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How to use a credit card abroad

Holiday checklist for your finances

You’ve booked two weeks off work, stocked up on sunscreen and picked out your beach reading all in preparation for your long-awaited holiday.

But, before you jump on the plane to paradise there are a few remaining items to be ticked off the holiday checklist to ensure your trip goes without a hitch.

We’re not talking about flip flops, a snorkel and sunscreen here, we’re talking about your finances.

1. Get travel insurance

Travel insurance can provide valuable protection for you and your holiday, meaning your costs are covered should things not go to plan.

Generally, travel insurance should cover

  • medical costs that are incurred on a trip abroad
  • lost, damaged, or stolen possessions
  • the cancellation or abandonment of your trip

More comprehensive policies can include extra cover for valuables and gadgets, lost travel documents, missed excursions and much more.

While you might be tempted to wait until your suitcases are packed, it’s advisable to take out travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your trip. If you take out travel insurance with cancellation cover, you’ll be covered from the moment you buy the policy, rather than the start date of your trip.

Travel insurance policies can be taken out on a multi-trip or single-trip basis, and for a single person or an entire family. You may need to purchase extra cover if you’re taking part in winter sports or adventure activities.

The advice from ABTA – The Travel Association – is to shop around and remember the cheapest option won’t always be best.

You can learn more about travel insurance policies in our guide, or get started by searching for a travel insurance deal below:

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2. Get a good deal on your spending money

Chances are you’ve saved long and hard for your summer break, so it pays to go the extra mile to make sure you get the best deal on your spending money.

Remember to take both exchange rates and commission rates into account when converting your cash and never, ever leave it until you’re at the airport as the rates are always worse than on the high street or if you order online.

If you’re not keen on carrying large amounts of cash around, which isn’t always a good idea when you’re abroad, you need to consider how you’re going to pay for things.

Pre-paid cards are a good idea if you have the forethought to preload them with currency before making the trip. They can be used to pay for things and take money from an ATM, for which you will be charged a flat fee. Providers like FairFx also charge no transaction fees.

Credit cards have some advantages in that you are provided with legal cover for the money you spend if the service is not up to scratch.

However, some cards can also charge foreign currency loading fees and higher rates of interest than you would pay at home. For this reason it could be worth looking for an alternative when you travel abroad. The same is true for debit cards.

Regardless of how you chose to pay abroad it could be worth informing your bank that you’re travelling so you don’t get a nasty surprise when your account is frozen due to unusual activity.

3. Get ready to roam with your phone

As you may be aware, roaming charges for using your phone in the EU were scrapped in 2017. But the nightmare of returning home to a ruinously high bill isn’t completely a thing of the past, especially if you’re holidaying outside the EU.

All the major UK networks now offer roaming schemes that allow you to use your UK allowances while you’re in the EU for no extra charge. Some also cover destinations that are further afield, allowing you to roam free in locations as far flung as Australia, the USA and China.

You can check which destinations are covered by your network’s roaming scheme here:

BT Mobile
ID Mobile

If you can’t see your chosen holiday destination, you may want to consider signing up for an add-on for an additional charge.

Which network is best for roaming? We take a look at each in turn.

Other travel tips we’d recommend when using your phone abroad include:

1) Don’t opt out of usage caps

Networks impose a worldwide usage cap (set between £40-£49, depending on which network you’re with). Opting out is easy. But in so doing, you’d open yourself up to the risk of a massive bill shock.

2) Use free WiFi at the hotel and cafes

Free wifi is more and more common at hotels. To keep your usage down, you may want to take advantage of this as much as you can. But be mindful that some free WiFi networks only extend to certain parts of the hotel.

3) Look into local SIMs

Provided your phone is unlocked, you can use a SIM card from a local network in your holiday destination. They’re a great of keeping the cost of texts under control.

Need a bit more help with roaming charges? Head to our comprehensive guide.

But you can still be caught out if you’re not careful. For instance, some countries in Europe, such as Iceland and Norway, aren’t EU members. So if you use your phone in those locations, you’ll still incur charges.

See also:

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