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When you've already spent hundreds, if not thousands, on airfare and accommodations, knowing how to pay when traveling abroad is critical so that you're not surprised by foreign fees.

Here are a few ways to cover your vacation costs while minimizing any extras that start to add up.

Plan Ahead

Knowing how to pay when traveling begins before you leave. Make sure the sites you use to book your travel arrangements charge you in dollars. Otherwise, use a card that won't charge a foreign transaction fee. If you're a part of a rewards program, see if you can redeem points to pay for any portion of your travel including food and event tickets.

Look into travel benefits that may come with your credit or debit cards such as hotel room upgrades and other perks. Make sure to notify your bank about your travel plans so you don't have to deal with the headache of a frozen card. Just to be safe, you'll want to have the international number for your bank on hand as well — the 1-800 number may not work at your destination.

Pack the Right Debit Card

It's always helpful to have a card that doesn't charge ATM fees and reimburses fees charged by other banks, but that's especially true when traveling abroad. Many countries are more cash-centric than the United States, so you won't always be able to pay with plastic. If your fees are reimbursed, it makes it easier to take money out in increments you're comfortable carrying.

Check if your card charges a currency conversion fee on purchases or ATM withdrawals, too. If it does, consider using a different card.

Book Cars with Credit

Some credit cards offer auto rental coverage and many will cover things likes damages or theft when you use the card to pay for your rental. Regardless of whether or not you can pay with your card, many rental car companies require a credit card for a security deposit. Make sure these charges disappear when you return from your trip.

Use Credit Cards Sparingly

Credit cards are great for purchases like airfare and accommodations. Plus, if your card has a rewards program, you can earn points toward future travel. However, most cards will usually charge a currency conversion fee around three percent of each foreign purchase in U.S. dollars. In a pinch, this fee is generally a lot lower than the currency conversion fee charged by currency exchanges you'll find at the airport.

Some businesses you encounter might require you to have a pin on your credit card. Before leaving home, ask your bank if you can add one.

Weigh Automatic Currency Conversion

When you're making a purchase with a credit or debit card — whether at a restaurant, store, or other business — the merchant may ask you if you want to charge the transaction in dollars or the local currency.

It seems like a great idea — choose dollars so you don't get charged a currency conversion fee. But before you decide, ask if the merchant charges a currency conversion fee. It may be higher than your card's fee and therefore not worth it in the end.

Bring Local Currency

When you first land, especially after a long flight, you may want a snack or a cab to your hotel. Make it easier on your jet-lagged body by having local currency on hand. Instead of scrambling for an ATM that may or may not exist, you can get back to feeling human as soon as possible.

Avoid Exchange Desks

No matter where you travel, you'll likely see signs for currency exchange. While some of these kiosks or storefronts look more reputable than others, it's unlikely any will give you a fair exchange rate. Plus, most have additional transaction and commission fees. The same goes for using airport ATMs tied to a provider like Travelex versus an actual bank. Check the exchange rate on a site like XE so that you can gauge what's fair.

If you're prepared with several ways to pay while traveling, you can minimize fees depending on the situation.


This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

By selecting any external link on, you will leave the KeyBank website and jump to an unaffiliated third party website that may offer a different privacy policy and level of security. The third party is responsible for website content and system availability. KeyBank does not offer, endorse, recommend, or guarantee any product or service available on that entity's website.

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