Traveling without a credit card

I will be traveling from Munich to Salzburg and Innsbruck to Venice and don't have a credit card. I do have a VISA debit card from Bank of America. I am concerned about whether or not it will work. For various reasons, I am unable to get a credit card at this time so it's not an option. Also, I called Hertz who told me that they DO accept debit cards at their Munich locations, but I'm finding the internet tells me otherwise. I always rent from Hertz (at least 12 times per year) with a debit card and have had no problems, but it's always been in the U.S. In your experience, will I be able to use my debit card in those locations? If not, will cash work for hotels (I am staying mainly in Hiltons using Hilton Honors points so the rooms are prepaid)?
Will Hertz allow me to rent with just a debit card? Thanks!!! Kim

Posted by Debi
Sherman Oaks, CA, USA
257 posts

I use my Bank of America debit card all through Europe with no problem. I do have a AMEX card, but it is not taken everywhere. I had my Chase debit card this last time and I couldn't get any money this last time. The bank had some internal issues. So I really feel like you need 2 cards just in case. Happy Travels!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7819 posts

Kim I think you need to get more feedback, I have heard if you use a debit card as a guarantee that some hotels and car rental companies actually put a hold on that money ( a deposit amount, often hefty for car rental) and it isn't always immediatly released, so hope you have a good balance in there). If you don't get enough feedback here I urge you to search our more answers, google other sites or whatever , you do not want a surprise while over there right.

Posted by George
Independence, KS, USA
532 posts

Make sure that you contact your bank and let them know you will be using the debit card overseas and the dates of your expected usage. We have used our B of A debit card but only in ATM's in France and the UK. Cash works at hotels and some hotels will give you a discount for a cash payment. Be sure and ask the hotels about it even though they don't advertise the discount. Ask for 15% and settle for 10%.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10846 posts

While we carry a couple of credit cards we seldom use them as cash just works better for us. We use cash nearly a 100% of the time. Only use a credit card the last day or two when managing the amount of Euro that we are taking home. Hotels will often give a discount for payment in cash. We carry a couple of debit cards tied to different accounts. Never had a problem with them working. A few times the debit card would not work at a particular ATM but worked just fine at the next one. Assume the problem was with the ATM and not my card. Same thing has happened in the US. Cannot address the issue of debit card and rentals because we always use a credit card. It is my understanding that rental companies put a major cash hold on your account if you use a debit card.

Posted by Kim
Phoenix
5 posts

Thanks for the responses. I should clarify. We will mostly use cash. Since our hotel rooms are prepaid using my frequent traveler points and we have prepurchased our excursions, we will only need to pay for meals, attraction tickets, gas, and souvenirs. The only time I would use my debit card is to get more cash from an ATM. This is how we traveled around South Africa and Zambia last year. My concern is more that I don't have a credit card for security deposits. Hotels usually required a credit card swipe for "incidentals" at check-in, even on prepaid rooms, and rental car companies do the same, even when the rental is prepaid. In the U.S., I have always been able to use my debit card for these deposits. They do put a hold on an amount in my checking account, but since I always carry a "good" balance in my account, it's never been an issue and the hold is released within a week of my return home. It appears, though, that many European companies won't accept a debit card, even if there is a large balance in my account, so I'm trying to find out if that's accurate and if so, if there are some which will accept the debit card. Thanks!

Posted by H J
LaGrange, Ga, USA
912 posts

From my personal experience in the past five or so years, debit cards are fine for use at the ATM of most banks...If one does not work,then check the ATM of another bank, they will usually work. Remember the name of that bank and find their ATM's. I get a cash withdrawal each day for that day's use. No problem. The Debit card will work in most establishments. Two Exceptions: The train ticket machines in Paris, and certain shops in Paris. Otherwise, no problem. I did use a debit card for a car rental one time, and a hold was put on the card by the rental agency. No problem as I had other cards as well. I was not using a Hertz agency, so am not able to comment on their operation.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2373 posts

You are VERY unlikely to be able to use a debit card for renting a car in Europe. There was another similar thread on the help board in the past couple months and it was explained why pretty well. It might be in the Transportation or North threads. I suggest abondoning the idea of car rental now and just plan to take trains (more recommended anyway). People have used debit cards for actual purchases, though it is not recommened due to the higher risk of temporarily losing access to your account funds if someone steals your number. But in a pinch you should be able to use it most places. Cash is accepted almost everywhere. Hotels accept cash though some, especially international business types (like Hilton) may require a card on check-in. In that case they might put a "hold" on a certain amount. Your biggest issue may be having enough cash on hand to pay for everything during your trip. Most banks limit the amount you can withdraw from your account each day. You can try and get that limit increased temporarily, but it still might not be enough. Though more expensive, you might need to buy Euros in the US to take with you. Then use the ATM daily once in Europe (getting cash from the ATM is always the cheapest method). I recommend in your case having a cash reserve on hand anyway in case your bank mistakenly blocks your account on arrival (even after you tell them you'll be traveling some banks still do it).

