View of the medina, Fes, Morocco (2011-10)

Cheat sheet: Credit Cards, Debit Cards, Cash Cards & Traveler Checks


Credit cards are not only useful for booking flights and shopping online. These days credit cards are also accepted almost all over the World. There might not be POS terminals at every little corner store but there are very few countries left without ATMs where you can draw local cash at your convenience.

  • Debit cards are barely ever a good choice when paying outside your home country (or the country the card was issued in). Even if you have a Euro account and are travelling in Europe you are likely to have to pay an extra fee.
  • Cash cards are an alternative to credit cards if you don’t want the background checks or have a bad credit rating. The cards are usually associated with an account that you can manage online. You can only spend the money on the card. That means if you lose the card you only lose the money on it (not all the money in your account). However, before get too excited: there are often fees associated with adding money to the card and using it…
  • Traveler checks are still safe as ever. They are insured against theft and can be returned to the issuer (most common: American Express) if not used. However, with the advent of plastic money it’s getting harder and harder to cash traveler checks.
  • Credit cards are available not only from your bank but also from travel service providers. So if you know that you’re flying a lot get a Miles&More card or the equivalent for your preferred airline alliance.
  • Travel insurance is a nice add-on to your credit card. However, don’t get the card just for the insurance. There are cheaper options out there. Also: double-check whether your policy covers long-term travel.
  • Check whether the withdrawal fee is a percentage or a fixed fee. It might make sense to withdraw a larger sum at once if you are planning to stay longer or pay for excursions.
  • Khartoum is a prime example of a rising African city with ATMs at every corner. However, due to international sanctions none of them (or any POS) will accept foreign credit cards (Visa, MasterCard,…). So have a back-up plan for when your card fails…
  • Make sure you have all the information you need to report a card stolen in a place you can access from anywhere.
  • Have a back-up card. I prefer having cards of different providers (i.e. Visa and MasterCard) to be covered in case one provider is not accepted. But if you know Visa or whichever is accepted where you go you may as well have two Visa cards.
  • Of the big three Visa is – at least in Africa – most widely accepted. There is some MasterCard but barely any American Express.
  • Don’t slag: check your account statements regularly to spot fraud.
  • Talking about fraud: your credit card company might deactivate your card if you’re in a far out country (that’s far out to the provider…). To be sure call the provider before your trip and let them know where you are going.


Do you have anything to add? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know!

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