I am part of loads of travel forums and I can’t even recall how many times I’ve seen someone posting on these forums – stressed out, distraught and upset that they can’t withdraw cash. They are down to their last $50 and don’t know what to do. Their 1 debit card isn’t working in the local ATM or what not. Don’t be that person.
In this blog, we talk about how you can avoid this traveller nightmare, whether you should bring a debit or a credit card travelling with you and how many different cards you should bring. Avoid ending up sh*t creek without a paddle!
Ultimate Travel Money Guide
We’ve compiled a whole load of comprehensive blogs focusing on travel money. What are the best travel debit and credit cards? How do I avoid money changer scams? What are these international bank fees I keep getting on my card whilst travelling? Our in house (or hostel as we are travelling) money guy James is here to offer tips and guidance on managing your money whilst travelling.
Credit Card Or Debit Card: Which Should I Take Travelling?
If you are anything like my partner Lara (who runs this site), she’s totally allergic to credit cards. She’s never really used one.
However, when it comes to travelling, even if you are allergic to credit cards, you should consider taking both a credit card and a debit card with you.
You may even want to consider ensuring one is a Visa and one is a Mastercard as sometimes one is accepted and the other is not. Although this doesn’t happen too often anymore.
Debit Cards For Travelling
Debit cards are best for cash withdrawals and can also be used to make purchases most of the time. They will usually offer slightly lower foreign exchange fees compared to credit cards.
As I am sure everyone has already told you, using a credit card for taking cash out is usually not the best idea and will cost you a lot!
Why Do I Need A Credit Card Then?
If you shouldn’t take cash out on a credit card and debit cards offer slightly lower foreign exchange fees, what on earth is the point of a credit card when travelling? Well, they certainly come in handy for a number of reasons:
1. Foreign Debit Cards: Not Accepted
Sometimes hotels, car rental agencies and airlines only accept credit cards as opposed to foreign debit cards when making reservations. This is usually to do with the guarantee that the credit card provides the merchant.
2. More Security
There is an additional level of security when using your credit card to pay for goods and services over £100.
Boring but important information alert!
Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if the merchant does not provide what you have paid for or there is fraudulent activity on your account, then the credit company can refund you these losses when they are over £100 and under £30,000.
It is worth reading the terms and conditions of your credit cards to see how this works in practice as there are some conditions, such as if you are purchasing multiple tickets these are technically separate transactions and would EACH need to cost over £100.
If you only pay the deposit on your credit card, you may still be covered for the full amount.
If your purchase is not covered, it may be covered under Chargeback rules, set by Visa, Mastercard and Amex. It is similar to the Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act but not a legal requirement.
3. Up Sh*t Creek
Credit cards give you the ability to pay for stuff if you have run out of money in your current account or will not be receiving more money for a month or two.
Yes, a debit card overdraft does the same thing. But a credit card won’t charge you interest for up to 60 days, unlike an debit card overdraft, which will accrue interest straight away.
You still gotta pay the full amount back of course, and you could end up paying significant interest costs if you don’t pay it off in full by the payment date. So make sure you do that!
4. Snazzy Features
Credit card accounts tend to come with more snazzy features than debit card current accounts as well, such as insurance, emergency money abroad and more. Each credit card is different, so you need to assess each one against your own needs.
Best Of Both Worlds: Credit Card AND Debit Card
In my view, it’s usually best to use a debit card for withdrawing cash and every day use under £100. Then use your credit card for purchases over £100.
Avoid A Traveller Nightmare: Why You Should Bring More Than 1 Debit And 1 Credit Card Travelling
It’s a really bad idea to just bring 1 card travelling with you.
I would recommend taking more than 1 debit card and more than 1 credit card.
So 4 cards altogether.
I know, this seems like way more than the 1 debit card, and potentially 1 credit card you use at home. And you’ll probably end up only using 1 debit card and 1 credit card whilst away.
But backups are needed in emergency situations such as…
1. When The Sh*t Hits The Fan
That’s when you need a backup credit card and debit card.
You are having an amazing time away. You’ve met new friends, gone snorkeling, gone skinny dipping and what not. You go to withdraw cash and literally no ATM will accept your debit card. And you didn’t bring any other cards.
Your card could be lost or stolen. Or eaten by an ATM. My partner Lara recently had her card eaten by the ATM at Colombo Airport in Sri Lanka. This was Lara’s main card for withdrawing cash. If she didn’t have backup cards she would either have to rely on a credit card for the rest of the trip or pay extortionate costs to have a new one shipped over from the UK, if the bank would even allow that. That would suck.
I’ve had banks block my cards when using them abroad despite me informing them multiple times as to where and when I will be going.
When it comes to bank cards and travelling, so many things can go wrong. With a back up debit and credit card, this doesn’t have to turn into a total emergency where you can’t get cash out. Don’t take the risk, bring back up cards!
2. Hey, That’s Not What I Signed Up For!
Terms and conditions are boring, but so blooming important.
All good things tend to come to an end and your main bank card could change it’s terms and conditions.
You may have a brilliant card that you can use for every occasion and not pay any international fees whatsoever. And then the bank changes the terms and conditions and it is now just as expensive as all the other crap banks out there.
This happened to me and cost me about £600 (almost $800) in fees over 6 months. So it’s good to carry at least one backup in case the terms on your favourite card are changed mid-travels.
3. Play Your Cards Right
You can become super travel money savvy, and really work out which card is best for which situation. Different cards offer different features that will be more useful than other cards at certain times.
However, the main reason for having more than 1 debit card and credit card though is for when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan.
Useful Hint: Expiry Dates
Make sure you check your cards’ expiry dates before leaving. If your cards are due to expire before you return from your travels, then get new ones issued before leaving.
Best Travel Credit And Debit Cards
Get a travel debit and credit card that doesn’t charge you ridiculous international fees. You can waste so much money on these fees! We’ve ranked the best travel debit and credit cards currently available in the UK. You can also check our blog on USA travel debit and credit cards.
Explore More In Our Ultimate Travel Money Guide:
Who Am I?
Hello, I’m James. I’ve worked in finance for the last decade – in banking, investments, risk and insurance. I’m also qualified in financial advice and planning. I’ve also spent almost 2 years travelling South East Asia, South Asia, South America and Central America. So I’d like to think I know quite a bit on travelling and finance!
This post is up to date as of July 2019 and will be updated periodically. Always check with the companies mentioned below and keep an eye out for new ones I haven’t mentioned. I’ve mostly focused on the UK context. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any tips from your country you would like me to include.
This is what I’ve found to be suitable for our needs. Yours may differ and so the Ultimate Travel Money Blogs can only be taken as a guide rather than constitute personalised financial advice. Please get in touch if you have any specific questions and I will do my best to answer them.
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