven to be a bit of a new challenge. We’re off to the Falkland Islands, Argentina, Uruguay, and points South and immediately hit problems with Argentina. In attempting to reserve a hotel the first few wouldn’t accept the Visa card. It seems that credit cards are not widely used there. We then went to our bank to exchange for Argentine Pesos and were told they weren’t available. Checked with AAA – same thing.

Next we reserved a guide and 4×4 in the Falklands but were told that we couldn’t use credit cards. No ATMs and they also use their own version of Pound Sterling. After several emails back and forth we settled with being able to pay with cash in British Pounds or US Dollars (no Euro’s).

Because Argentina has had a currency crises over the past few years money can be a problem. Our trip begins at the international airport for Buenos Aries but have been told to avoid the exchange counters there. We have now resorted to planning on using a debit card (which we rarely do), attaching it to an account with a specific balance without overdraft and will access some limited cash at an airport ATM. We will need cash to get into the city. After that we have mapped several locations for Citi operated ATM’s in Buenos Aries with no service fees.

We will also be traveling out to Iguaçu Falls for a couple of days and while the hotel will accept Visa cards most everywhere else will require cash. This need for cash and not being sure where we can use credit cards is making us a bit nervous. We’ll let you know how it works out…

Here are a few tips on money and international travel

1. Let the bank know where and when you will be traveling.

Many banks will freeze your accounts if unexpected foreign purchases show up. It’s important that the bank or credit card issuer is aware of your travel plans so they can ensure the remains active with proper safeguards.

2. Determine if your PIN number will work where you’re going.

Before your trip, call your bank and credit card issuers and ask if your PIN will work at your destination ATM’s. Four-digit PINs work in most countries. If your PIN contains zeroes, however, that may be a problem in some non-network ATMs. Additionally, many foreign ATMs don’t recognize four-digit PINs. Calling ahead gives you time to change your PIN, if necessary.

3. Watch out for international transaction and currency conversion fees.

Since fees and conversion rates vary widely, it’s important to know exactly what you will be paying to make ATM withdrawals or paying with your debit or credit card. A new process that has become common is for merchants to ask if you want to charge in your home currency or local money? Avoid the temptation to ask for charges in your home currency. If you do you will discover that the bill included high transaction fees and a less than customary exchange rate and usually the merchant gets a commission. If you plan to travel with a credit card get one that doesn’t charge transaction fees and let your bank calculate the exchange rate.

Contact your bank before you travel internationally to avoid any financial surprises

4. Ask about daily withdrawal limits on ATMs

Banks may have different withdrawal limits than ATMs. Keep in mind that any individual ATM may have a different withdrawal limit and limits may be expressed in the local currency. Have a backup plan that involves more than one way to pay.

5. Verify your account balance.

Be sure there’s enough money in your accounts to pay for travel expenses once you get there; you don’t want to find yourself overdrawn on your trip. To alleviate any additional stresses of overdraft fees, on top of running out of money, you can transfer funds from one account to the other using a mobile banking app.

6. Carry telephone numbers.

Get all the information you will need to contact your financial institution while traveling in case of stolen or lost cards. Most banks and credit card issuers will have local numbers you can call to report any mishaps that may occur while traveling internationally.

7. When booking your hotel or rental car, use your credit card not a debit card.

It is best to use a credit card for reserving a hotel or rental car because hotels and rental car companies may place a hold on your card for a certain dollar amount for incidentals. If placed on a debit card these funds could be tied up for some time.

Use a credit card to pay for your hotel or rental car in case they place a hold on your card for incidentals

8. When getting cash in local currency, use your debit card.

Your debit card is ideal for getting cash in local currency because you may get the same interbank exchange rate as you do with credit card purchases – this is generally the cheapest way to get local currency. Getting cash with your debit card allows you to avoid the cash advance fees that your credit card would charge. It’s also convenient as there are ATMs available in many international airports. Most major bank ATMs don’t charge a usage fee, but watch out for ATMs that are not affiliated with any banks-they may charge expensive fees.

9. Set up auto notifications on your credit cards.

We also set up options to be notified by text message for all transactions where the card is not presented in person. This has helped on a couple of occasions. Once while in Spain it looked we went on a bicycle buying spree in Rome. Nice to able to contact your bank when something like this happens.

Bon Voyage!


Travel, Credit Cards & Identity Theft

Credit Cards for International Travel

These are interesting times we live in when it comes to financially protecting ourselves. Just the simple pastimes of shopping and travel can expose us to financial fraud and it does seem to be getting worse. A couple of years ago our son and a friend where cruising with is and the ship stopped in Mexico. On the pier they took advantage of  telephones advertising ten minute calls to the U.S. for $5. When they got home they were each notified that they had gone on a shopping spree in Romania and when  the charges for the phone came thru they were for over $30 instead of the advertised $5.

