3 Calls You Should Make Before Heading Abroad

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So you’ve booked the flight, packed your bags and set your away message. But have you taken the time to ensure your credit card, debit card and cell phone will work abroad? If not, put it on your to-do list, because nothing puts a damper on a vacation quite like not having funds or phone service — or dealing with fraud.

Over time, issuers come to know your spending habits, so any time a purchase deviates from the norm — say, making a large purchase on a card used for smaller transactions — a hold could be placed on your card. Worse still, if a scammer manages to get a hold of your card, there’s no telling what he could do with it.

With those factors in mind, here are three calls to make before heading abroad.

1. Your Credit Card Issuer

Like any personal information, you want to keep your credit card secure. The best way to do that is by letting your issuer know you’ll be out of the country. Not only will this prevent a hold from being placed on your card, you’ll get an alert if something suspicious comes up — that is, if you’re signed up for push notifications.

2. Your Bank

Whether you plan to pack your debit card or not, let your bank know your plans. After giving them the dates, ask to set limits for daily ATM withdrawals and in-person transactions. You may need to access hundreds of dollars in funds each day, but there’s no reason the limit should be in the thousands. Find out where the levels are currently and adjust them accordingly. While the bank may replenish funds lost to fraud, you don’t want to deal with an overdrawn account.

3. Your Cell Phone Provider

The only thing worse than being out of touch? Getting hit with roaming data charges. Do your wallet a favor and ask your provider if it’s best to keep your phone on Airplane mode or spring for an international plan. You can often arrange a plan to only cover a trip.

Remember, even if your credit and debit cards work abroad, you don’t want to go overboard with spending. Experts recommend keeping your balance below 30% — and ideally at 10% — of your available credit limit as to avoid exceeding it (this can damage your credit). To see how your spending is affecting your credit, view your two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

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Image: Eva Katalin Kondoros

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Do I Need a Chip & PIN Credit Card When I’m Abroad?

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Consumers are starting to notice a growing adoption of embedded microchips in credit cards as opposed to magnetic stripes. These chips, often called EMV smart chips, have been in use in Europe and other parts of the world for more than a decade. Now that U.S. consumers are being issued cards with these chips, it would appear these cards would be compatible with credit card terminals around the world.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Two EMV Chip Implementations

There are two different ways EMV chips can authenticate transactions. The first is called chip and signature, and it works like traditional credit cards. Once the card is authenticated in the retailer’s terminal, a customer signs the receipt electronically or on paper. The other implementation is called chip and PIN and works more like an ATM card. The merchant’s credit card reader authenticates the transaction, and then the cardholder is required to enter a four-digit personal identification number, or PIN.

Where Each System Is Used

According to the nonprofit Smart Card Alliance, credit cards with microchips are currently accepted in more than 80 countries worldwide. In the U.S., chip and signature is becoming the standard, as migration to chip-enabled credit cards began in 2015. In Europe and other parts of the world, chip and signature is used for most transactions, but chip and PIN is often the standard for unattended terminals such as those at train stations, toll booths and gas pumps.

Should you encounter a terminal requiring a chip and PIN transaction but have a card with a chip and Signature implementation, you won’t be able to use it. Needless to say, this can be a major inconvenience since these merchants are theoretically supposed to have an attendant nearby to manually process the card. 

It’s a dilemma that’s plagued Americans traveling abroad for years, but fortunately it’s starting to change. Some credit card issuers, like Barclaycard, are giving customers cards compatible with the Chip and PIN implementation. Other card issuers plan to offer compatible cards later this year. In addition, Visa recently changed its acceptance rules to require businesses with unattended terminals to accept international chip cards without PINs or signatures regardless of an attendant’s presence. That should help travelers use their chip cards at train ticket kiosks, bike-sharing stations, vending machines and parking meters without problems.

Interestingly, Visa has even sent teams of secret shoppers to test for compatibility in countries such as Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K. It found more than 90% of transactions were approved without chip-and-PIN cards, up sharply from previous surveys. The 10% of declined cards was due to a number of factors, not just a lack of Chip-and-PIN compatibility.

By knowing how chip-enabled cards can be read, you’ll be better equipped to use your credit card anywhere in the world. You can check out some of the best cards to travel with here.

Remember, high credit card balances can hurt your credit, since the amount of debt you owe versus your available credit is a major factor of credit scoring models, like FICO. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.

At publishing time, Barclaycard products are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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The post Do I Need a Chip & PIN Credit Card When I’m Abroad? appeared first on Credit.com.