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Use cash, not a card!

Last fall we were in Maine, and my girlfriend paid for several meals with her card. The wait person took the card and brought back the receipt for her to sign. After we came back, unauthorized charges started showing up on her account.

She reported them to the bank as fraudulent. They cancelled the card and sent her a new one, but she had several automatic withdrawals on that card, so she had to change all of those to a new card.

This month she was in Panama, and she used her new card. Same thing! Unauthorized charges started to appear, so she is going to have to go through the same process of changing automatic withdrawals to yet another card.

So, when traveling, should you use cash or a card? Unless you stand right there and watch them run the card, don't use it. Use cash. Certainly don't let them go off with the card where they can copy the card, but it's best just not to use a card at all. It's too easy for someone to get your card number and start charging on it.

And you also should probably only use bank ATMs.

Posted by
9421 posts

Generally good advice. We use cash a lot in Europe and usually only use the credit card for transportation and lodging. We have, however, had more fraud problems with U.S. restaurants.

Posted by
5026 posts

Lee, this has happened to me and a relative, both while at home - not even traveling. Police told her that they suspected a worker in a certain restaurant was taking quick photos of cards, front and back, and sending the info out to be duplicated. On our trip to the UK last year, we were told by servers at restaurants that the law (EU?) requires them to run your card at the table, not in the backroom. Hence the handheld card readers that we see everywhere there.

I have had five credit and debit card changes in the last five years due to hacking events, so I am pretty wary of using them for everyday business.

Posted by
5727 posts

Happens in the US too. After taking an Uber from Boston Logan all sorts of charges appeared. Our card has been comprised three times this year and it’s a real pain to change all the automatic bill paying we have set up. One was a breech with British Airlines system. But cash wouldn’t work for the charges we made that led to the hacking.

Posted by
5019 posts

Lee, with all due respect, this is bad advice. This has nothing to do with overseas travel. It happens everywhere.

It may be a minor hassle, but if it does happen, it's not your problem - it's the credit card company's problem, as you are not liable for fraudulent charges. OTOH, carrying a lot of cash around is way more risky, and the hassles that can come from that are indeed your problem and nobody else's!

Using a credit card abroad is actually safer than using cash. I put every euro-cent on my credit card that I can when overseas, and will continue to do so.

Posted by
8889 posts

This is one of the reasons Europe moved to chip-and-PIN. They bring a machine to you, you put your card in the machine, type your PIN and "OK", and take your card out. Your card is never touched by anyone but you, and remains in your sight.
The receipt only has the last 4 digits of your card on it. Even if they managed to hack into the (encoded) WiFi signal the machine is using and clone your card, they still don't have your PIN.

I got a new card last week, it is no longer embossed, so it cannot even be used in the old paper machines.

Posted by
11681 posts

This has happened to us twice, both time after using the card at well-regarded restaurants here in Seattle. On both occasions, the credit card provider caught it before we did, and sent us a fraud alert asking if the charges were genuine. They were not! One was a $500 purchase of liquor from a BiRite drugstore; definitely not within our spending patterns.

Bank of America seems to be particularly vigilant about this, and about the hacking. My husband's card has been replaced six times in the last ten years.

But as David says, in European restaurants you do not give up your card; you insert it in a hand-held chip machine right at the table.

Since we use credit card purchases to earn miles we can use to fly business class to Europe (a necessity for my husband), we will keep on using our credit card.

Posted by
852 posts

I've used my CC in Europe and trips within the US on a number of trips over the last few years. I've also had my card compromised a number of times over the last few years. The incidents have never occurred after trips, and the questionable purchases were always within the US. I see no reason to avoid using it.

Posted by
1169 posts

I’ve had a couple of breaches on my card. Both times were in the US. It’s a pain to go to every single website and re-enter the data. I would suggest that everyone keep a list of all the sites where they’ve registered their card.

I would also suggest using a different credit card for foreign Vs domestic. That way it becomes less painful if the breach occurs during travel. You can use your domestic designated card as a backup.

Posted by
17657 posts

Just an update, someone else with her group also had an identical fraudulent charge (to the same medical clinic for the same exact amount, and both charges were for significant amounts and made after they had left Panama).

BTW, we have seen a lot of reports on this website about fraudulent charges on cards used in Europe, often from eastern Europe, after using them in western Europe.

Posted by
8906 posts

I'm one of those who uses a credit card every chance I get for the past 20+ years. At this point in time I'd estimate that I use plastic for at least 95% of my purchases at home and when I travel overseas. I have never ever ever ever had a fraudulent charge on any of my cards in the that time period. So for me it's a very safe and convenient way to buy goods and services. The risk of course exists, but at the end of the day it's the bank's problem. In my travels I carry multiple cards, and emergency cash on my person and in a money belt/hotel room safe. So if something bad does happen I have other options so it doesn't ruin my trip.

