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Old 31-01-2008, 04:54   #1
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Which Credit Cards to Carry

I have read that various cards are best in different areas of the world, so my question is: which cards to keep and which to throw, AX, MasterCard, VISA, Diners, Discover (is that just a US Card?) etc. I also learned first hand recently in Europe that buying on the card got me a US=Euro exchange rate about 10 cents cheaper on the dollar than exchanging the dollars and paying in Euros. I know some credit cards charge for the exchange rate, but some, like Capital One, don't. Thanks for the input.
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Old 31-01-2008, 05:14   #2
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I also learned first hand recently in Europe that buying on the card got me a US=Euro exchange rate about 10 cents cheaper on the dollar than exchanging the dollars and paying in Euros.
Used to be that way. Using a credit card where accepted got you the best exchange without a bump. The trend is to charge a percentage on top with a minimum service fee. When they do that you can exchange cash on the street for a better exchange rate. MasterCard and Visa still have the broadest support. If you find one that does not have a fee they can amend the rules so they can add one. I doubt the trend is ever going back to the way that really was better - for you.

If you have investment accounts you may want to talk to your account adviser / broker about transfers available from foreign branch offices. This allows direct access to your funds so you can start out without a fee and convert to local travelers checks. Paying as you go reduces all the inevitable transaction fees. Carrying a large wad of cash isn't a great idea.
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Old 31-01-2008, 05:29   #3
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Visa, MasterCard, and American Express Cards are accepted in most countries.
Using your credit card in foreign countries ~ by Mary Wise
Using your credit card in foreign countries
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Old 31-01-2008, 09:37   #4
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The link Gord posted is a good very basic intro, but beyond that:

The most accepted cards world wide are Visa and Master Card.

Many merchants won't accept American Express because of their high merchant fees. The same with Diners Club which is actually bigger than American Express in many countries especially in Latin America.

In addition to differences in exchange rates (see below discussion of ATM Cards), different banks will charge from 0% to 5% fees for foreign currency transactions. That's on top of the built in 1% that the Visa and Mastercard associations charge.

The banks charging the lowest fees last time I checked were Capital One, UBS and MBNA who charge nothing on top of the 1% association charge.

It's been a while since I checked MBNA, so that one you should reverify - especially since they've been bought out by Bank of America, who's not known for giving things away.

American Express, if you can find a place that accepts it, charges a flat 2%.

Discover is pretty useless overseas.

All that said - you're best bet is to get a good ATM Card (NOT a cash advance on your Credit Card), take out cash and use it for most purchases. We use the cash approach for EVERYTHING except hotels and slip fees which we charge.

Note some merchants will charge you up to another 5% for using a credit card - so by the time you're done, you could pay over 10%!!!

At ATMs you get the absolute best exchange rate and the lowest fees. We normally take out the dollar equivalent of $500 to $1000 (in local currency) per transaction. Your bank will raise your daily limit if you request it.

You also need to have a 4 digit PIN and be "turned on" to withdraw internationally.

With a US Bank account you are protected at ATMs and with Credit Cards from Fraud by Regulation E, for all but the first $50. Even that first $50 is usually waived and your only liable for that amount if you lose your card and don't report it.

Also, if you have an ATM Card that refunds the Fee for using another Bank's ATMs that's a plus.

On this end, your best exchange rates (by a few 10ths of a point) will found at ATMs belonging to First Tier Foreign Exchange banks: Citibank (Banamex), HSBC, Lloyds, and a few others.

For safety, only use ATMs attached to or inside a bank branch. Avoid if possible free standing ATMs. Use the same cautions you would in the US.

Hope this helps. I'd be happy to answer any more questions

Bill Finkelstein
Retired Bank Executive (35+ years): Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank Consultant
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Old 31-01-2008, 11:44   #5
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In all of our travels Visa has been accepted everywhere. We have on rare occasion been told someone did not take Mastercard. Amex is not taken in many out of the way places especially in the western Caribbean. We carry only Visa for just this reason. See no good reason to carry more than one card if that is accepted every place a credit card can be used.
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Old 31-01-2008, 14:13   #6
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I carry American Express and VISA credit cards, and a MasterCard debit card, as well. The Amex has a nice rewards program, and VISA and MasterCard are accepted just about everywhere - especially by vendors who won't take Amex.

The best exchange rate is, was, and always will be, in the black market - if you have the cojones to do it that way. Whenever you exchange currency through official, legitimate channels, you get the worst rate of exchange and have to pay "service fees" for the privilege.

(Note: The above paragraph assumes you are exchanging from a "desirable" currency, into a less desirable one. Look in your wallet - if all you see is American greenbacks, this no longer applies to you in many parts of the world. )

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Old 31-01-2008, 15:08   #7
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The best exchange rate is, was, and always will be, in the black market -..... assumes you are exchanging from a "desirable" currency, into a less desirable one.
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Yes, but you have to get the desirable currency. With my australian visa card they convert to US$ at the back office and I dont see how much I am paying in commission.

Its worse in a 3rd country: If I am in the UK and get cash from Visa it will come out of the ATM in GBP but the back office converts AUD to USD then to GBP so I pay 2 commissions.

The difficulty of black market trading is that the chances of being ripped off are so high that it may not be worth it. Polish Zolotti 10,000 notes used to look pretty much the same as at Czec 10,000 notes.... but 10,000 Zolotti was worth about 100 Czec whatevers. Every backpacker in Prague was ripped off with that one when I was there in 1993.
The problem is the tricks on the blackmarket for each different country are changing constantly, and the tourist only being there a short time can be had easily.