Over the years we have been notified a number of times about unauthorized use of our credit cards along with one an incident of identity theft. Once someone bought gold coins online shortly after we left the country (several days before that a rental car agent had everything needed, the card information, a copy of my drivers license and she knew we were leaving the country – maybe??). Another time we were notified that we had purchased several bicycles in Rome while we were traveling in Europe (I think that information was supplied from checking into a hotel in Italy). Another time someone bought a batch of train tickets in Germany shortly after we booked a hotel in Europe thru The one case of real of identity theft was quickly caught by our identity theft protection service. Fortunately most credit card companies do not hold you libel for unauthorized charges.

Even considering the above, with the wide international acceptance of credit cards there is no reason to not make them your primary resource for paying while you travel. Often it can save you money  over making several currency exchanges. One important thing to understand is that the best card for your everyday needs at home may not be the best card for international travel. You need to shop wisely.

For years our preferred domestic card has been the Discover Card because of its points program. It also advertises that they don’t charge international processing fees, which made it seem a good choice for traveling. Unfortunately this card doesn’t often work internationally. We’ve had repeated conversations with customer service and while they claim that it is accepted anywhere that takes the Diners Club Card we’ve learned that this is far from true. Its been rejected at so many shops and restaurants that we don’t even ask any more. We have used it while traveling but only when dealing with large corporations like hotels and airlines.

We have also experienced frequent problems trying to use the American Express Card. It seems that there are whole regions where businesses won’t accept it. On a recent trip to Barbados we couldn’t find anyone that would take American Express. We also had them shut down our card while overseas even though we told them we would be traveling and I still can’t believe why that happened.

The good news is that Visa and Mastercard are accepted almost everywhere, which makes either one a good choice for the American traveler. There are some additional considerations in choosing a credit card for international travel.

  • Wide Acceptance – As already mentioned some cards can be a problem internationally and our experience is that you cannot trust their claims. At this time the only two cards available in America we will use is Visa and Mastercard.
  • Transaction Fees – Early on we learned that international transaction fees could add up quickly and you should select a card that doesn’t charge these fees. Of course there are exchange rates but you will pay those regardless of what card or exchange service you use.
  • Travel, Credit Cards & Purchase Protection – The best example of this feature is insurance protection if you use a card to rent a car. All cards have a catalog of these benefits from extended merchandise warranty to travel life insurance and some cards can better than others.
  • Earned Points and Rewards – This is a common feature of most cards today and are an important benefit for us. At home we select a card for payment that provides the greatest number of points for each use but internationally there are different priorities.
  • Security Policies –Fortunately the transition of most cards to imbedded chips has greatly improved security but there are still potential problems. Just to be safe we set up all our cards with notifications on all internet and phone charges. If possible we also prefer that notifications come by text message because often data isn’t available or affordable while traveling. We also notify the card companies of our travel plans but lately that doesn’t seem to be necessary –because of the chip  most aren’t interested.

Identity Protection

A number of years ago we weren’t concerned about identity theft – just didn’t think it was a high-risk problem. Over the past five or six years we have been victims more than once and now believe the protection is well worth the expense. Each recent attack was caught by our ID theft service quickly but we also take some additional steps to protect us.

We have used a couple of different services and our experience is they are very similar. We were however with Equifax and overseas when their data breach occurred and trying to deal with them was not a pleasant experience*.

For a good review on these services check out this article on

I think one of the best things we do to protect ourselves is to freeze our credit reports on a regular basis. All three agencies allow for you to do this and some identity theft protection services make this an easy process. while reporting agencies claim that you have to have a suspicion of a problem to use this service nobody will challenge you about doing this. The result is someone else cannot successfully apply for a card or loan in your name if you credit report is frozen.

Your credit report contains information about your payment history that all creditors and lenders use to make credit decisions about issuing you credit. When you freeze your credit report, creditors and lenders can’t pull your credit report or credit score**. Since most banks require a credit check, an application for credit would likely be denied. You can freeze your credit report at all three major credit bureaus, but it must usually be done individually.

To freeze your report go online to Equifax, or call 1-800-349-9960.

To freeze your report go online to Experian, or call 1-888-397-3742.

To freeze your report go online to TransUnion, or call 1-888-909-8872.

Also these freezes automatically expire after 90 days so it must be repeated. One additional advantage is the warnings that you get from your ID theft company will greatly diminish.

*Equifax’s web site wasn’t functioning and if we got a call thru to their switchboard  we spent almost an hour before giving up. We did send emails but they were never answered.

** This does work as I went to apply for a credit card that offered additional travel benefits and was turned down. They did send an email telling me my credit was frozen and if I would remove the freeze they would process the application again.