Can I use my Canadian credit card in another country?

Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted in most countries. Many countries are also seeing a growing acceptance of American Express cards. As many credit cards come with travel protection, it's good to charge significant expenses like flights and hotels to reap the benefits should something happen abroad, such as a delayed flight, lost luggage or medical emergency.

The best option to confirm if your Canadian credit card can be used in another country is to do a little prep work before you leave. Before departing on your adventure, notify your credit card issuer of your upcoming travels and to which countries you’ll be visiting. Not only with you get confirmation that the card will work overseas but this notification will reduce the risk of your credit card company flagging your account for fraud or suspicious activities. Some banks allow you to notify them through their mobile app or website.

How to maximize the perks on your Canadian credit card when travelling to another country

To maximize the perks of a card, consider where you will spend the bulk of your money when planning and scheduling the trip and the card requirements you will need once you are travelling. For instance, many frequent travellers swear by American Express credit cards when booking travel. While these cards are not as widely accepted for in-store purchases, they are great when planning and paying for travel-related purchase, such as flights, hotels and car rentals. The American Express card that consistently tops traveller's lists is the Amex Cobalt. While there is an annual fee of $156, most cardholders end up breaking even by accumulating up to 15,000 points in a year (1,250 per month for spending $750 per month). The real draw, however, is the 5x the points earning on groceries and food delivery (there is a spend cap) and 3x the points on eligible streaming purchases. There's a host of other perks and rewards but the biggest draw is the 1:1 transfer of points from Amex to several frequent flyer or other loyalty programs. Sounds appealing? Apply for the Amex Cobalt, today.

If you're not interested in holding an American Express credit card, other great options include:

  • BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard: While the annual fee is $150, cardholders earn 1 to 5 points on every dollar spent with this card — with 5x the points on eligible travel purchases. This card also comes with complimentary membership to Mastercard Travel Pass by DragonPass and four complimentary annual passes (great for families that travel together) as well as a suite of travel and medical insurance coverage that can be applied to unlimited trips per year. The best part is that you can fly on any airline, at at time, with no blackout dates to juggle. Right now, new cardholders can earn 100,000 bonus points ($667 value). Apply for the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard, today.
  • TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege: If you primarily fly with Air Canada (or Star Alliance airlines), this card may be right for you. Not only do you get robust travel insurance coverage, but your those who frequent the US will like the rebate on NEXUS application fees (that applies to the primary cardholder as well as additional cardholders). The annual fee is $139, but new cardholders can earn up to 50,000 Aeroplan points in their first year. Apply for the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege, today.

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Can I tap my credit card while travelling abroad?

Not all credit card terminals allow tap or contactless, and some won’t accept chip and personal identification numbers (PIN). For instance, some countries require a six-digit pin, while others still require you to sign a slip. To reduce the chance of having your card rejected, be sure to confirm your pin before you depart. Also, call your credit card provider and as if additional numbers need to be added to the pin when using the card overseas. In many cases, add two zeros before your regular PIN is enough to enable you to use the card.

If you are travelling in countries like the US, you may be asked to input your ZIP code when making a credit card purhcase. The best practice is to enter the numeric three digits of your postal code plus two zeros, and the payment should go through. For example, for the postal code M1A 2B3, you will enter '12300' as your ZIP code.

Is there a fee for using a credit card in another country?

Many credit cards in Canada charge a foreign exchange fee on every transaction, on top of the currency exchange rate back to Canadian dollars. These fees are typically 2.5% of the purchase amount.

Some credit cards, like the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card, will waive the fee, so if you travel often, look into a card that doesn't charge foreign exchange fees on transactions. Apply for the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card, today.

Using a credit card over a debit card offers more protection, especially when travelling internationally. For example, someone could skim your debit card PIN if you insert your card into a fraudulent terminal. Other times, you may need an ATM for your cash debit withdrawals. Make sure you look for a reputable ATM, especially one offered by a central bank.

Benefits of using your credit card overseas

Don't miss out on the exciting travel benefits that credit cards offer. From rental insurance to access to premium concierge lines, hotel/airline benefits, and medical or travel interruption assistance, these perks can enhance your travel experience. Remember, these benefits come at a premium, making it even more important to have a credit card with you.

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What credit card is best for travel?

Ultimately, you will want to find a credit card that offers a benefit for use overseas, like one that does not charge a foreign exchange fee. These include the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite, Scotiabank Gold American Express and Home Trust Preferred Visa. Other cards will offer cashback on foreign currency purchases that help to offset the foreign exchange fee. For instance, the Rogers Red World Elite Mastercard offer 3% cash back on US dollar foreign charges.

You also want to be mindful of dynamic currency rates set by networks like Visa, Mastercard and American Express. These are typically shown on a payment terminal at checkout, and users are asked to select which currency they want to charge the payment to – the local currency or the Canadian dollar. It is typically best practice to choose the local currency.

What can I use instead of a credit card for travel?

If all else fails, make sure you have access to backup payment methods, including debit and cash. While credit cards are widely accepted in North America, there are countries where cash remains highly preferred or the only acceptable payment method.

It’s essential to research before travelling, notify your credit card company, be vigilant while spending, and frequently review your credit card transactions on your bank’s mobile app.

Finally, the Government of Canada has an extensive resource offering travellers important information before heading abroad.

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Winston Sih Journalism lecturer | Contributor

Winston Sih is a freelance multi-platform journalist and television host specializing in technology, digital media, travel, and personal finance. Sih works with a variety of clients as a media consultant, is a journalism lecturer at The Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University, and media professor at Seneca Polytechnic.

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