Important Credit Card Tips – Read Before You Travel

BY Beth Williams

There are several things you must do when you take your credit cards with you on vacation – especially if you are traveling internationally.  You should have a plan of action to protect if your credit card is lost or stolen when on vacation, not just because a missing credit card can wreak havoc on your vacation plans, but it can leave a traveler vulnerable to unauthorized charges and possibly even identity theft.

Start protecting the credit card(s) you’ll take on your trip before you leave the house. First, decide which cards you want to bring and leave any non-critical cards at home -. You should bring just one card as your primary and one or two backups, which should be stored separately — not in your wallet or purse — but away from the primary card. A good place to put a backup credit card is in the hotel room safe – just don’t forget it when you check out!

The next step you should take is to contact the customer service departments of the cards they plan on taking on the trip – you want to tell them about your travel plans – specifically when and where you’ll be traveling.  Your card company might suspect suspicious activity if charges made in another city other than your hometown show up on your account. This is especially true if the charges are made overseas.   If you don’t do this some credit card companies (and it is safe to say that this may be the majority of companies) will shut down or flag your credit card account for possible fraud and rendered unusable if you don’t call your card company before you travel.

Be warned, though, notifying your card company of your travel plans doesn’t always eliminate problems — some travelers have reported that their account was flagged when traveling overseas, so that is one reason you need a back-up card from another issuer in case you can’t use your primary card. You might also run into problems if you use your card in countries where merchants process only cards with microchip technology — not magnetic strips.  Some banks and travel organizations such as AAA or Travelex offers a Chip & PIN Cash Passport prepaid currency card that can help you avoid this problem.

Additionally, make sure you provide your credit card company information on who they should contact if problems arise with the credit card account when you are traveling.  This in an important reason to carry a cell phone while traveling abroad so your card company can get in contact with you.  An email may work, but how often will you check it.  Make sure you also have the phone number of where you would call if your card is lost or stolen.  The number may be obvious here at home, but when traveling overseas, the card company might give you a different number, or numbers, depending on the countries you may be visiting.  In Europe, each country may have a different number to call in case to travel around the European continent.

Then make a copy of your card numbers and those contact numbers, and store them in a safe place — again, separate from your wallet or purse.  Consider a using a web-based email service like AOL, Gmail or Hotmail to store these details if you’ll have access to a computer when you’re traveling.  Just send yourself an email so you’ll have the information in your inbox and can access it later if need be. This way, you don’t need to worry about a hard copy falling into the wrong hands.

Once you’re on vacation and if you have access to the Internet, travelers may consider checking their bank and credit card accounts as frequently as once a day to make sure all the activity they see is theirs; this has the added bonus of helping you keep tabs on your spending.  If you see any charges you don’t recognize, that might indicate someone has accessed your number, and you’ll need to stop using that card and report the illegal activity immediately.

If your credit card goes missing while you’re traveling, contact the issuer as soon as possible; the quicker you let them know the card is missing, the sooner they can cancel the account and get a new card out to you. How long it will take you to get a new card varies by issuer.  The information further down in this article has details about some specific providers and offers a handy list of contact numbers, but in some cases, it can take a few days. This is the primary reason you should never travel with just one card because you could be left stranded.

But what If you’ve had other information stolen, too, like your license or your passport?  You might want to fill out a police report so there’s a paper trail if someone tries to open up a credit card or loan in your name.   It’s also not a bad idea to put a fraud alert on your credit report, so bring along the contact info of one of the three credit bureaus – you only need to call one; they’ll tell the other two for you.

Potential Problems to Consider when Using Credit Cards Overseas

When in Europe, you need to know that your credit card may not always work.  This is usually caused by new technological advances embedded into the new versions of credit cards issued in Europe or issues with your US based pin number not matching the code framework that is issued with European cards.  As far as the technology differences, most European credit card companies have switched their credit cards from the type issued here in the US (non-chip based) to the implementation of the new chip-and-PIN system, which are credit cards embedded with a microchip and require a Personal Identification Number (PIN code) for transactions. What this means for Americans is that some of our US style magnetic-stripe credit cards won’t be accepted at some automated payment points, such as ticket machines at train and subway stations, luggage lockers, toll roads, parking garages, and self-serve gas pumps.

