Losing your credit card usually isn’t a big deal. If one of your cards is lost, stolen or somehow compromised, your bank will send you a replacement ASAP.
Many card issuers also provide fraud protection so you’re not personally liable for any unauthorized purchases.
In fact, the algorithms used to monitor fraud are so good that your bank might contact you to verify purchases that “seem” out of character. If you use your card primarily for grocery shopping and gas stations, for example, a sudden weekend shopping spree at the neighborhood electronics store might raise red flags.
However, a lot of this changes the moment you go on vacation.
Responsible Credit Card Use When Traveling
The good news is liability coverage still applies, even when you’re on vacation — meaning you won’t have to worry so much about paying for unauthorized purchases.
- As an out-of-towner, you’re an easier target for scams and theft. You need to be extra vigilant — at all times.
- Fraud monitoring is trickier since every purchase you make when traveling will be “out of character.”
- Replacement cards don’t come immediately. This is especially true if your bank sends cards only to the billing address on file.
Getting everything sorted out once you get home is relatively easy, but losing your card while on vacation can ruin the whole experience. This can be particularly worrisome if your hotel, airline or car rental agency requires that you present the credit cards used to book these reservations.
Again, resolving all of these issues is possible. But the best strategy is to keep your card safe at all times.
Many of the more obvious steps include the same safety precautions you’d normally follow at home, such as:
- Shopping only with reputable merchants
- Always keeping your credit card in eyesight
- Safeguarding your PIN or signature
When on vacation, you should consider the following additional safety steps.
1. Let your bank know you’re traveling
If you suddenly make big purchases in a new location, your bank might temporarily freeze your card. Technically, your financial information is still safe and it’s easy to unfreeze with a phone call — but it’s still an inconvenience.
If you’re at a random café in the middle of nowhere, for example, you might not have convenient access to a phone. Until you do, your credit card will be unusable.
Fortunately, the fix is simple — make your bank aware of travel plans so your card doesn’t suddenly get declined when you need it most.
2. Carry multiple credit cards
This strategy won’t necessarily shield you from fraud, but having a backup card means you’ll always have access to cash when you need it. Just make sure you store that extra card in a location separate from the primary card.
3. Write down your banking details
It’s always a good idea to keep a written (or electronic) record of your:
- Credit card number
- Expiration date
- Three-digit CVV code
- Bank’s phone number
If you ever need to investigate fraudulent activity or put a permanent freeze on one of your cards, having these details will make the process much easier. However, be sure to store this information separately from your credit cards.
4. Take your EMV credit card
Older magnetic stripe credit cards are still widely used in the United States. These are the legacy cards that you swipe and sign at the checkout counter.
If you haven’t been issued a chip-enabled EMV card, contact your bank before you go on your trip.
5. Always choose credit over debit
It’s best to keep your debit card for cash withdrawals only, at reputable ATMs. For everything else, use your credit card.
The reason is simple: Credit cards offer liability protection. Most checking and savings accounts do not. If your debit card gets wiped out, that money may be irretrievable.
When you do withdraw cash, avoid using ATMs on the street. Instead, withdraw money from machines inside of banks and hotels. These ATMs are more closely monitored, and thus less likely to be tampered.
6. Check your balance regularly
If you have a secure Wi-Fi connection, it’s a good idea to check your credit card balance regularly. Criminals rely on speed, racking up fraudulent charges as quickly as possible. The sooner you spot unauthorized purchases, the better.
7. Use a money belt
Money belts are akin to flat fanny packs that fit under your clothes. They aren’t stylish and they’re not terribly comfortable, but they’re incredibly effective at preventing theft.
By contrast, keeping your credit card in a wallet makes you an easier target for pickpockets and purse snatchers. Wearing a traditional fanny pack can attract a lot of unwanted attention (from thieves, family members and the fashion police).
More Travel Tips to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe
The tips above can help keep your cards safe, or at least shorten the recovery time if a card gets compromised.