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Best Recognized Credit Card for use in Scandinavia

My husband and I will be taking the “Best of Scandinavia” tour this summer and are looking for the most widely accepted credit card to use in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Last time we went to Europe we relied only on our Debit card. However, we have heard from other travelers that Scandinavia is moving towards a ‘cashless’ society and we should plan on using our credit card for most purchases. (In some cases, cash is not even accepted!)

Our current Visa charges 3% for each Foreign Transaction. Since we will be using the credit card for most of our purchases, we are searching for a new card that offers free Foreign Transactions. However, when you start comparing the other features for each card, the options are a bit overwhelming! Any suggestions in terms of credit card companies? Does “Visa” vs. “Master Card” make a difference? One travel site states that “Visa” is the most widely accepted and the word “Visa” has to show clearly on the card. That requirement would eliminate some of our top contenders.

Thanks!

Debbie

Posted by
9014 posts

Both Mastercard and Visa have equal acceptance across Europe. While some merchants are going cashless, the vast majority are still accepting cash; I wouldn't stress about it. Another strategy is to continue using your current debit card for cash at ATM machines and when you come across the occasional merchant that only accepts plastic, you can also use your debit card for point-of-sale transactions.

Posted by
112 posts

This is a great trip. We were on it in 2014. We used cash and cards. I assume all your cards are now chip cards? If not, best get that resolved to have chip cards along with your PIN numbers along. I cannot speak to comparisons ... fees vs fees etc. But I can comment on what worked very effectively for us. We used a combination of cash, a Wells Fargo debit / Visa credit card and a Capital One Visa credit card. We pulled cash at bank ATMs with the WFB card and used it for back up if the CapOne card was lost, didn't work, etc. Both have no foreign transaction fees and reasonable exchange rates. Are they the best ... don't know, but seemed reasonable and competitive. We never used the debit card for retail transactions or deposits since it taps our bank account, just ATM cash. In my opinion Scandinavia is ahead of the US on these issues. Things worked extremely well. You should have little problem within these sophisticated countries.

Posted by
2933 posts

I used the Venture Capitol One card throughout Sweden. All. The. Time. Swedish Vendors would just as soon you use a card for 50 cents than use actual krona. Mine was a chip and signature card. It was so much easier and faster than cash everywhere. This card has no transaction fee and the exchange rate appeared to be accurate. And you get rewards to pay for more travel!

Posted by
3493 posts

My choice for travel credit cards that seem to offer the best deal (for me) are: Capital One Quicksilver and Bank of America Travel Visa.

Both of the cards have zero annual fees, zero foreign transaction fees, use the interbank exchange rate (best you can get) to convert to your home currency, and pay you some rewards. You can apply for either online and should have the card in about a week. The Capital One is available as Visa or MasterCard.

I have used both extensively in Europe without issue. But, they are CHIP and signature cards (as are most chip cards issued in the US) instead of the CHIP and PIN cards preferred in Europe. Get the cash advance PIN for these cards and you can use them at the various kiosks to purchase things like train tickets. You will NOT be charged as a cash advance for purchases made with the PIN. Just make sure you don't use any credit card to get actual cash out of an ATM because you will be hit with huge fees and interest charges. You should use a debit card to get cash from a bank operated ATM, if you need any in Scandinavia.

Since you are shopping for a better credit card for travel, might as well get one of each of the suggested cards. This way you have backup in case there is an issue where one gets cut off temporarily. Never go with only one credit card. I always carry at least 3 (one each of Visa, MasterCard, and American Express) from completely unrelated accounts and banks as well as 2 debit cards also from unrelated accounts and banks. One of them has always worked when I needed it.

Posted by
2916 posts

Capital One is a popular source for fee-free credit cards. I have one each of their VISA and MC. Andrews FCU Visa card is also fee-free and a chip and PIN card, but the application process can be a little time-consuming. I've never seen any difference between the acceptability of Visa versus MC in Europe.

Posted by
733 posts

I will echo previous comments. I used my Capital One Venture Visa card on the tour last year. It was accepted everywhere. It's a chip and signature card. When I used it, I was given a slip to sign. Maybe someday US technology will catch up to the rest of the world and we can use a PIN.

It's definitely true that many places in Scandinavia would prefer plastic over cash. Totally opposite than what I've noticed elsewhere in Europe.

No transaction fee on my card. Last week in Canada I made the mistake of paying my hotel bill with a different VIsa card and got hit with a whopping 3% fee. Won't make that mistake again.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks everyone! You all had some great comments! We decided that the CapitalOne Venture card seemed to fit all of the requirements and had a good rewards program.

However…I have one last question. :-)

Have you ever used your Travel credit card to pay for your Rick Steves tour balance? If so, what was the classification of the transaction with your credit card company? The reason I ask is that some ‘tour companies’ don’t classify their transactions as “travel related”. If this is the case, then you won’t be able to use the immediate CapitalOne “Purchase Eraser” to use points to help offset the cost within the same billing cycle.

Thanks again!

Debbie

Posted by
5811 posts

My Capital One Venture Visa was accepted with every presentation this past January/February in Denmark and Finland. Scandinavia is highly advanced and credit card transactions are common even for small purchases including bus fares from the airport and train station to next village, taxi fares, swimming pool and of course restaurants and shops.

My Capital One Visa is a Chip & Signature card. The Danes and Finns were use to the signature cards and in the few cases where the chip reader was slow, the operator just did the magnetic strip swipe then signature. It also helps that Scandinavians have a high English speaking fluency.

I used my Capital One Visa for pre-trip internet purchase of Finland train tickets and entry fees without any problem. Also used it for advanced (booked from the US) purchase (discounted) hotel in Copenhagen.

As others note, the Capital One converts at essentially Interbank rates and in the Venture Capital case, offers a cash rebate, making it a negative (discounted) exchange rate.

While we have one account, Capital One provides his and her cards with different card numbers for the same account. If one card is compromised, the second card is not blocked.

Posted by
5811 posts

I should add that one of the benefits of credit card use in Scandinavia is that they all use different currency. Danish Krone (DKK), Norwegian Krone (NOK), and Swedish Krona (SEK) are not interchangeable, and Finland is on the Euro. If you are a tourist who needs to have some local currency in the pocket on arrival, you would need to buy four different currencies for the four different Scandinavian countries.

Posted by
971 posts

In Denmark visa is almost universally accepted, whereas American Express is not as widely accepted. The only place where you have to use cash is if you buy a bus ticket directly from the driver (and they also carry limited change, so no large bills) or the odd hotdog stand.
Cash is still legal tender in Denmark, so a merchant legally has to accept it. This is not the case in Sweden, where some places (most famously the ABBA Museum) has gone completely cashless.
Personally I hardly ever have cash on me anymore, yesterday I bought two bananas and payed the 4 kr. with my credit card. The only time I use cash is if I am at a bar or a concert, where it's more convenient to pay cash rather than stand in line for the card reader.

Posted by
3493 posts

I have used my Capital One card to pay for my tour deposit. It appears as "OtherTravel - Travel Agencies". I would have to assume a final payment would appear the same way. But I have only paid the final amount on a credit card once and that was years ago so I don't have that statement handy to see. I just write a check since I trust the company to be there which save me a few dollars.