What cards are worth having in your wallet when going on vacation abroad?
This article is not intended to specifically advertise the products of any particular bank or, even less, to do black PR. Definitely not! We will try to highlight what we think are the important points related to the use of payment cards abroad to avoid problems while traveling.
What type of card to choose?
As life has shown having one card you can be surprised at the moment when you want to pay for something and here the bank refuses to authorize the transaction. The question arises „What do you mean? After all, in Poland the card has always worked for me?” If in such a situation we do not have another card well then we have a problem. Several times we have tried to explore the subject of the lack of authorization of Polish payment cards in some countries, but so clearly no bank has answered us why this happens. Usually it was either a temporary failure or system upgrade, or the bank shifted the blame to the incompatibility of our systems with those of underdeveloped countries. It was for this reason that he received no information that any payment was due at all. The large number of countries we visited reinforced our thesis that there are countries more or less favorable to certain payment systems. Hence, in order to reduce the risk, it is advisable to have cards operating in different systems, e.g. Visa and MasterCard, and preferably issued by two different banks. What does this give us? Banks, if they carry out maintenance or upgrades to their systems, unless it is some kind of sudden failure, do it in the evenings and at night, but Polish time. Traveling to another time zone, it may happen that we make a payment in the middle of the night, Polish time, and we may have a problem with lack of authorization. Then, having a second card, we calmly finish the transaction and forget about the issue. Of course, one can, if one has such a need, try to get an American Express or Dinners Club card – but we limited ourselves to these two types, and basically this is enough for us in terms of non-cash payments. Similarly, in the case when, for example, Visa cards are not accepted in a particular place by design – then we pay with MasterCard and have the problem solved.
Commissions on card payments and ATM withdrawals.
Sometimes you also need to use an ATM abroad because you can’t pay cashless everywhere, or you run out of cash and withdrawing from an ATM of the local currency is a last resort. It also happens that they want to charge us an additional fee for paying by credit card. It’s a good idea to study your bank account agreement in advance for fees for ATM withdrawals around the world. There are many banks that offer this service without additional fees, and quite a few that charge commissions for cash withdrawals abroad. There are also ATMs abroad that charge a fee for cash withdrawal, regardless of what agreement we have signed with our bank. It is sometimes worthwhile to read before a trip, which ATMs (networks) can be used without a commission in a particular country and try to get such an account from which we will be able to withdraw funds without a fee throughout the world.
Spread – that is, how much do transactions in other currencies really cost me.
In terms of currency conversions, each bank has a different approach to the subject. The easiest way is to read the card agreement in this regard, and if you do not have it at hand, simply check the exchange rates on the Visa or MasterCard website from the day when the payment was settled and compare them with the amounts on our card printout. You will know right away if the bank adds any commission for currency conversion or not. Fortunately, there are cards that do not charge any additional commissions and the currency conversion is directly at the rate published on the Visa/MasterCard website. But there are also some banks that add up to 6%…. If you travel a lot abroad, it is worth looking at the T&Cs and recalculate whether it would not be better to use a card at another bank.
Card blocking and reporting the countries we travel to.
We travel to various countries, whose security level from the bank’s point of view is often seen as very low. Hence, out of concern for their customers, banks seeing any payment or withdrawal from an ATM in a country that, according to their procedures, is on the „black list,” either make a phone call to the customer to confirm that it is indeed their transaction, or automatically block the card. In most cases, you can tell the bank in advance exactly where you are going and then the bank should no longer call you. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of costly phone calls abroad or having your card blocked if you don’t take the time to answer the phone.
Available limit on the card.
Before you leave, it’s a good idea to check what limit you have left on your card. If we had any major expenses in a given month, it may be worth overpaying the limit to a safe amount so that we don’t run out of free funds during the vacation.
Credit card repayment term.
All in all, it’s a trivial issue, but it’s worth checking before we leave to see by when we have to pay off the debt from the previous billing period. If we are going away for 2-3 weeks, there is a good chance that the repayment will fall just as we are on vacation. Depending on how much we exceed the due date, this may cause the card to stop working and additionally the bank will charge us penalty interest.
An additional credit card that we do not take with us.
Finally, an alternative not known to everyone, which often turns out to be the only lifeline in an emergency situation. We assume the blackest scenario, that our wallet was stolen, the credit cards we had with us had to be blocked and we are abroad without means of livelihood. It is worth leaving an extra credit card in a safe place at home for such an eventuality. Just how do you do it so that you can use this card later? Some people learn by heart the card number, CVV code and expiration date. However, in stress, it is easy to forget any of the digits and we will not be able to virtually use our card. You can easily divide the card data, for example, into 3 phone numbers and save them in the phone, so that only we can put them together in the right order. Admittedly, we won’t withdraw money from an ATM this way, but with the card data we can easily pay online for a ticket, hotel or transportation. With a bit of luck, we can ask someone, for example, in the hotel and transfer the funds that he will pay us from cash to his account. Not the cheapest option, but one that allows us to complete our trip safely. It is important to carry the card with us so that we do not have to block it and easily be able to restore the card number.