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The best card for a long stay in Vietnam?

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Cashing In,
My 24-year-old daughter is going to Vietnam for three months. Do you think it would be wise for her to get a travel credit card? I'm not sure how they work, but I read that they are helpful when traveling abroad. She will be in Ho Chi Minh City. Thanks. -- Barb

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Barb,
What an amazing opportunity for your daughter! I spent a few memorable weeks in Vietnam and can't think of a more eye-opening destination for a 24-year-old.

As for credit cards that offer travel-specific reward points and work well overseas, my first tip would be to find one that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, which can tack 3 percent to every charge she makes overseas. That could add up in three months. 

A growing number of cards are appealing to international travelers by dropping such fees. Capital One MasterCard and Visa cards fall into that group. So do Discover cards, but they're not as widely accepted. In a country such as Vietnam, I would stick to Visa or MasterCard (American Express charges a 2.7 percent foreign transaction fee on all but a couple premium cards.)

For such a long stay, she should also look into debit cards that minimize fees charged for getting cash out of overseas ATMs.  The Capital One 360 debit card waives foreign transaction fees on ATM withdrawals. Other cards will reimburse fees if you meet certain criteria.

A chip credit card is useful (and more secure) for trips to countries that employ chip-and- PIN or chip-and-signature payment systems (known as EMV because it's the global standard adopted by EuroPay, MasterCard and Visa). That includes much of Asia, but your daughter should be fine using a magnetic stripe card in Vietnam. 

Guy Berg, senior analyst at MasterCard, reports that EMV cards are being deployed in Vietnam, but it will be a while before the system is fully migrated. "In the central markets, cash is still king or you have to walk over to a terminal centrally-located in the market," he says. "A standard credit or debit card with mag stripe should suffice for now."

Your daughter will be temptingly close to Cambodia and Thailand, but as long as she stays in that part of Southeast Asia, she'll be OK with a conventional credit card. "In general, Asia Pacific does not have the denial of service problem that we see in Europe," Berg says. "They don't have the offline kiosks that create the problems [for American travelers]." 

If your daughter is planning weekend sojourns to Japan, Singapore or other parts of Asia where chip technology rules, she might want to consider a chip travel reward card (with no foreign transaction fees). You can find a list here of EMV cards available in the U.S.

If she has excellent credit, she might qualify for the Chase Sapphire card, which charges no foreign transaction fees and earns 2 points per $1 spent on hotels, restaurants and transportation -- the kind of charges she'll probably be making. Sapphire requires excellent credit, however, and your daughter may not have that at 24. For a $59 annual fee (waived the first year), Capital One Venture card will get her Visa Signature benefits such as lost-luggage reimbursement insurance. It charges no foreign transaction fees. You also earn 2 miles per $1 spent, redeemable for any travel expense, including airfare on any airline (no blackout dates). 

She might also consider a prepaid travel card. Travelex cards used to be a great option because you could reload them via the web, but Travelex no longer honors cards purchased in the U.S. MasterCard Prepaid Travel cards are similar. Once registered, if the card is lost or stolen, the user is protected from unauthorized purchases. You can check the balance via web or phone and reload it using a credit or debit card. If your daughter doesn't have a debit card, however, a MasterCard Prepaid Travel card may be difficult to reload in Asia unless she can set up direct deposit with paychecks. Regardless, it beats carrying cash.

See related: New card options let travelers avoid foreign transaction fees, 9 tips for traveling with credit cards, Beware: Risk of data breaches rises when you travel

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Published: August 6, 2013


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