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Card Basics: Overseas Purchases


Whether you're traveling on business or pleasure, taking a credit or charge card with you will make your life easier — especially when you cross borders.


Cards offer travelers both convenience and safety. You won't have to carry much cash, since you can use a card for purchases as well as cash withdrawals in local currency. If a card is lost or stolen, you may be able to get a replacement while you are still on your trip. And if your card falls into the wrong hands, you will not be responsible for more than $50 in fraudulent charges. If you have an American Express charge or credit card you will not be responsible for any fraudulent charges. For more information on card fraud, click here.


Tips for overseas travel


  • When planning your trip, pack a wallet that includes some local currency for incidental expenses and taxis, some travelers checks for any emergencies and only those cards you plan to use while traveling.
  • Bring more than one card, that way, if you have a problem or go over your credit limit on one, you will still be able to use another. Carry each card separately, and don't bring cards you won't be using.
  • Many cell phones and other mobile devices have built-in calculators. With one, you can quickly convert local currency into dollars to determine the exact price of an item.
  • Before you leave home, make a list of your card account numbers and the international phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen, or if you're having problems using them. (U.S.-based toll-free numbers aren't accessible from outside North America.) Bring one copy of the list with you, and leave another with someone you trust at home.
  • Keep all receipts and any documentation of purchases in a safe place.
  • If you are making multiple purchases at a single location, ask for your total to be itemized. You may need this breakdown when you go through customs on your way home.
  • Know what items are restricted by your country's import regulations. If you buy something and are not allowed to bring it into the country, you may not be able to get a refund from the merchant. Examples of prohibited items include elephant ivory, fireworks, fur, leather, fruits and vegetables. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a list of items that are prohibited or restricted from entering the United States.
  • Buying artwork, gems, antiques, antiquities or decorative objects? Protect yourself from counterfeit goods, which not only rip you off but may cause problems at customs. Counterfeit items, from fake designer handbags to pirated movies, will be confiscated by customs officials. If you are buying something of high value, hire a professional appraiser to determine its authenticity. At the very least, have the merchant provide you with a written description of the item. The content should include the provenance, quality or grade, date and price.
  • If you use your credit card to get cash from an ATM, be aware that there may be a daily limit on the amount of money you can take out and that you may be charged higher interest rates or fees.
  • If you charge merchandise and ask to have it shipped for you, as mentioned above, get a detailed list of items being shipped. Also, it's a good idea to purchase insurance in case of loss, theft or damage. Your card may already have a purchase protection plan in place.


Important Information to Know


  • Your card company will automatically convert your purchases from the local currency to U.S. dollars on your bill. Most card companies exchange money at rates that are more favorable than what consumers would get on their own. You may, however, incur a charge for foreign currency exchange for each purchase. These amounts vary from card to card, and will be outlined in your cardholder agreement. To avoid these fees altogether, international travelers may want to apply for a Platinum Card® from American Express which does not charge any foreign exchange fees and allows travelers to shop like a local in any country worldwide.
  • Chip & Pin Cards: New chip-embedded cards are increasingly popular outside of the United states, including in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Canada. This new technology known as E.M.V. (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) uses embedded chips to store personal information about the cardholder. A personal PIN is then required for authentication. American Express Cardmembers may still use their magnetic stripe cards worldwide, without a PIN. Simply present your Card to the merchant for authorization; even if the merchant's terminal is set up for chip and pin, it will still accept magnetic stripe cards. If you are at a railroad kiosk or similar terminal that only accepts chip-and-pin cards, simply present your magnetic stripe card to a clerk at a window for assistance and authorization.
  • If you travel to a country with a Value Added Tax (VAT), which is similar to sales tax, you may be entitled to a refund if you are not a citizen of that country. VAT ranges from 3 to 20 percent or more, depending on the type of product, and is already included in the price (it is not added at point-of-sale the way sales tax is in the U.S.). Bring your passport when you shop, and tell the merchant before you charge an item that you are interested in VAT refund documentation. You'll need to produce a sales receipt and the VAT documents at the airport before a refund will be processed. VAT may be refunded on your card or by check, depending on the policy of the store where you bought the item.
  • Hotels and car rental companies often place a "hold" on your credit card for anticipated charges, which may tie up your credit line.
  • In many countries, a comma is used instead of a decimal point. A price of 59.95 Euros will be denoted as €59,95.
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