The first and most important thing to consider when using a credit card abroad is whether it has a foreign transaction fee. If it does, you might as well give away 3% of your income, because that foreign transaction fee is about what you’ll spend on every credit card purchase.
For most credit cards, you’ll need to give a U.S. address and phone number. If need be, you can use a mail forward service to maintain that U.S. address and stay up-to-date on correspondence. With that said, make sure you opt in to paperless credit card statements and communications, so you’ll receive any important notices right away.
You should set up your credit card’s PIN and know it. Although you rarely (if ever) need to use a PIN for credit card transactions in the U.S., odds are good that you’ll need it at least sometimes when making purchases in other countries.
Just as when using credit cards in the U.S., you need to use your credit cards regularly in order to keep the account open. One way of doing this is to set up auto-pay transactions for your recurring bills.
Lastly, get in the habit of asking merchants to process your transactions in the local currency. This almost always gets you a better currency exchange rate than if the merchant does the exchange for you.
How To Maximize Rewards When Using a Credit Card Abroad
The standard method for maximizing credit card rewards—using your credit card for as many purchases as possible, then paying off the bill every month to avoid interest fees—works no matter where you are in the world.
If you have friends, family or employees that you trust with your money (and your credit rating), you can add them as authorized users to your credit card. You’ll have to check the fine print on your credit card agreement to be sure, but in many cases an authorized user’s spending counts toward your rewards.
Lastly, try to make any big-ticket purchases from merchants that are more likely to use the correct merchant category code. This is what your credit card company uses to determine which purchases count for bonus rewards, so if the merchant doesn’t have the MCC that triggers a bonus, you’ve left potential rewards on the table.
Find the Best Credit Cards for 2024
No single credit card is the best option for every family, every purchase or every budget. We’ve picked the best credit cards in a way designed to be the most helpful to the widest variety of readers.