The 2 Things Your Credit Card Should Have If You're Traveling Abroad

By Laura McMullen

Will you stay in a hostel or a hotel? Learn the language or wing it? Traveling abroad requires you to make many decisions, including which credit card to bring. Thankfully, choosing a card that will work in other countries and draw minimal (or no) fees is simple.

Check if your credit card has the following features. If not, it may be time for a new card.

Two things your credit card should have

No foreign transaction fees

Foreign transaction fees mean that you pay your credit card issuer a percentage of each credit card purchase you make abroad, often about 3%. Pick up a $300 dinner tab for you and your friends in Berlin, for example, and you can expect to pay a foreign transaction fee of $9.

Avoid these fees by applying for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. While most of these cards charge an annual fee, they typically offer perks, too, such as rewards, travel insurance and airline and hotel benefits.

EMV chip

Confirm that your card has a square chip that takes a dip, rather than swipe, at a payment terminal. EMV chips are more secure than traditional magstripes and are more likely to protect you from identity theft while traveling.

You may be required to dip an EMV card while abroad, particularly in Europe, which has been using this technology for 20 years.

"Many shopkeepers will view your magstripe as being just as archaic as the odd taxi driver who copies your credit card information by scratching a carbon copy of the numbers on the card," says NerdWallet credit cards expert Sean McQuay.

In Western Europe, 97% of card-present transactions from July 2014 to June 2015 were completed with EMV-enabled cards and terminals, according to EMVCo, an international organization that manages EMV specifications. The same was true for 87% of transactions in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. In Africa and the Middle East, EMV technology accounted for 84% of transactions.

The U.S. is following the lead of these countries. In October 2015, issuers were given a big incentive to distribute credit cards with EMV chips, so it's likely your card already has one. If it doesn't, call your issuer and request an updated, EMV-enabled card.

Other card tips for smooth sailing

Bring a backup credit card or two. Now that you know which kind of credit card to bring, pack a spare in case the first is lost or stolen. "Don't put yourself in a scenario where you might be without a card while your issuer sends a replacement via international mail," McQuay says.

Verify that your cards will be accepted in the country you're visiting. Don't know if you'll be able to charge those Louvre tickets to your card? Ask your issuer before leaving. Visa and Mastercard are the safest bets as the most widely accepted credit card networks in the world. Discover and American Express are accepted by fewer merchants.

Pack your debit card, too. It's a must for withdrawing cash from ATMs while abroad since using a credit card to do so means you'll be hit with high cash-advance fees and interest. You'll probably pay for using your debit card, too, but those fees will be much lower.

Typically, using an international ATM draws a combination of two charges: a flat fee of $2 to $5 and a foreign transaction fee of 1% to 3% of the amount. Withdraw the equivalent of $100, for example, and you may pay the flat fee of $3 plus 2% of the $100, or $2. Some banks and credit unions have no foreign transaction fees for debit card use and charge only the flat fee for ATM withdrawals. Ordering foreign currency through your bank or credit union before your visit is another option for accessing cash.

Alert your bank to your upcoming travel. Your bank may question the sudden transactions at Berlin restaurants and Paris museums. If the bank suspects that these charges are fraudulent, it may deactivate your card until you confirm purchases. Call your bank before leaving and let them know when and in which countries you'll be using your credit and debit cards.

Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: lmcmullen@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.