Your flight overseas has been booked for months, you drafted the perfect itinerary for your dream trip, and you have even brought your suitcase down from attic to start packing. But many travelers miss an important step in planning an overseas trip -- determining the most cost-effective way to pay for expenses and access cash while traveling abroad.
While you most likely have budgeted for lodging, food and excursions, additional fees can also add unexpected costs to your vacation. In addition to conversion costs, a common concern is foreign transaction fees, which are fees commonly around 2 to 3 percent of the purchase charged by most credit card companies on every purchases made in another country.
Here are five tips for getting the best rate when traveling abroad:
1. Consider no-foreign-transaction-fee credit cards if you travel overseas frequently
If you travel overseas several times each year, then you may want to consider getting a credit card that waives the foreign transaction fee on all purchases. "One of the catches with these cards is that they almost all have high annual fees," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com. "But these credit cards are typically also fantastic cards for people that travel regularly. You shouldn't worry too much about the annual fee because of the benefits outweigh the cost so the cost usually comes out as a wash."
Independent credit card expert and consumer advocate Beverly Harzog also recommends travelers to check if Discover is accepted in the country they are traveling, which offers cards with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. "Discover used to be not as widely accepted, but now is accepted in many destinations." She recommends considering interest rates when evaluating no foreign transaction fee credit cards to make sure that you are getting the best deal overall based on your credit history, not just the foreign transaction fee.
Capital One® is another issuer that does not charge any foreign transaction fees on any of their cards. You may be surprised to learn that you have a no-foreign-transaction fee card in your wallet already. If you're unsure, call your customer service representative or check on your card's website.
2. Use your regular credit card if you are an infrequent international traveler
On the other hand, if you take an international trip with your spouse every few years, then you probably will pay more in the annual fee for the no foreign transaction fee cards than you will save on the additional fees. "If you don't travel overseas very often, then I don't think it is necessary to do anything extraordinary to avoid foreign transaction fees," says Ulzheimer. "In this case it is typically a smarter financial move to use a regular credit card with a competitive rate and good rewards. No matter how you do it, you are going to be charged some sort of fee. You just need to figure out which route saves you the most money in fees."
3. Avoid dynamic currency conversion
"If you are billed in U.S. dollars, you don't usually get the best conversion rate because the vendor gets a cut, which is called Dynamic Currency Conversion," says Harzog. "This is one way you can still find yourself paying a fee with a no-foreign-transaction-fee card." She recommends asking to be billed in the local foreign currency instead of U.S. dollars when paying with your credit card, regardless of the foreign transaction fee policy of the card.
4. Consider cash
Another option to avoid fees is to pay cash for many of your expenses. "While you are going to avoid the foreign transaction free, you will be charged a fee to convert your U.S. dollars to the local currency, so there will be a fee associated with conversion," Ulzheimer says. He also recommends considering the safety of carrying large amounts of cash in the location that you are traveling.
5. Avoid frequent withdrawals from ATMs
While many travelers try to limit the amount of cash they are carrying to prevent losing money to theft, they make frequent trips which results in a large amount of fees by the time they head home. "In addition to paying a percentage of the withdrawal, you are also paying a flat fee for both your bank and ATM use. Check with your bank before leaving to find out the fees and consider taking out money in larger sums to reduce the number of withdrawals," says Chris McGinnis, director of Travel Skills Group and travel journalist. He also recommends against debit cards because of high fee structure as well.
In the end, a good strategy is to use both credit card and cash transactions when overseeas. By researching before you board the plane and creating a strategy for getting the best rate, you can reduce the amount of credit card fees you pay and have more money left in your pocket for souvenirs.