UPDATE: Using a Credit Card or Cash Overseas

I have done a couple trips to Europe since this post: Should I Use My Credit Card Overseas? and a lot has changed since then. My Barclaycard Silver Aviator credit card no longer charges a 3% foreign transaction fee and neither does my new upgraded Citibank AAdvantage Executive card. Since my exclusive use of these cards for AAdvantage miles has allowed me to fly for free on these trips, it makes sense to use these when traveling abroad. They are also now chip-enabled, also referred to as Chip and Signature. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is not the same as the European standard of Chip and Pin, even though I was required to create a pin for these cards. This means that when you eat at a restaurant, they still bring the credit card terminal to your table and they insert your card into the chip reader and process the card. Simple enough since you won't get any looks for trying to use a magnetic stripe only card, which are pretty much obsolete anyway now. However, you will see a look of surprise when the receipt prints out and requires a signature. 9 times out of 10 your server won't have a pen, so they have to run away and find one. With Chip and Pin cards, they simply print out a receipt and you are on your way. Since service is included, there is nothing to fill out or sign on a receipt. My advice: have a pen on you so that when the receipt prints, you are ready to sign away and not inconvenience your server. I'll be sure to do this on my next trip coming up!

I've mentioned my previous joy with using the Travelex Multi-currency Cash Passport™ Prepaid MasterCard®. This is a true Chip and Pin card. I loved the convenience of using this card and it was quick and easy to transfer money. But I did the math and the exchange rate is very unfavorable, much worse than what you would get with the foreign exchange rates set by Mastercard to convert from a transaction's currency to your card's currency for cross-border purchases and ATM transactions and you don't get any kind of rewards or cash back. I was concerned about using my Barclaycard Mastercard at kiosks such as at train stations for purchasing train tickets or metro tickets that only accept chip cards with a pin number. This actually works and the only time when the Chip and Pin functionality of this card kicks in, when there isn't a physical person to conduct the transaction.

I don't like to carry cash at all, much less abroad, but there are times when you can't use a credit card for a purchase, like at a small kiosk in a market for souvenirs. For that reason, I usually only carry a small amount, around 100 Euros. However, on my last trip I ate at a restaurant in Lyon, France that told me at the end of our meal that they didn't accept credit cards. That ate up all my euros in one go, so be sure to ask every establishment you want to use your credit card that doesn't already have any credit card logos on their window or display. Then, in Paris, I was at a restaurant where their internet went down and they had to figure out how to connect their credit card machine via a telephone line to process transactions. This incurred quite a wait but the manager was very nice and didn't expect me to come up with cash instead, as I didn't have any left anyway. For my next trip, I had to find a way to get more euros. Exchanging money ahead of time at a Travelex location within a US airport or any exchange place upon arrival in Europe will probably get you the absolute worst rate. Therefore, I researched ordering euros from a bank and having it delivered or picked up at a branch. I checked with the majors: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citibank. While the exchange rate is still worse than the official exchange rate and the additional fees varied among all three, the additional fee with Bank of America was the lowest to have my cash delivered to my home:



Wells Fargo


Of course, because of the rate and fees involved, this isn't something I would recommend doing several times. On a recent trip to Italy, I was able to use an ATM that was part of the global alliance with Bank of America. You get a pretty good rate, as it's tied to the official exchange rate, but you still get charged a 3% foreign transaction fee, which still makes a credit card the best option. Since my next foreign trip is on a European river cruise starting in Switzerland, I wanted to have my euros before my trip (for tips to tour guides and bus drivers) instead of having to find an ATM in one of the port cities in France. Otherwise, withdrawing money from an ATM that has a partnership with your bank or credit union is probably the best option for cash. Paris has a BNP on practically every corner.

Final note: You can't apply for a new card in the Aviator series or any other card branded for AAdvantage miles with Barclaycard as these were previously US Airways miles co-branded cards that were converted, but they do offer this travel rewards card: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. Instead, I recommend the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. It's the only card that provides American Airlines Admirals Club® membership. I'm located in Phoenix, which is a major AA hub so I fly them almost exclusively, but there are certainly other co-branded credit cards with no foreign transactions fees tied to other airlines.

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