International Travel: Handling Bank and Charge Cards

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Getting ready to travel abroad? You’ve probably spent countless hours scouring the Internet for the best accommodations and lined up an action-packed agenda. But unwelcome surprises, especially those tied to your bankcards, charge cards, and currency can quickly derail your dream vacation. Be sure you’re financially ready to travel!

Vacation-Proof your Bank and Charge Cards

Here are some steps you can take prior to traveling to help prevent unexpected and unwanted incidents concerning your cards.

  • Notify banks and card providers of your travel plans. Most of them allow you to submit your travel notification online. If not, call them. Why do this? If you fail to notify your bank and card providers that you’ll be out of the country, you’ll likely run into issues when trying to use your cards abroad.

    Many banks and credit card companies have fraud-monitoring systems designed to interpret unusual activity. So if you live in Indianapolis and suddenly attempt to pay for a dinner in Paris without first notifying them, your provider may decline your card or suspend your account for suspicious activity. That can put a damper on all those plans.

    Please note that it can take your bank and card providers a couple days to set up your traveling profile once you notify them. Security on your accounts can be temporarily lower than normal, so keep a close watch. And, if you haven’t already, set up online access with your bank and all the cards you’ll take with you.
     
  • Use alerts.  Set up transaction notifications while you’re away. In most cases, you can set up mobile or email alerts for ALL transactions. That way if a fraudulent charge hits your account, you’ll know instantly and can report it. You may find these alerts cumbersome for everyday life, but having them enabled while you’re traveling can provide added security.
     
  • Know your numbers. If you don’t have them memorized, write down your PIN numbers and keep them in an easily accessible place – but separate from your cards. Other numbers you need to know: daily spending or ATM withdrawal limits and any fees your bank charges for foreign cash withdrawals or purchases.


Cash Conversion

Before you take off, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with your destination’s local currency exchange rate for U.S. dollars. If you have a smartphone, you can download a conversion calculator app. You can also use the standard calculator on your phone. For example, the current exchange rate for the euro is €1 = $1.15. If you’re in a Paris restaurant and the cost for lunch is €20, you’d multiply 20 by 1.15. Your French lunch will cost you $23.

Get U.S. cash from your local bank before you leave to avoid foreign ATM charges – unless your bank reimburses them.  Also, if your destination has shops and restaurants that don’t accept U.S. dollars, you’ll need to convert some of those dollars to the local currency. Be sure you know the charges associated with exchanging currencies. If you aren’t careful, you could pay from 10 to 15 percent in fees in addition to the exchange rate.

You may also want to keep back-up cash and perhaps even a back-up credit card in a separate place from your primary ones.  Pick a secure spot.  Your hotel safe or, yes, that dorky money belt that’s been gathering dust in your closet can also come in handy!

Act Quickly to Avoid Fraud

You can still become a victim of fraud even if you’ve taken all of the necessary steps to prepare yourself for international travel. Fraudsters tend to target tourists, so you can never be too careful when in unfamiliar territory.

If you notice suspicious activity on any of your accounts, take action immediately. Regulation E, the Federal Reserve regulation outlining debit card issuance and credit card electronic funds transfers, states that consumers must report lost or stolen cards no more than two days after they become aware of the theft. What happens if you don’t report fraud within the specified timeframe? The bank has no obligation to refund losses. The good news is if you set up your transaction alerts and wrote down your card phone numbers, you should have all the necessary tools to respond quickly if your card is lost or stolen.   

Worry Less, Enjoy More!

Before you leave the U.S. take the proper steps to protect yourself from fraud and eliminate currency issues while you’re abroad. Now you can enjoy your dream vacation worry-free!

Anthony Harcourt is a Portfolio Manager with Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website or email Anthony.

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