With so many ways to pay these days, travelers often wonder what the safest and most convenient ways to make purchases while traveling both domestically and internationally are. Here’s a breakdown of the four most common ways to pay and the best way to use each form of payment, thanks to the experts at NextAdvisor.com.
1. Credit Cards
BEST PAYMENT METHOD FOR: Nearly everything, chip and PIN cards are highly recommended for better security
Credit cards are realistically your best choice for paying for most things at home and abroad. They offer the most security if they’re lost or stolen, and many come with no foreign transaction fees. That means you won’t pay anything extra when using your credit card, and you’ll usually get a favorable exchange rate, especially compared to cashing in traveler’s checks or using American cash (if it’s accepted).
Chip and PIN
Having a credit card with chip technology (also known as EMV technology) is also very useful. Designed to reduce fraud, most of the world’s credit cards are EMV smart cards and don’t use a magnetic stripe like U.S. credit cards. These smart cards have a chip embedded in them that transmits the customer’s payment information. The U.S. is slowly converting to EMV smart cards, and they’re supposed to become standard throughout the country by the end of 2015.
Chip and signature
While most European credit cards are chip and PIN, most American cards are chip and signature, which vary slightly from chip and PIN. With a chip and PIN card, you insert your card into the reader and punch in a PIN code, just like when using an ATM or debit card. A chip and signature card requires a signature rather than a PIN, but the two cards look identical. While you usually won’t run into any problems with a chip and signature card with a merchant, many automated ticket machines and gas stations overseas only accept chip and PIN cards. This can cause problems if you’re alone, which is why chip and PIN cards are your best option for traveling abroad.
Currently, one of the only major American credit cards with chip and PIN technology is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. In many ways, it’s the ultimate travel credit card. It comes with 40,000 bonus miles (worth up to $400 in travel purchases) when you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening your account. You’ll earn two miles on every dollar you spend with no rewards limit. There are no foreign transaction fees on anything you buy in another country, and the $89 annual fee is waived the first year.
Another great choice for domestic use, and for foreign travel in most cases, is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. With this chip and signature card, you’ll get 40,000 bonus miles (worth a minimum of $400 in travel) when you spend $4,000 within the first three months of having the card. These miles can be transferred to other programs, such as Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, British Airways and many more, on a 1:1 ratio. You’ll earn two points for every dollar spent on travel and dining, as well as one point per dollar on everything else with no rewards limit. Although this card comes with a $95 annual fee, it’s waived for the first year, and you’ll pay no foreign transaction fees.
Check out the best travel rewards credit cards to learn more about how you can earn rewards while you’re traveling and keep your purchases secure.
2. Debit Cards
BEST PAYMENT METHOD FOR: Those who like to pay with a “secure” form of cash, withdrawing money from ATMs
Debit cards are similar to credit cards, but rather than a line of credit, you’re withdrawing money from your bank after every purchase. When you’re traveling, you can also your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM, which is useful no matter where you are. That said, you’ll find yourself with a major headache if your debit card is lost or stolen while you’re traveling because criminals can drain all of your money from your account. In addition, credit cards are usually better when making purchases at a store because of their fraud protection and the fact that American debit cards still use a magnetic stripe, which is not the safest way to transmit a payment. Because of this, a credit card is a safer bet.
BEST PAYMENT METHOD FOR: Some purchases and tipping while traveling domestically or internationally
Cash won’t disappear in our lifetime, and it’s still useful to have a small amount of cash ($200 to $500) when traveling domestically or abroad. It’s good to have on hand for tipping and for when you’re in rural areas or locations that don’t regularly accept credit cards.
If you decide to exchange to foreign currency before you travel, the exchange rates might be unfavorable, and many times your bank will charge you a small fee to withdraw foreign currency. It’s best to check with your financial institution before leaving the country to determine the fees you’ll be charged. If not, you can always get cash exchanged at the airport or even withdraw money from a foreign ATM.
Although it’s useful to have while traveling, the biggest downside to cash is that it’s not replaceable if it’s lost or stolen, so make sure it’s secure and don’t carry it in large amounts.
4. Traveler’s Checks
BEST PAYMENT METHOD FOR: Purchases and getting cash internationally
Believe it or not, traveler’s checks still exist and are useful for foreign travel because they provide more security than paper money and can be cashed easily at a local bank. However, that’s not always the case when traveling domestically. If they’re lost or stolen, you can get replacements within 24 hours in most cases. It’s a good idea to keep the checks’ serial numbers stored in a separate and secure area away from the actual checks, such as a password protected file on your phone, just in case they’re lost or stolen.
Traveling is usually a fun and exciting time, but that can quickly turn if your payment method is stolen or breached. That’s why it’s important to make sure you plan out your payment options before you travel.