China was great with FEC, blackmarket gave a 20% premium in the 1990's


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Old 31-01-2008, 16:08   #8
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Yes, but you have to get the desirable currency. With my australian visa card they convert to US$ at the back office and I dont see how much I am paying in commission.

Its worse in a 3rd country: If I am in the UK and get cash from Visa it will come out of the ATM in GBP but the back office converts AUD to USD then to GBP so I pay 2 commissions.

The difficulty of black market trading is that the chances of being ripped off are so high that it may not be worth it. . . .
Quite right, Mark. Exchanging currency on the black market isn't for the timid. Another danger is that you must carry a lot of the "desirable" currency with you.

In most countries, there are restrictions on how much currency you can leave home with - so that's the first significant hurdle. Then you have to have good instincts when it comes to finding a local you deem trustworthy in the country where you're making the "transaction." There's also the added thrill of defrauding the host government, which will look on your black market exchange less than favorably (though, often, a local authority doing a little free-lancing will be the ideal connection).

As I said, if you've got the cojones . . .

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Old 31-01-2008, 16:16   #9
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Actually there is a very good reason to carry more than one card:

Once in a while your bank will wonder about all the overseas charges and put a security hold on your card... EVEN THOUGH YOU TELL THEM YOUR GOING TO BE OUT OF THE COUNTRY FOR A LONG TIME (most banks have trouble understanding that).

Your second or third Credit Card or ATM Card is useful while you get your primary one straightened out.
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Old 31-01-2008, 17:07   #10
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Once in a while your bank will wonder about all the overseas charges and put a security hold on your card... EVEN THOUGH YOU TELL THEM YOUR GOING TO BE OUT OF THE COUNTRY FOR A LONG TIME (most banks have trouble understanding that).
No kidding. When I moved across the country, it coincided with a promotion that my credit card company was running at the time - buy gas from a certain company and save 5% at the pump. Great, I thought I could save a fair bit driving my gas-guzzler 4000 miles here to there. Despite the fact that I informed said company that I was moving - gave them new address and date of move, and despite the fact said card was only used to buy gas at 500 Km intervals along the Trans-Canada highway, and only at the one chain that saved me money; they froze my card half-way across. Got a letter from them a little while later (at my new address) stating they tried to call me (at old, no-longer-in-service number) before they froze it - reason: "peculiar activity on the card".

Apparently common-sense isn't so common.
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Old 31-01-2008, 17:35   #11
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You need to ask the issuing bank, as well as the card company, to find out what terms your cards are carrying. For example, American Express offers over 50 "products", there is no one American Express card. Some are charge charges (payable in full with no interest or grace, which was the original card) others are credit cards. The "full" Amex cards also give you the use of their overseas offices and other perqs intended for travelers outside the US--but you'll have to call thenm to see what cards are bundled how.

Amex, last time I checked, posted your currency conversions at the close of each business day, while most MC/Visa accounts posted it at the end of the month--when rates could be very different. The only way to find out, is to ask. Last year there were also apparently a number of class action suits against MC/Visa because of the way they tacked on conversion fees on the last decade.

One extra gotcha, for all the cards? If you use them in an ATM MACHINE, some US banks use 4-digit pin codes, others use 6. Overseas...if you've got the wrong length code, you've got nothing, so make sure yours will work.
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Old 04-02-2008, 15:09   #12
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It has been my experience that Visa is the most commonly accepted card. However, it is worth carring an AmEx card (or, failing that, even a solitary AmEx travellers check) because AmEx offices around the world will act as a Poste Restante office. This might not sound like a big deal, but in some countries / cities official post office poste restante facilities are totally unsecure (i.e. anyone can walk in and browse through the mail, unsupervised).
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Old 04-02-2008, 16:12   #13
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The above are all good replies and I can not add much, but will do it anyway..

Being a traveling man I have been to over 100 countries since I left the house and the home country as a 17 year old deck hand on big ships back in 1974.
Visa is the best/most popular card.
Get a Visa card without an International exchange rate penalty.
(Citibank is baaaad..They charged me $40.00 the other day for some stuff I did across the Atlantic in December. Customer Service credited me $50.00 the next day to keep us as customers after I complained..I took the 50 but dumping them regardless..)
Am-Ex and Diners Club are fancy cards and can get ya into an airline "lounge" at some big airports and help out with other stuff. (Theater tickets in London anyone?)
A boat guy, or a cruiser however should look for the chepest VISA card with the least amount of penalties for foreign exchange and such.

My generic Visa card charges me no annual fee and gives a 90 day warranty on goods bought with the card, plus rental car insurance.
Am-Ex however may get ya a no-cost extended warranty on high dollar items, perhaps a year or two. That may be worth big bucks if ya are outfitting yer boat or buying a big-screen TV for the house.

As others on this thread I would recommend Capitol One.
They were fairly painless and had low fees.
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Old 04-02-2008, 18:20   #14
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I have to make a comment on encouraging folks to exchange money on the black market other than the obvious. NOT a good idea (both doing and encouraging) since in more than one country you can find yourself sitting in a very nasty jail cell in a third world country for a very long time.
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Old 04-02-2008, 21:58   #15
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Caveat Emptor. Amex card holders DO NOT automatically get the use of the Amex offices. Only holders of "full" Amex cards get to use them. The "junior" cards that are affiliated with special offers, or carry no annual fee, usually DO NOT have these features. The Amex charge card holders usually can use them, but the credit card users are more likely to be "junior" card holders. Amex ain't what they used to be.
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