As millions of Americans prepare to travel this summer, many will be carrying credit cards with them to pay for hotels, souvenirs, and other goods. According to the Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, more than 61.5 million Americans traveled internationally in 2013. With so many Americans going abroad to destinations like Europe and Mexico, it will be a boon to tourism industries in countries all over the world. But it might also be a boon to another group — scam artists.
Traveling anywhere involves some amount of risk — but perhaps none more than the financial variety. If you’re planning to travel abroad with your credit card this year, follow these 10 tips to keep your cards secure and safe.
1. Notify the credit card company.
What good is traveling with your credit card if you can’t use it? Make sure you call the credit card company ahead of time to notify them of your travel plans. As long as your credit card company knows where you are traveling, it can monitor your card and let you know if any unauthorized charges have been made.
2. Find out about international transaction fees.
How much will the credit card company charge you for using your card overseas? Most credit cards charge a 3 percent international transaction fee. There are some cards that have no international transaction fee, which you should look into before leaving on your trip (remember, it takes time to process a new card). If you are stuck with a card that has a fee, find out if it will cost more or less to make transactions using your credit or debit card.
3. Know your rewards.
Your credit card might offer you travel-related perks that you don’t know about. If you’ve got a travel credit card — or even just a regular one — find out what travel rewards it gives you. It might be able to help you book a better room or get free breakfast.
4. Set up online access.
Being able to access your credit card account online can help you keep track that all transactions made on the card are from you and not a scam artist. Plus, if your card gets lost or stolen you can still contact the credit card company online rather than making a phone call from an international destination, even if it’s toll free. Have you ever tried calling one of those numbers from an international destination? It isn’t easy. You should also download your credit card company’s app if they have one.
5. Be prepared.
You should make photocopies of all important documents, including your credit card. You can also scan those documents into your email account or a cloud, but make sure that your international destination has easy access to the Internet if you do so. Make sure you have written down the number for the credit card company in a safe place in case you have issues or emergencies.
[Related: Last-Minute Credit Card Travel Secrets]
6. Make big purchases with your credit card.
Federal law dictates that a cardholder is only liable for a maximum of $50 for any unauthorized charges made on a credit card. So if you have worries or doubts about where you are purchasing your goods, use your credit card for the transaction (unless you’re paying in cash, of course).
Another tip: don’t purchase anything from a shady merchant so that you avoid this predicament altogether.
7. Review purchases each day.
Not only will reviewing your purchases help you keep track of whether any unauthorized transactions have been made, but it will also help you stay on budget. Seeing how much money you’re spending each day is a good way to assess your spending while on vacation — making adjustments when necessary.
8. Pack a second card.
There’s nothing worse than getting stranded in a foreign destination without any access to your money. Take a second card with you, but only use it for emergency situations. Store it in the hotel safe if you don’t want to carry it around with you.
9. Use a smart card.
Soon credit cards across the U.S. will begin adopting a more secure system that involves what’s known as a smart card. These cards utilize chip and PIN technology that stores and transmits encrypted data. And each card has a unique identifier that can change with each transaction.
Already widely used in Europe, the cards have helped reduce fraud and counterfeiting in places like France. If you can get your hands on one of these smart cards, it might help ease fears over swiping your card abroad.
10. Stay safe.
Store financial data and other important information on an encrypted USB flash drive while you travel. If you need to access the information, decrypt the file on a secure computer. Also, be smart when you travel. Keep your wallet in your front pocket or use a money belt. Be careful when you’re in a large crowd and always make sure that you are aware of your surroundings.