We figured out how to save money, avoid paying expensive foreign transaction fees, and enjoy the perks of points, all by using the right credit cards.
Before we left for our trip we did our homework. We looked at all the fine print from our current credit cards, airline credit cards, different banks, etc. so that we could find what cards would be the best for long term travel. You name a financial institution and chances are we scoured their fine print.
What we found, was that many companies (yes AMEX I’m looking at you) charge foreign transaction fees and other hidden costs while traveling abroad. Although some of the fees are pretty dismal, those charges start to add up. We also found that even though our current bank reimburses us ATM fees, that same rule doesn’t apply to international transactions.
Eventually we settled on 3 cards that would take us through our trip and now that we are 16 months in, we can honestly say these cards have been the best and no problems have come up.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
We use our Chase card for everyday transactions, no matter the amount. Since they don’t charge any foreign transaction fees, it was an easy decision. They also have a great point system, so the more we spend, the more points we get, which turns into free travel.
Charles Schwab Debit Card
We only use Charles Schwab as a means for withdrawing cash from ATMs. As far as we could find, Charles Schwab is the only bank that would reimburse international transaction fees, including cash withdrawal fees! Yay, we can use any ATM to get cash without having to pay $4-$10 every time.
American Express Gold Card
We’ve been American Express members for while, so we just couldn’t give them up. Unless we rent a car, or book travel through their site, the benefits really didn’t help us for traveling. However their customer service is amazing, they have never said no to us and we know that if our cards get stolen, all it takes is a phone call and less than 24 hours to get a new card. We trust them and know that if we get in a bind, they’ll come through.
Tips for Using Credit Cards Internationally
Make sure that if you travel to Europe or Asia, your credit cards have a chip in them. This chip, which is visible on the card means that your credit card is EMV-enabled, which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa. This technology is a global standard for processing credit and debit card payments.
If your card doesn’t have the chip, it just won’t work and you won’t be able to spend money. However, you can use non-chip cards to withdraw money from ATM's. For example Charles Schwab doesn't make cards with a chip, so we only use their services to get cash from ATM’s.
Expect your bank to put a temporary hold on your card if you're making transactions all over the world. Almost very time we withdrawal cash in a new country (especially if we're moving continents) we'll get a notice saying there was unusual activity. All we have to do is make a quick call, verify the transaction and everything is good again.
We try to use our credit cards whenever possible, so that discrepancies can easily be taken care of. It's hard to trust that little boutique on the coast of a remote island, will actually refund you, when you make a return. It's nice having the safety net of a large company behind you.