Travelling abroad with credit and debit cards

Thanks to the universal nature of the credit and debit cards we carry with us every day, international travel doesn't necessarily require visits to bureaux de changes and withdrawing big bundles of foreign currency any more. But before you go, there are a few things you might want to consider...

Will my card work abroad?

You might expect that your card will work anywhere that you see a familiar VISA, Mastercard or American Express logo. But your bank or card issuer might need to activate use outside your own country, so if you've not used your card abroad before it would be a good idea to check before you leave. It's a common request, so give them a call - it shouldn't take too long to sort out.

Do you know your rates and fees?

In order to really understand what you're paying for things when abroad, you need to know the exchange rate on your card. If you have more than one card, it's worth checking all of them as they won't all be the same.

Most card issuers and banks also charge for transactions made in foreign currencies, so make sure you understand those before you go too. You may find that one of your cards has a lower fee than another, so consider this as well as the exchange rate when deciding on a card to use when travelling.

Some outlets in major tourist destinations offer the ability to pay in sterling to avoid foreign transaction fees. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion. The outlet should be able to tell you what exchange rate they're using, so if you know the rate your card issuer uses, you can decide which is best. If they can't tell you the rate, it's usually best to pay in the local currency.

Can I withdraw cash?

There are always times when you need cash, so you might find that you want to withdraw local currency when you're away. Provided the cash machine (ATM) carries a logo that's on your card and that card is approved for international use, you'll be able to take money out.

As with using your card in shops and restaurants, make sure you're aware of exchange rates and any fees your card issuer may charge for withdrawals.

You might find that some services like balance checks aren't available to you at ATMs abroad. But if you have data roaming on your mobile (or can find a wi-fi hotspot) you can use mobile banking services as you can at home.

Can I use my UK-registered Apple Pay abroad?

Yes, you can use Apple Pay anywhere in the world that accepts it. You'll still need to make sure your card can be used abroad and the exchange rates and fees will still apply. You might find that the transaction limit for Apple Pay transactions varies in other countries.

Are my purchases protected if I buy on my credit card abroad?

Yes. Purchases between £100 and £30,000 made on UK-issued credit cards are protected under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, regardless of whether they're made in the UK or abroad.

What happens if I have a problem with my card when I'm away?

Take a note of the international contact number for your bank, just in case.  There's usually one printed on the back of your card. If you save this to your mobile and need to call them, remember that you'll be charged as per your roaming agreement.

It may also be worth considering taking a second card and keeping it somewhere secure, like a safe in your hotel room if you have one. That way, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and still have a back-up payment option.

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