Posted by
2465 posts

From what I'm reading here, this seems to be primarily a problem with US credit cards. With the amount of fraudulent activity (and thus money lost to the CC companies), I'm dumbfounded that the American CC companies are still do resistant to changing to the chip and pin system. Since we only deal with Canadian card companies, all of our cards are chip and pin, and knock on wood, have never had them compromised. I'd much rather have the CC companies assume whatever risk there is on fraud than carry around a huge wad of cash when travelling.

Posted by
1094 posts

"With the amount of fraudulent activity (and thus money lost to the CC companies), I'm dumbfounded that the American CC companies are still do resistant to changing to the chip and pin system."

The banks and credit card companies have determined that the cost of fraud is less than the cost to THEM than the cost of converting to chip and pin. Their lame excuse is that we the consumer could not remember the PIN number. I guess they "think" we are a lot more stupid than Canadians and Europeans who do it all the time or that we are gullible enough to accept their excuse. It also shows they do not care at all about the stress and inconvenience they put us through.

Posted by
4468 posts

The long-standing poor security of card processing in the USA caused a world-wide problem, as details lifted elsewhere could be put on cloned cards and used in the lax USA environment. My bank allows me to turn off mag stripe transactions though.

As this finally tightens in the USA, even if slowly, the emphasis will shift to card not present fraud measures, alongside promotion of contactless payment.

Posted by
995 posts

I've had my credit card info stolen. Every time, it was on a Visa card that I had in my possession. It has only happened in the States. I've never had it happen while abroad, but I'm always aware of the possibility. I always travel with multiple credit cards, just for that reason. I never carry them together in the same wallet/purse, either.

It's always a possibility. I'm sorry that it happened to your girlfriend!!! It's a major hassle to get everything replaced.

Posted by
8627 posts

I read that U.S banks don't want chip and pin because, they say, Americans don't want to remember a pin. Seriously?

However, Chase just sent me a contactless card. I hope other banks will follow.

Posted by
16843 posts

I've spent over 16 months in Europe since May 2015. I use my credit cards just about whenever I can on transactions over $10 or so. That comes to a lot of transactions. I have never had a security breach on a card used in Europe. I have, however, had multiple such problems on cards used in the US. I, too, have heard that restaurants are the riskiest venue for card use in the US.

I have no hesitancy about using credit cards in Europe since the card is never out of my sight. I'll continue to use cards in the US, but I'm about due for another incident, so I guess it would be smart to switch to a card I will not be taking to Europe so I don't have to worry that the card will be compromised in the US close to my date of departure.

Posted by
2731 posts

This happened to me in Mexico, except I think it was the hotel @Chichen Itza, not a restaurant (the card was taken away so not in sight). Since the fake online charges came from Mexico a week after coming home it’s clear it was an in-person theft of data.

I don’t think there’s a chip/PIN solution to the problem though, since it’s online transactions where the fraudulent charges are made.

I must have a dozen credit and debit cards, PIN protection isn’t practical and I get too many bennies from the multiple cards to cut back. Of course I know the two debit card PINs.

As already mentioned it’s the database hacks that cause the bulk of the problem.

Posted by
691 posts

I favor credit card use. Cash sounds great, but unless you find bank atm that has a relationship with your home bank, the fees are significant. I've been in many European cities and we just couldn't find bank atm connected to our home bank. If you use a non-bank atm, the fees/exchange rates are even higher! Beware!

Posted by
160 posts

I rarely use cash in the US or Europe. Never had a fradulent charge from a card related to use. But I have had to cancel credit cards that I didn't even have in my possession at least 4 times ,different cards over the past several years. So my point is that credit cards can and will get hacked no matter how you use them. It's probably inevitable. So carry lots of cash...nope. Plus my use and management of my cards have enabled me to fly business class to Europe at least once a year.

Posted by
852 posts

There are cards available that have no foreign transaction fees--without a need for bank partnership, and European ATMs generally don't have use fees, although I think that may be changing.

Posted by
691 posts

NOTE: It is the credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees, not the atm cards.

Posted by
2731 posts

Pat: there’s usually no need to find a bank with relationship to your bank if your home bank doesn’t charge fees.

Posted by
852 posts

Yes, some banks do charge foreign transaction fees for ATM withdrawal, it's not just credit cards.

