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Insta-Q&A: Taking Credit for Italy

Scott Vogel

It's Insta-Q&A time again, where you can pose questions to the Travel section and also help out fellow travelers with your own answers to their queries. Today's question comes from a reader who's wondering about credit card use during an upcoming Italian vacation.If you have some advice for Tom from Springfield, by all means post a comment. And if you have a question yourself, e-mail us at travelqa@washpost.com.

He writes: "My family and I are planning a trip to Italy later this year. We all have Visa cards. If we use them, are there any additional charges we can expect to incur?"

Oh, you'll use them all right. In fact, there's some sort of mathematical law to that effect (1 trip to Italy + 1 family from Springfield armed with multiple Visas = the poor house). And should you survive, expect to see extra fees on your credit card bills upon your return. So before you leave, and particularly if you have cards from multiple banks, call each institution and verify the fees they charge for international transactions.
This is usually around 3 percent of the total purchase, with 1 percent going to the credit card company and another 2 percent to the issuing institution, but there are some credit card companies that don't add on surcharges and at least one that doesn't pass its Visa or MasterCard charges onto cardholders. You can see a chart comparing the policies of several major card issuers -- accurate as of December 2007 -- at BankRate, an independent financial information Web site.

Anyone have any more wisdom regarding credit card usage abroad? Anyone have any horror stories?

By Scott Vogel |  March 12, 2008; 7:10 AM ET  | Category:  Europe , Insta-Q&A , Scott Vogel
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We always use our Capital One card when traveling because they don't charge a foreign transaction fee.

Posted by: mdr | March 12, 2008 8:14 AM

I use a credit union VISA, and they don't charge fees. When I was in Italy a few years ago, I was suprised at the number of places that DIDN'T take credit cards. Don't forget to bring your ATM card.

Posted by: Fairfax | March 12, 2008 8:20 AM

Came here to post the Capital One thing, was beaten to the punch. It's not a great company, but the no fee for foreign transactions is nice.

Posted by: Liz | March 12, 2008 9:24 AM

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but does no one use traveler's checks anymore?

AmEx has "Foreign Currency" versions for the Euro, so the Springfield family could have the correct Italian currency available when you arrive. Maybe not for large purchases, but it helps with the day-to-day petty cash.

Then there's always a prepaid Travelex card, which will be available soon. You can buy the card and load it on a day of relatively good exchange rates, so they money you have is at a fixed exchange rate, not the day's exchange rate.
http://www.paymentsnews.com/2008/02/travelex-cash-p.html

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 12, 2008 12:48 PM

Ditto for me on the Capital One card. I used it on my trip to Italy in 2006. All I did first was to call the company to let them know that I was planning to use it, just to make sure they didn't flag my card for fraudulent purchases.

Posted by: M Street | March 12, 2008 3:29 PM

Let me pile on with Cap One experience from '06, went well, no fees. And yes bring your ATM card, the higher fee to use it will be well worth it compared to hastle of using travelers checks. Get some Euros at the airport for pocket cash, use the credit card for bigger stuff, and ATM for misc cash while there.

Posted by: guy | March 12, 2008 4:05 PM

Definitely call your bank first to let them know you'll be out of the country. I did this before going to Morocco in December, and the bank told me that if I hadn't called them and they'd noticed charges coming in from another country, they might have locked up my card completely, and I wouldn't have been able to use it. Luckily everything turned out fine (they didn't charge me any fees). If your checking account is with a larger bank (ie, Bank of America), they can also let you know which "partner" banks' ATMs you can use in other countries without incurring additional fees.

Posted by: boston liz | March 12, 2008 5:14 PM

Do your money exchange before arriving at your departure (airport), coins will not be exchanged, only paper. NO EUROS (COINS)

Posted by: MBF | March 12, 2008 9:02 PM

BE sure to bring more than one credit card.I've been to Italy a dozen times, and sometimes one card won't be accepted at a particular restaurant but another will. The opposite also happens, the one that was accepted is declined, and the declined one is accepted. I can't detect any reason for this, but it's happened several times so I always carry 2 cards with me. And definitely notify the credit card issuer.

Posted by: Jeanne Roosa | March 13, 2008 4:27 PM

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