Card or cash? When traveling abroad, you often need both

Card or no card? That is the question you may ask yourself frequently when traveling to some of the world’s hottest tourist destinations.

While carrying just a credit card protects you from theft – there’s no risk of having your cash stolen and your card issuer won’t make you pay for fraudulent purchases – you may find yourself unable to pay for food in a foreign country at cash-only restaurants and coffee shops.

Take Berlin, for example. The German city of art, architecture and history is also very unpredictable when it comes to payment options.

In the morning, you may be drinking a green juice in a hip, card-only restaurant. Your lunch stop may be the opposite – no cards accepted.

Then, just when you’re getting in the credit cards-or-cash groove, you head to a tourist shop where you can use your card for merchandise. But if you’re thirsting for a tasty European coffee on offer in the same store? Sorry, cash only. 

As you’re choosing which credit card to bring on your travels, make sure you have more than just an American Express. Many restaurants and shops won’t accept it.

And having to run to the ATM to get cash can cost you. Many of the most popular banks charge you $5 or so for using a nonaffiliated ATM, and they’ll tack on an extra foreign transaction fee, which can be 3 percent of the amount you’re taking out.

For a $500 withdrawal, you’re spending an extra $20 – enough to make that coffee taste bitter.

So, to answer the question of card or no card? Our best advice: Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee for everything you can. You can find a list of no-transaction fee credit cards on CreditCards.com.

And, if possible, ahead of your trip, open a checking account that reimburses you for ATM fees. Why give your money to a bank when you could be treating yourself to a sweet treat while on the road?

See related: Video: How your points can pay for experiences, What is a foreign transaction fee?, Getting the best exchange rate abroad


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Updated: 10-19-2018