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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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Search for travel insurance policies with uSwitch and money.co.uk*

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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.

Getting best rates on travel money

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

Many currency specialists offer pre-paid cards, which can be used to pay for things and withdraw money without being charged additional fees.

Using your bank card overseas

If you simply withdraw cash from an ATM with your debit card overseas you’ll exchange at near ‘perfect’ interbank rates, but your bank will charge you a ‘foreign transaction fee’ of around 2-3% and there may be additional ATM fees.

Depending on where you’re going, some banks offer fee-free withdrawals and spending, but this is often currency and country specific, so check the small print of your account.

If you do use your debit card abroad to either withdraw cash or make purchases, make sure to never choose the ‘dynamic currency conversion’ which will offer to let you pay in pounds sterling, as this will cost you another fee on top of the others.

Credit cards for travel

Most credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee of 2%, but some credit cards won’t charge extra for making an overseas purchase in a foreign currency. These cards are usually called ‘travel credit cards’ and can be a handy way to make purchases overseas.

However, you shouldn’t withdraw cash with a credit card as not only will you still need to pay transaction fees of around 2% you will usually be charged a higher rate of interest from the moment you withdraw the cash.  Read more on how to use a credit card correctly overseas.

You also enjoy better levels of purchase protection with credit cards, and can claim refunds through your card provider if need be, these rights are protected under section 75 of the consumer credit act.

Going on holiday?

Avoid paying expensive fees for using your credit card abroad with a travel credit card.

Compare travel credit cards

Let your bank know before you go

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:

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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