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More Than One Credit Card Traveling Abroad

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,


Is it a good idea to have more than one credit card while traveling abroad? What's the best American credit card for using overseas? Do I need to let the credit card company in on my plans before I go so they don't think some foreign person stole my card?

Signed: More Than One Credit Card Traveling Abroad

Dear More Than One Credit Card Traveling Abroad,


You bring up a very good question; one that has caused unsuspecting travelers a lot of distress once they land in their foreign destination. The reason is that more than 130 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America (Canada is in the process) have switched from the old-fashioned magnetic strip to smart cards with microchips embedded in them. Cards with a magnetic strip are fairly easy to counterfeit. Smart cards are harder to duplicate because the account information is encrypted and stored on a chip embedded in the card. The new technology is called chip-and-pin because the transaction will not be authorized without the correct personal identification code associated with the card.


These chip cards are often called EMV cards because they were developed by Europay, MasterCard and Visa. Businesses outside the U.S. who accept EMV cards are also required (by Visa, MasterCard and American Express) to accept magnetic strip cards issued by American banks. But as many travelers have learned the hard way, that doesn’t always, happen.


The United States has been slow to adopt the technology, mainly because of the expense merchants and banks would have to take on to convert to EMV enabled cards and cash registers.  Some US banks are beginning to offer the EMV cards although they are high end cards (large charge capacity) available to a limited numbers of customers. Some US banks expect the EMV cards to be available to all customers within the next year.


The best option is to carry a couple of cards in your wallet and politely insist that the cashier keep trying to swipe each credit card, as the card reader may be able to recognize the magnetic strip and approve the purchase. Even if the card goes through it could still be rejected by your bank as a safety precaution so it would be a good idea to let your bank know you will be traveling abroad


As a backup consider carrying a preloaded debit MasterCard from Travelex called Chip and PIN Cash Passport, available in pounds or Euros, which are equipped with the embedded chip. The card does not cost anything to use but the exchange rates you get when loading it with cash are not as great.


You could avoid the whole plastic issue by carrying a limited amount of cash and the rest in traveler’s checks.






Signed: TeenHealthFX