Your credit card may be the safest and most efficient way of using currency when traveling abroad.  Pick a universal card that will work in most countries, like Visa or MasterCard.  Make sure you understand any extra fees that the credit card company might charge if you use your credit card in a foreign country.  If you have more than one card, you can save money by choosing the card with the best rates for withdrawals and transactions.  

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Before You Go Abroad:


Before you depart, notify your card issuer about your travel plans.  If you don’t tell them in advance, they might suspect fraud and suspend your account if they see unusual credit card activity from a foreign location.  Make sure to check expiration dates and credit limits before you go.  Also, keep all the receipts from your trip so you can track how much you spend.  

If You Have Problems With Your Credit Card While Traveling:


In case you have any problems using your credit card while traveling, find out in advance how to contact your card issuer from the country you will be visiting.  Write down the credit card company’s phone number for international calls and keep it in a separate from your credit card. (Don't keep both in your wallet, in other words.) Keeping the phone number in a safe place is important if you were to lose your credit card or were to become a victim of theft, because you could still be able to contact the credit card company and report the issue or cancel your card.

In rare cases, your credit card may not work because of incompatible technology.  Many countries use Chip and PIN, or EMV-enabled credit card technology that the U.S. does not use.  Some countries use a chip that is more secure than the magnetic strips on U.S. cards.  Most chip and PIN card readers will be able to read U.S. cards, but on the off chance that this happens to you,  It’s best to expect the worst and be ready with multiple methods of payment if needed. Cash and travelers’ checks can be used as a back up, just in case.

Sending Money Overseas:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs offers a service that can send money to U.S. citizens overseas.  There is a fee of $30 to process the money transfer.  The money can be transferred either by Western Union or by mail.  You must include the U.S. citizen’s name and location on the transfer.  These transfers are processable during 8AM-8PM EST.  Western Union is normally the fastest way to send money.  There are three different ways to send money.

If you have a MasterCard or Visa credit card, you can call Western Union’s QuickCollect service at 1-800-634-3422.  They have a limit per credit card within a seven day period.  The code city is “OVERSEASEMERGENCY, DC” and you must pay to “Department of State”.  Make sure to use your telephone number as the account number.  Tell your operator the name and location of the U.S. citizen you a sending money to in the “reference” field. 

If you have a MasterCard or Visa credit card, you can also visit Western Union’s website.  The process is quite straightforward.  Click on “Make Payment” and choose a payment type, choose “Other Billers”.  Your code city should be “OVERSEAS CITIZEN SERVICES”.  The site will prompt you with instructions to register.

You can pay in cash by visiting any Western Union location in person.  Call 1-800-325-6000 to find the nearest location.  At the location, complete a blue payment form.  Make sure to include the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to.  The $30 processing fee will be deducted from the total sent to the citizen abroad.  Western Union also has additional fees.   

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Get started Ask a Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day.