Posted by
5316 posts

My travel credit cards are set up to generate an e-mail alert every time there is a significant ($500+) charge, an online or phone (card not present) charge of any amount, or ANY foreign transaction. When we're travelling, the restaurant charge report is usually in my email before we get back to the hotel. If there's tomfoolery with those cards, I will probably notice it quickly (although maybe not as quickly as the bank.) So I don't worry about using my cards in Europe any more than I do at home.
EDIT: My travel ATM card is Charles Schwab, no fees on their end and they reimburse any fees charged by the ATM-owner bank. It lives in my money belt except when I know I will need to get cash. Backup ATM card is BofA, but only for emergencies since the fees, even at affiliated banks, are too high. Debit/ATM cards ONLY used for getting cash, not for making purchases.

Posted by
3283 posts

I use credit cards as much as possible in Europe. I have never had a problem. I feel it is safer than carrying a lot of cash. If cash is stolen, there rarely is any remedy. I will say, though we'e had fraudulent charges on our credit cards at least five times over the last 5-7 years. All occurred while we were at home. All were dealt with swiftly. Only once, did we catch something on our bill that was fraudulent. Typically, our credit card company picks up on something and we'll get a call, inquiring if we made some purchase that seemed out of the ordinary either due to location, dollar amount or other situations that just get flagged as odd. If fraud, they cancel the cards) and express mail new cards. We also will get a call/email if a large purchase is made and we just confirm that it was a legit purchase. We choose our credit card companies carefully. We like companies that are responsive with questions or difficulty with purchases. I absolutely swear by my Nordstrom VISA. About five years ago, they actually troubleshooted and then purchased train tickets for me, when I wasn't able to successfully purchase them on the SNCF website. At home or abroad, I rarely, if ever, will allow my credit card out of my sight.

Posted by
5436 posts

I've gotten to where I use my debit card (French card, chip-and-pin) more and more, using less and less cash. That's definitely the way things are going here in Europe. I've never had any problems with my card being hacked or skimmed or stolen. Here's one way (not the only one) that Europe is far ahead of the U S technology-wise.

Posted by
12103 posts

Never have had any fraudulent charges appear on my credit cards, three of which I bring to Europe on trips. On using them that depends on where. In the USA almost exclusively I use the credit card, almost the same in France and England.

Germany and Austria are another story. That is where I make the exception since I pay with mostly cash there.

In the USA when paying at a restaurant, diner, etc, " they" always walk off with your credit card once it is picked up with the bill and your credit card on the tray.

Posted by
2292 posts

Here's the thing - if your card gets stolen, it's a pain in the neck, but you are not liable for the charges. If cash gets stolen, it's just gone. There is no company to refund your cash back. So in that way I feel safer with a credit card. Let's say I'm at a hotel for a week and the charge is $700. I'm much more comfortable handing my card to the clerk vs. going to an ATM and carrying that much cash around and then pulling it out in a public place.

I've actually never had a fraud charge go through, but I have had alerts - where the company calls and asks if I'm buying such and such, I'm not, so the charge is declined.

Some countries are heavily cash based. I use cash there. Some countries are almost all credit card - I use a card there. For example, in a week in Iceland I struggled to use the equivalent of $100 I got out at the airport, despite Iceland being very expensive. Everything is on credit card there and you get very strange looks if you try to use cash.

Posted by
398 posts

It’s been a few years but I’ve had my cards compromised multiple times and it has always been because of a breach at a chair store (Home Depot, Target, TJMaxx...)

Posted by
691 posts

I was in the Czech Republic and Austria this past spring. My credit cards have no foreign transaction fees. However , the issue is atm, not credit card, use in Europe. Many restaurants insisted on cash when they brought the check- there were no sign warning of this. So we needed cash. I am Bank of America, which obviously, is a very large bank. But in many cities, there was no B/A affiliated banks. Therefore, when using the atm at any European bank, that European bank charges fees for atm use. Then B/A charges a fee for using that bank's atm, plus whatever unfavorable foreign exchange rates. And, in the event you use a for-profit, not bank affiliated atm, the fees and exchange rates are horrible!
So- use credit cards if at all possible, as it's much cheaper.

Posted by
2731 posts

Unfortunately misinformation in this post keeps being repeated. When I read anything about “looking for an affiliated bank” I know there’s misinformation there.

Getting a second atm no-fee bank account is an essential step, like getting a passport, for American travelers. Same with getting a no foreign transaction fee credit card.

