Paying by Credit Card Abroad – What Do I Need To Be Aware Of?

Is it safe to take your credit card on holiday? Read everything you need to know to make international transactions safely and securely.

Aug 16, 2022 - 3 min.

New York, Rio, Tokyo – not just part of a great sing-a-long tune but popular travel destinations for many people. But Europe-based travellers may run into trouble in these far-flung locales as soon as we reach for our wallets. Not because of a lack of funds in our travel budget but because we have to exchange money. And if you don't have enough cash on you, you suddenly find yourself standing in Times Square in Manhattan and trying to work out down to the last penny what percentage will be added as a surcharge by withdrawing from an ATM. Credit cards are popular choices around the world to avoid situations like this, and they give us a sense of freedom and security in a foreign land. Read on to find out why a credit card can often be just as much a curse as a blessing – and how you can avoid unpleasant surprises on your holiday. 

The big question: do I take my credit card on holiday with me?

Simply put, the answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’. Our credit cards provide security in all eventualities. Even what we’ve planned out as a dream holiday can have its risks. Here’s an example: you’re about to set off on your big trip to the USA with your family. You’ve been saving for months and prepared everything meticulously. The holiday is going well, everyone is enjoying themselves. There’s just one cause for concern: when you try to close the suitcase, it makes funny noises. Suddenly, there’s a loud crack, and the suitcase’s hinge is broken. You now need to act quickly, as your return flight leaves in 12 hours, but you’ve run out of cash! Not a problem: a credit card can come to the rescue as they’re accepted everywhere. All sorted, right? 

What are the risks of travelling with a credit card?

Paying with your credit card is quick and easy. Just like your current account card, credit cards also use a PIN to pay, and some cards now even use the latest technology for contactless transactions. This technology, known as NFC (near field communication), allows you to make payments without a PIN or signature. To pay by NFC, you hold your debit or credit card in front of the reader device. The payment data is then sent by radio wave, provided that the card is held no further away than five centimetres. Most cards also have a limit for this payment method.

Contrary to what one might think, the risk of fraud with this method is low. Of course, in theory, it is possible to manipulate cards based on the NFC system. It could be done with hacked readers in shops or bogus transactions through nearby devices. Not only do the statistics indicate that these types of offences rarely occur, but plain common sense shows that they would not be worth the time and effort. Criminals would have to manipulate expensive devices to get data. It would also be necessary for a scammer to get very close to your wallet. They would have to know that you have an NFC card and where you’re keeping it. For a maximum amount of 100£, the effort involved would be far too high.

5 security precautions for NFC cards: 

  • NFC payments are only possible within a maximum distance of a few centimetres
  • Each transaction is activated individually (makes multiple payments impossible)
  • The number of possible NFC transactions is limited
  • The transaction is terminated if more than two simultaneous radio signals are detected
  • Payment terminals are approved on an individual basis

Playing it safe – basic things to watch out for when making card payments on holiday

As a basic rule, you should always keep your credit card on you and not, for example, in your hotel room. You should always keep the PIN and the card separate from each other; otherwise, you leave yourself vulnerable to people who will jump at the chance to steal your wallet. In case of theft, you should always keep a separate copy of the number you need to call to block your card in an emergency outside of your wallet. A good tip for all payment methods is setting up transaction notifications. Unfortunately, many banks charge for this service. But if it’s free, you should use it. It means you’ll receive a text or email detailing the exact amount, retailer and time for every transaction. This will allow you to detect any fraudulent payments immediately. As a last line of defence, there are special protective sleeves for NFC-capable cards, which block all radio signals and mean any nearby fraudsters have no chance.


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