As valuable as credit cards are at home, they can be even more useful when visiting remote, developing parts of the world. Nevertheless, credit cards are used differently in some countries than they are in the United States. Here are some tips to keep in mind when leaving developed countries for more exotic journeys.
Just as travelers would do when traveling to any country, cardholders should always contact their card issuer when they are visiting a foreign country. Be sure to notify the bank of all possible destinations on your itinerary, even if they are merely the site of a connecting flight. This will prevent hassles that often come when credit card companies believe a card is being used fraudulently.Next, investigate the use of credit cards at your destination. While merchants at some seemingly remote countries commonly accept credit cards, other countries lack much of the infrastructure to do so. For example, on a recent trip to Kenya, I discovered that credit cards were widely accepted at remote safari camps, while in neighboring Uganda, cash was necessary for transactions at most accommodations outside of the capital city.
When carrying credit cards, be especially sensitive to the network each card belongs to. Even when credit cards are accepted, it is likely that Visa or MasterCard is accepted, while American Express is not. With the notable exception of China, the Discover is not commonly accepted outside of the United States. Therefore, it is best to carry several different cards that are members of different networks, in order to assure that travelers have at least one card that will be accepted. You should also carry a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Most cards charge 3% on charges made outside the U.S., though all Capital One credit cards waive these fees.
Beyond credit cards, ATM cards are commonly used to access cash throughout the developing world. ATM machines are common in small and medium cities, but carrying cash will always be necessary in remote areas and as a backup against the possibility that the town’s only ATM may be out of service.
Any time cash is accessed or used, travelers should extreme precautions. Cover up the ATM’s key pad when entering a PIN, and use a money belt or another secure method of carrying cash.
Visiting developing countries can be a fun, safe, and exciting experience. By carefully researching the methods of payment available to visitors, travelers can ensure safe and convenient access to their funds when they are needed the most.