  1. Apply for passport

  2. Open new bank account with no atm fees ever charged. A bonus is that you now can use your primary bank debit card as a backup. A second bonus is if you ever receive EU flight cancellation money you can receive wired money for free (my daily bank charges $15 to receive money from Europe). A third bonus is if required to make a housing deposit (say for a foreign study exchange program) you have a no-fee way to send and receive wired money (my daily bank has $50 fee to wire money to Europe). I use Capital One 360 just for travel.

  3. Get a no foreign fee transaction credit card. I like the Chase Visas because they include free CDW in countries like Ireland, Italy, NZ that most cards exclude (and yes, even if required to buy basic CDW like in Italy or NZ the Visa will still cover the deductible/excess for free, i.e. the requirement to waive all CDW is, well waived).

Posted by
3283 posts

Before I go on a trip to Europe, I call both my banks (Wells Fargo and a credit union) to familiarize myself with ATM and cash advance fees (avoid cash advance if at all possible). I ask about affiliated banks, foreign transaction fees (my cash cards and my debit cards are the same) I also call each credit card company (VISA AMEX and Mastercard) to ask about PIN, foreign transaction fees and cash advances) and to let them know I will be gone. The last time I found out that one of my cards does now use a PIN in Europe (tho not always asked for). VISA and AMEX did not charge foreign transaction fees. Some places won't take AMEX, so I mostly used the VISA. I never found it necessary to resort to the Mastercard. I always copy each side of my credit/debit cards and take a picture with my cell phone in case I have any difficulties. I have been told by several people and my husband works in the finance field, there is less danger with a credit card than a debit card since the debit card is connected to bank accounts.

Posted by
3379 posts

I agree with Lee - always just use the ATM to acquire Euros, stash them in our money belts, place the amount needed for the next couple hours in my cross-body purse. For our ATM, we have cards from our bank with no link to a credit card, and the card doesn't have our name printed on them. Essentially, if someone grabbed that card, they couldn't use it.

We do pay hotels or apartments with a credit card, but usually I've already paid for half of them ahead of time during the reservation.

Posted by
330 posts

I will always continue to use credit cards. I've ran over $1 million points through capital one the last 15 yrs. While I have had a few fraud incidents (both in Europe and in the US) capital one does a great job with any issues and the amount of benefit I have received from my cc use far outweigh any issues I've ever had.

Plus, carrying cash is not desirable to me if I don't have to.

Posted by
2731 posts

VISA and AMEX did not charge foreign transaction fees.

Just be sure to check each card, the NEA Bank of America Visa charges foreign fees, for example.

Posted by
5504 posts

Note that your ATM/Debit card is connected to your bank account. If your ATM/Debit card security is compromised, the hacker has access to you bank account. That said, US rules provide some protection depending on how quickly you report loss/hack. If you account is compromised, it can be a big hassle when your checking account starts bouncing checks, EFTs and BillPays.

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/four-steps-you-can-take-if-you-think-your-credit-or-debit-card-data-was-hacked/

If your card or PIN was lost or stolen, different rules may apply.
Your timeline for reporting after your card, PIN, or other access
device is lost or stolen is tied to when you discover the loss or
theft or when unauthorized transactions show up on your bank
statement. Therefore, you should make the report as soon as you know
that there is a problem.

It's a good idea to have a backup account in the event that you need to shut down your primary ATM/Debit account while traveling.

Posted by
852 posts

I do most of my banking through a local credit union, but they charge fees if I use my ATM card out of country, so I opened a checking account in another credit union which doesn't charge those fees.

This has actually worked out well, because I can transfer just the amount I think I might need for cash into this account--and no access to my main account if the card is stolen.

I can use this ATM card in any machine, naturally I use ones outside banks for safety, and there are no fees charged by the credit union.

Posted by
3141 posts

Last fall we were in Maine, and my girlfriend paid for several meals
with her card. The wait person took the card and brought back the
receipt for her to sign. After we came back, unauthorized charges
started showing up on her account.

That is just awful. Do you suspect one restaurant as you said the "wait person" as opposed to servers in more than one restaurant on that trip. Where in Maine? If you suspect a restaurant, may I ask which one? We travel throughout Maine from Kittery to Lubec several times each year and want to avoid places like that.

This month she was in Panama, and she used her new card. Same thing!
Unauthorized charges started to appear, so she is going to have to go
through the same process of changing automatic withdrawals to yet
another card.

To say that she has "bad luck" is an understatement. Next time YOU treat! :-) In all seriousness, it's bad enough having to cancel one card but then do it again especially if you have a recurring payment on that specific credit card.

I nearly always use a credit card. I've had my credit card info stolen once and that was at a Macy's in Short Hills, NJ in the 90s. Anytime you give your card even to sales person at a store, it can be stolen.

