Cash or Credit? 3 Tips to Know Before You Use a Credit Card Abroad

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Did you know that many countries are still cash-based? Don’t assume you can use a credit card abroad. Many establishments you visit may prefer cash or may not take your bank card. While this happens in more local experiences — you should still investigate the local financial landscape before you’re caught in a bind. Follow these 3 tips before you use a credit card abroad for a seamless journey.

Tip 1: Research the Cash vs. Credit dynamic well in advance so you can save your money

Research whether your destination is cash-centric or swiping-friendly. A quick online search can shed light on the predominant payment methods in the country. Start by asking our Diabot (the message icon in the bottom right corner), "Is it best to take cash or a card to [insert city/town, country]?" Try to get as close to your destination as possible since a country's urban and rural settings often follow different practices. Knowing the layout will help you decide how much cash to carry and how often you'll be whipping out your credit card.

Tip 2: Even if They Accept Cards, Check If Your Card Works

Listen up, American Express cardholders. This is for you! After looking into how money is used in your destination, it's time to consider your card. Not all cards are the same, and American Express can be tricky in some places. So, find out if your American Express card will be accepted where you're going. Make sure you have the right card for your trip, whether American Express or a more widely accepted card.

Tip 3: No Card? Master the ATM Hunt

ATMs can be your best buddies when traveling, but only if you know where to find them. Not all accommodations offer in-house ATMs, so research the closest, credible ones to your stay. Pay attention to the ATM’s policies, so you're not slapped with a $5+ fee. Check out your hotel's recommendations, or ask your Airbnb host for trusted tips. Safety first, always!

If you can’t check with your accommodation, familiarize yourself with the big players in the local banking scene. Research the most credible banks in your destination to easily spot their ATMs or branches. This quick trick will save you from standing clueless in front of an ATM, deciphering unfamiliar logos.

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Know the Cash vs. Credit Situation to Travel-Smart

Knowing how to navigate the local money game is a game-changer. With these tips, you won’t be caught off guard since you'll know whether you can rely on plastic or cash. So, before you use a credit card abroad, understand your destination's financial system to avoid a disaster.

Bonus tip: Plan for the Market

Psssst… over here… No trip is complete without exploring bustling markets, but be ready for the cash. Smaller vendors at local markets (where you get the best stuff!!) usually do not accept cards, so keeping small bills handy is helpful. This is particularly useful when haggling—a common practice in many countries. Smaller bills make negotiations smoother and prevent flashing those telltale “tourist” signs with larger bills.

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