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Using a Credit Card Overseas

Get tips for using credit cards internationally from American Express

Whether you're traveling foron business or pleasure, taking a credit or charge card with you can make your life easier — especially when you cross borders. Learn more about properly using credit cards abroad so you have access to the funds you need while keeping your information secure.

When it comes to overseas transactions, 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, and if a card is lost or stolen, you may be able to get a replacement while you are still on your trip. Plus, if you have an American Express (R) Charge or Credit Card you will not be responsible for any fraudulent charges. Click here for more information on card fraud.

Tips for international or overseas transactions

  • Pack local currency for incidental expenses and taxis, some travelers cheques for emergencies and only those cards you plan to use while traveling. You don’t need to carry much cash since you can always use your charge card to take out more funds while you are abroad, but it’s wise to have spending money in the appropriate currency as soon as you arrive.
  • Bring more than one card so you have a backup if you have a problem or approach the credit limit on your main card. Carry each card separately for security when using credit cards internationally.
  • Use a calculator app on your mobile device to quickly convert local currency into dollars and determine the exact price of an item. This will help you stay on budget and avoid hitting credit limits sooner than expected.
  • 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. Before you leave home. (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 overseas transactions in a safe place. Make sure your receipts are itemized if you are making multiple purchases at a single location. 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.
  • Get a detailed list of any items being shipped to you back home – especially if you used your credit card for the purchase. It's also a good idea to purchase insurance in case of loss, theft or damage. Your card may already have a purchase protection plan in place.
  • Hire a professional appraiser to confirm authenticity when buying artwork, gems, antiques, antiquities or decorative objects. This can help provide protection from counterfeit goods, which not only rip you off but may cause problems at customs, since anything from fake designer handbags to pirated movies will be confiscated by customs officials. 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.

Important information to know about spending and credit card use overseas

  • Most ATMs have a daily limit on the amount of cash you can withdraw and you may face international withdrawal fees. Make sure you know what your withdrawal total will be in U.S. dollars since that will impact the total you are able to withdraw. You can use a debit card or cash advance on a credit card to withdraw funds from foreign ATMs.
  • In many countries, a comma is used instead of a decimal point. A price of 59.95 Euros will be denoted as €59,95.
  • When using a credit card abroad, 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 Card Members 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.
  • When using a credit card internationally, hotels and car rental companies often place a "hold" on your credit card for anticipated charges, which may tie up your credit line. It will be released if you are not required to pay the charges, but you should be mindful of how it may impact your spending. Check your credit limit online while abroad to ensure you have access to the funds you believe should be available to you.