Posted by
3283 posts

@Tom, your post asserting that my post contained misinformation is incorrect, and LLBean doesn't have a VISA card, and the Delta AMEX no longer charges transaction fees, unless you have some other Delta AMEX, which would not at all be to your benefit. Tom, if you read my post in entirety, I say I call my bank before each trip to get up to date information on each of MY cards. I'm so sorry if you found it unclear. I obviously know that every bank has a different set of conditions for its credit cards. Also, I have an LLBean MASTERCARD. I do not believe that LLBean issues Visa cards anymore. In fact, as one might expect, the new LLBEAN mastercards(which differ from other bank's mastercards!) have a different set of conditions than the Visa did. And yes, both the LLBean Master and Visa cards do/did have a foreign transaction fee which is why I avoid using the card when I am out of the country. I also have a gold DELTA AMEX. It does not charge a foreign transaction fee, which is in fact, a change. The point of my post, is that the conditions should be reviewed yearly or so so that one has current information and one should also have copies of their cards in the event of fraudulent use of cards. This way one has necessary phone numbers and the account number.

Posted by
12103 posts

On using cash or a credit card to pay the hotel bill at check-out, that depends on the hotel. My Pension in Berlin, as I have seen, tells the departing guest to go to the ATM to get the cash even though it has a Visa/MC logo decaled on the entrance door window.

On one of the recent trips I stayed there 14 nights, the bill including having my laundry done by the proprietor, came out to be 592 Euro. Knowing that she wanted this in cash, I made sure I had it on me the morning I checked out.

Posted by
4078 posts

Fred, I use a card for every purchase I make in Vienna. I never carry cash.

When I was in Copenhagen over the summer, many places we went to only accepted cards, no cash allowed.

Posted by
1010 posts

I've had to replace one credit card several times in the past few years due to fraud. Redoing the automatic payments was a big hassle but my credit card company (Capital One) now offers a solution. The card lets me set up virtual credit card numbers so that each payment has its own unique number that can be turned off and on online. The neat feature is that if the main account is compromised, I only need to change the main account number that all the virtual payments are linked to rather than change each payment one by one. Much simpler and less trouble.

For this reason, as well as the legal protections against liability for fraud, I'm in the camp of those who use a credit card whenever possible.

Posted by
12103 posts

@ Emily...Off hand I know of two restaurants in Vienna that only take payment in cash, maybe a third one if I check my notes. In Vienna I use the credit card to pay the hotel bill at check-out, that's a given. The other places, (museums, restaurants, shops, train stations, train tickets, guided tours, etc) it's cash, mostly, or a credit card.

Posted by
12103 posts

I recall before the US chip and signature card appeared, the magnetic stripe cards were being used. In Paris at restaurants "they" always took my stripe credit card away at paying. time. Of course, this credit card left my sight. Sometimes the waiter did have that hand held " machine " to do the transaction right at your table, but not always. It was at those times the credit card left my table.

Posted by
4078 posts

Fred, you must be visiting a different city than my VIENNA as this is not my experience at all. And I live here.

Posted by
12103 posts

@ Emily...Your Vienna I can claim my Vienna too. Would you like the names of these two, or maybe 3, restaurants?

Posted by
23577 posts

me too.... I almost never pull out the cash...

Posted by
12103 posts

@ Emily....These 3 restaurants do not take a credit card.

  1. Schnitzelwirt, Neubaugasse 52, 1070 Wien.

  2. Reinthaler's Beisl, Dorotheergasse 4, 1010 Wien, close to Am Graben, off of Kärntnerstraße.

  3. Wiener WIA-HAUS, Gusshausstraße 24, 1040 Wien, near the Karlskirche and Karlsgasse.

This 4th restaurant I don't know absolutely if a credit card is taken or not. Every time I was there, I paid in cash.
"Restaurant Arsenalstuben" Ghegasstraße, Arsenal, Objekt 1, 1030 Wien.

There was possibly a 5th place between the Nußdorferstraße U-Bahn station and Pulverturmgasse, can't remember the name of this small place, like a tavern.

Posted by
4078 posts

Fred - interesting, I’ve never been to these as they are too touristy for me - at least the first two. I also don’t really like Austrian food anyway. I can again say this is an unusual trend in Vienna and I personally never use cash. Best wishes on your next visit to Vienna.

Posted by
12103 posts

True about # 1 and 2, every time I am there it's a mixture of both locals and tourists, sometimes more, sometimes less, whereas # 3 near the Tech Uni seems to have more locals based on my 3 visits. The last one #4 I have been there only at lunch a few times, they appear to be locals.