Posted by Tom
Chicago
2876 posts

Just remember that any "hold" put on your debit card by a hotel or car rental agency (or anyone else) immediately reduces your available balance by that amount. And it stays that way until the "hold" is removed. So be sure you know the amount of any "hold" put on your card.

Posted by Kira
Seattle, WA, USA
954 posts

I don't have a credit card - just a debit card - and I have never had any trouble buying anything anywhere in Western Europe or the UK. I may be just lucky! Haven't tried to rent a car with it, though. And for what it is worth, I got back from London a couple of days ago - spent a week with just a debit card, and not a "chip and pin" card, either - and had no problems at all. I did hear the self-check-out machine at Tesco intoning "Please insert your chip and pin card now," to someone making a purchase - so probably there are machines that won't accept a "regular American" debit card. But the cashier at Tesco accepted it, no problem.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Kim... every car rental place is different (even though they might be under the name Hertz) Some will take debit cards and some do not, even though prepaid they require this. There was a time I rented in the Cayman Islands and wanted to pay with debit card and they required a $2000 hold. Can sometimes be a problem, so I just put it on cc# at that point, and paid for it with my debit card at the end. What about a prepaid credit card? It appears there is a new one from American Express...saw the ad for it and it looked like you get all the benefits of amex (maybe that would work)

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2820 posts

Yes, I'd worry about the car rental. Here's the thread about the person who had problems. They attributed it to their having a "flat" (non-embossed) card, but most of us thought it was much more likely to be the debit card vs credit card issue. As for the hotels, I would e-mail them and ask. I've never been asked for a card imprint when checking into a hotel in Europe, but then I've never stayed in a Hilton (or comparable level place) in Europe either. (Actually, many of my hotels don't take credit cards at all, or frown on their use.) I agree that you will be totally fine otherwise; cash always works for purchases, and while most don't favor debit card use on-line, it is possible if you need to book something on a website. I use cash almost exclusively when in Europe, because my ATM card has no surcharge for foreign use but my credit card does. The advice above, to be sure to get out money in advance of having to pay big bills (like hotels), is good. Know your daily limit, convert it to Euros so you'll know how much you can take out each time, and take this out as often as needed to get what you will need. If this won't work, do talk to your bank about raising the limit, or get a second bank account for the trip.

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
700 posts

I've lived and traveled in Europe for the past 15 years without a credit card. I use my credit/debit card everywhere. I keep a second account that I use for online purchases or for traveling, I just put a certain amount in it so if the card or number gets stolen, the bastards only get a small amount.

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

Germany is still very much a cash society. Many Germans do not have a cc. So if you called Hertz in Munich and they told you that you can rent a car without a cc than I would trust that this is indeed the case. I would confirm with them HOW exactly they will use the debit card, especially if it includes a large "hold".

Posted by Thomas
Snyder, Texas
503 posts

I wouldn't count on using a debit card to rent a car. When you rent a car, the rental company places a very large hold amount against your card. This is typically not a problem on a credit card because most people I this situation have a large limit on the card anyway. Every website I have read says debit cards are not accepted. You might be able to do this, but you won't really know for sure until you try it.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but why don't you simply contact both Hertz and Hilton in Munich and ask them since those are the two companies in question (contact info, such as Hertz phone number at Munich airport, for example, is on the Hertz website)? It doesn't sound like anyone here knows for sure. Have you considered a prepaid/secured Visa or Mastercard that you could use just for the security deposits?

Posted by Kim
Phoenix
5 posts

I just wanted to follow up to this in case my findings are useful to anyone else. Avis, in most European countries, will accept debit cards. After contacting their corporate offices, and being told numerous times that it would be OK, I reserved a car through their U.K. office and this is what it says on my voucher: "PAYMENT CARDS The payment cards accepted for your rental are American Express cards, MasterCard cards (excluding prepay cards), Visa debit and credit cards (excluding prepay cards, Visa Electron cards and debit cards in Belgium and Spain) and Diners cards. If you have pre-paid your rental with a Visa Electron card, please make sure you bring another accepted payment card for the rental." In addition, this is what I got in my email: "In reference to your email, please be advised that Visa debit cards are accepted in Germany for the normal fleet, i.e. not large luxury cars. Again, the card cannot be Electron/Maestro/Switch/etc." And, if you're still not convinced, they've written a couple of blog posts about it: http://www.avis.co.uk/blog/avis-payment-methods/. The biggest thing I should note, though, is that there is a hold of 850 euro (the amount of excess charge) from the point of pickup through 7-10 days after dropoff, so one should be certain that they have enough in their checking/savings to cover this.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2820 posts

Thanks for posting the feedback. It will be very helpful when this question comes up again (and sooner or later, it will).