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Five tips for traveling abroad using credit and debit cards

Woman using credit card in outdoor market while traveling
January 12, 2018

By Pam Leibfried

If you’ll be overseas and wants some tips on credit and debit card usage, read on! You can save time, headaches and money with these tips for reducing transaction hassles and fees when you are using credit and debit cards while traveling internationally.

1. Let card issuers know you’ll be traveling.

To avoid triggering a fraud alert, let your credit union or other card issuer know where you will be traveling and how long you’ll be there. The last thing you want to worry about on your trip is having a legitimate travel transaction declined because your card issuer thinks someone stole your card.

How this tip applies to Alliant cardholders:

  • Alliant’s travel notification form makes it super simple to let us know when you’ll be traveling with your Alliant Visa credit or debit card(s). Just log in to Alliant Online Banking or the Alliant Mobile Banking App and fill out the short form telling us when you’ll be traveling.
  • Or if you prefer, you can also call us to let us know about your travels. Call 866-444-8529 if you plan on traveling with your Alliant Visa Credit Card or 800-328-1935 if you plan on traveling with your Alliant Visa Debit Card.

2. Conduct credit card transactions in local currency.

When you make a purchase at a foreign retailer or restaurant, they will sometimes give you the option to put the charge through in U.S. dollars instead of in the local currency. This practice is called dynamic currency conversion (DCC) or cardholder preferred currency.

Although DCC may seem like a good option because you won’t have to calculate the currency conversion, there is a downside. Merchants can set their own conversion exchange rate when you opt for DCC. And when they set their own rate, that rate often includes a hefty mark-up to your total bill. Some merchants charge as much as 7% for this conversion service, and you’ll still pay any applicable Visa or MasterCard foreign transaction fees on top of that merchant markup.

How to avoid foreign conversion fees when using Alliant cards overseas:

  • If a merchant asks if you want your transaction to be processed in U.S. dollars, you should decline, then ask them to process the transaction in their local currency. If they processed your transaction in U.S. dollars without asking, you can ask them to ring it up again in the local currency. By processing in local currency, you are assured of an accurate currency conversion rate.1
  • When using an ATM in a foreign country, you may be asked if you want a guaranteed conversion rate or if you want to be charged in U.S. dollars. Select the option to proceed with the ATM transaction without a conversion (i.e., in Euros or other local currency).

3. Use a card that does not charge added fees.

Visa charges a 1% International Service Assessment (ISA) fee on transactions made while traveling abroad. But many banks and credit unions charge additional fees on top of the ISA fee. These bank fees can range from 2–3% on every transaction, and can really add up. If you spend $5,000 on a European trip, a 3% fee adds $150 to your costs!

How this tip applies to Alliant cardholders:

  • Alliant’s Platinum and Platinum Rewards credit cards and its debit cards do not add any additional fees on top of the Visa ISA fee, but the 1% Visa ISA fee is added to each international transaction. The 1% fee is not added to international transactions made with an Alliant Visa Signature card.

4. Be prepared in case of theft.

Although the vast majority of travelers don’t have any issues with theft or pickpockets, it never hurts to be prepared.

Before your trip, find out if there is a special contact number for calling your card company from outside the U.S. Keep that contact number(s) – along with a copy of your passport and the cards you’ve brought with you on your trip – in a secure place separate from your wallet. That way, if your wallet or purse is stolen, you’ll have the information you need to report the theft quickly.

When you photocopy your cards, make two copies and give the extra set to a trusted friend or family member at home. If you can’t contact your card issuer yourself, it gives you the option of contacting someone stateside who can call them for you.

How this tip applies to Alliant cardholders:

  • To call Alliant from abroad, use our direct dial number (not our toll-free line) at 1-773-462-2000. To call Visa directly, consult their country-by-country list of Visa toll-free customer assistance numbers.

5. Locate Visa ATMs before your trip 

Use the Visa global ATM locator to find Visa-compatible ATMs at your destination. You can filter the results to show airport locations so you can get local currency right away to pay your cab from the airport. And you can send your destinations’ search results to your phone so you’ll have them handy as you travel.

How this tip applies to Alliant cardholders:

• If the owner of any ATM you use to withdraw money from your Alliant checking account charges you a fee, Alliant will rebate you up to $20 per month. And that includes ATMs abroad!

1. Please note that the exchange rate you are charged for foreign local-currency purchases made with your Alliant Visa credit or debit card is the exchange rate on the day that the charge posts, which is 3-5 days after the actual purchase. 

Pam Leibfried is a marketing content specialist whose love of words led to a writing and editing career. After a brief stint teaching English, she transitioned to corporate communications and spent 20 years at The Nielsen Company before joining Alliant’s content development team. Early in her work life, Pam’s friend Matt explained the benefits of a 401(k) and her dad encouraged her to start a Roth IRA. Their good counsel prompted her to prioritize retirement savings, which just might enable her to retire early so she can read more and live out the slogan on her fave T-shirt:  “I have a retirement plan: I plan on quilting.”