The chip-and-PIN system is most commonly used in the British Isles, Scandinavia, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Most of Western Europe should be converted to chip-and-PIN cards in 2012 (and Canada will complete its conversion in 2015). So far, US banks have not committed to any conversion.

Chip-and-PIN cardholders don’t sign a receipt when making a purchase — instead, they enter a PIN (similar to using a debit card for a point-of-sale purchase in the US). Europe’s automated machines will sometimes take your US credit card if you know the card’s PIN number. Every card has one; ask your bank for the number before you leave on your trip.

Don’t panic if your US card is rejected. There’s usually a solution. Just like at home, cash works.

What if You Lose your Credit card and Need and Emergency Credit Card Replacement

Losing a credit card while traveling — whether halfway across the world or just a few hours’ drive away from home — can be an emergency of disastrous proportions. The good news is that if you prepare in advance and take a few precautions while you’re on the road, the damage will likely be minimal to both your travels and your finances.

4 things you must know about emergency credit card replacement

Every credit card company and bank will replace your card in case of emergency, but how fast it arrives and who pays for it may vary based on where you want it sent, how fast you want it and how good a customer you are.

What constitutes an emergency? It’s an emergency if your card is no longer in your possession and you don’t know where it is – especially if you are overseas.

If an emergency hits, the following information explains how to get your credit card replaced as painlessly as possible.

1. Don’t wait or it could cost you
As soon as you realize your card is stolen or lost and you need a replacement, call your bank’s emergency contact number – some of the major bank numbers are listed below. In most cases, you can go to the bank’s website and type in “stolen card.” There, you’ll find a link to a page with the emergency toll-free number. If that fails, check the website’s “Contact us” page for another customer service phone number. Once you report the card missing, the bank will immediately cancel the card and block further charges. They’ll also order a replacement card with a new account number. It’s vital that you call as soon as possible; waiting imperils your standing under “zero liability” policies.

Some credit card companies replace lost cards overnight to their customers without charge. If you hold an airline frequent flier or hotel-branded card, they’ll often provide customers with free expedited service, even overseas. However,  there is one instance in which you won’t receive your replacement card immediately, thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act, which passed in 2008.  If a customer changes his or her address and then calls back within 30 days to request a replacement card, the credit issuer is required to validate the new address before sending out the card. This protects the bank and customer against fraud.

2. Out of the country? No problem
If you’re overseas, both Visa and MasterCard have online directories where you can look up the number to call when you’re traveling in a particular country. Or you can check the chart below for the number where you can call collect to report a stolen card and arrange for a replacement.

Many travelers like the American Express card due the fact that they have more than 2,200 travel service offices located around the world where you can walk in and ask for a new card.

3. Cash to the rescue
On average, most credit card companies take five to seven business days for a replacement card to arrive from the date you make the request.

If you have other cards or other ways to access funds, you may be able to wait it out. But if you can’t, many banks offer emergency cash advances via wire transfer to tide you over until the new card arrives, as long as the card isn’t maxed out.

4. Expect the best, prepare for the worst
Some of your preparation begins before you leave home. You can’t totally prevent a card from being stolen, but you can design a backup plan to make the replacement process as painless as possible.

First, make a list of your card account numbers and the international phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen. Bring one copy of the list with you, and leave another with a friend or relative back home. You can also send this information to yourself to an e-mail account that you can access online.

If you have more than one credit card account, bring at least two with you on a trip, but keep them in separate places; store one in your wallet and stash the other one in your laptop case or stow it in the safe in your hotel room.

Emergency card replacement contact information
Issuer In the U.S. From overseas (call collect)
American Express (800) 964-8542 (336) 393-1111
Bank of America (800) 732-9194 (302) 738-5719
Capital One (800) 955-7070 (804) 934-2001
Chase (800) 432-3117 (302) 594-8200
Citibank (800) 950-5114 (605) 335-2222
Discover (800) DISCOVER (801) 902-3100
MasterCard (800) 627-8372 (636) 722-7111
Visa (800) 847-2911 (410) 581-9994
Wells Fargo (800) 642-4720 (925) 825-7600