Preparing for your First International Business Trip: Credit Cards, Currency Exchange, Points, and Cell Phone, Data, and Text Plans

Getting ready for your first business trip abroad can be very stressful! I’ve put together a comprehensive list of items that can 7-28-14-5help you prepare, hopefully cutting down on your anxiety. Click here to read the first installment, which covered passports, travel advisories, and vaccinations.  Click here to read the second installment, which covered food, transportation, and language.

Credit Cards. Be sure you let your credit card company know when you travel internationally.  If you don’t they may decline your card because they’ll think it’s stolen (which has happened–so embarrassing!).  Also check out what the foreign transaction fees are, which vary from card to card.   Some credit cards have no foreign transaction fees, but if your card does check with your company to see if they are reimbursable. Finally, be sure to leave any unnecessary credit cards at home.  If your wallet is stolen you want to be able to quickly cancel cards, and if you have a bunch of unnecessary cards in your wallet it makes canceling them much more difficult.  This hasn’t happened to me internationally but I have had my wallet stolen once before, and it’s a nightmare if you have a bunch of cards you don’t need in there.

While you’re on the phone with your credit card customer service, find out if your card is available as a chip-and-PIN card. If you are traveling to Europe you definitely need one–many places don’t accept magnetic stripe cards at all anymore. If you’re unable to get good information from the phone line, try the Twitter customer service reps. They are often more responsive and knowledgeable than phone reps.

Currency exchange. In Manila I always exchange my money at the hotel because it’s the most convenient place.  I use the local country’s currency for shopping and tips.  You probably won’t have any pushback giving American dollars for tips in a foreign country but I just feel like it’s easier to deal in the local currency.  Try to avoid doing exchanges at the airport because your exchange rate is usually not as good.  For more information on this subject check out this USA Today story.

Points.  Traveling internationally can rack up some serious points.  Be sure you sign up for loyalty programs with airlines and hotels so you can take advantage of the rewards.  Not only can signing up for loyalty programs get you free hotel stays and flights, if you rack up enough points and earn status you can get other perks such as first class upgrades, lounge access at hotels and airports, bonus point, and other special offers.  Don’t forget about rental car loyalty programs.  You may not rack up as many points on international travel but it’s still important to sign up for.  I’ve written in detail about points in the past so to learn more and to take full advantage take a look at each of posts: Loyalty programs, Credit Cards, Shopping Portals, Dining and Partner Programs

Cell phone, data, and text plans.  If your company is not in charge of your cell phone please, please call your cell phone company when you travel internationally. Be sure to upgrade your phone, data, and text plans for international coverage.  If you don’t you will be sorry.  I’ve heard of horror stories where people don’t change their plans to reflect international coverage and get hit with several hundred (or thousand) dollar cell phone bills.  Also, when you upgrade your plan make sure you understand the details.  Know how many minutes, texts, and gigabytes of data you’ll have with the upgrade.  If your company does cover your cell phone plan check with them for details on any limitations when traveling internationally.

Another option if your phone is unlocked is to get an international SIM card. The rates you’ll be charged will likely be significantly less, but you won’t have access to your US phone number while using it. I have never done this so don’t have a ton of experience, but this Mobile Office About page has a good overview. (Readers, if you have done this please share your tips in the comments!)

Readers, what have your experiences been with credit cards, currency exchange, points, and cell phone plans? Any additional tips?

Next week’s installment will cover carry-on.


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  1. I’m seriously considering a switch to T-Mobile just to get the free international service. My mother-in-law has used her phone in Argentina with the same ease that she does in Dallas.

  2. I never “exchange” money on international trips. The rates are never in your favor. Just take money from a local ATM using a bank card that does not charge fees or have fixed fees per withdrawal. That way you guarantee that you are getting official bank rates for your currency exchange.

  3. I would be seriously wary of turning up in most countries expecting to be able to tip in US dollars.

    Check the tipping etiquette before you leave home – how much are you expected to tip, if you’re expected to tip at all.

  4. You will also want to call your credit company before you purchase airline tickets online from foreign air carriers. I had a security hold put on my card when purchasing airline tickets to fly within India.

    If you bank at Chase they can also order foreign currency for you. It takes 2-3 business days and then I have at least a small amount on hand when I arrive and don’t have to worry about finding an ATM or exchange in the middle of the night if I need money for a taxi or tip.

  5. Get a google voice number before leaving the states. Give it to friends and family and, as long as you have wifi, you can text as normal when you don’t have access to your regular number. Set it to Do Not Disturb and it will go automatically to voicemail.

    There is an iPhone app. Also, you can set the number for email alerts, so that you will know when to check it for messages. They will send a transcript to your email too, but the accuracy is laughable. Still, it’s sometimes just good enough that you don’t have to actually listen to the message. But if you want to, you can do that directly from the email.

  6. I’m going on my first trip to Europe in years and just heard about the chip/pin credit card requirement. Do you have any suggestions for credit cards that have both? It seems like most the I have looked at are chip/signature. Thanks in advance!

  7. if you’ll be gone for two weeks or more, I definitely recommend registered with the State Dept. even if you’re going somewhere benign like Europe. (Remember the riots in London a couple of years ago?)

    I also like getting a traveler’s cheat sheet from the OANDA website that I keep in my wallet – it has the local currency equivalents of common USD amounts and vice versa.
    Lastly, since I travel primarily to Africa where tipping in USD isn’t a big deal, I carry about $50 in $1 bills and $50 in $5 bills. I also carrying a $100 bill tucked away somewhere separately from my wallet just in case.
    I take extra passport photos with me, and have scanned photos of my personal and USG passport pages uploaded to Dropbox and also on a USB drive that I keep in my wallet.
    I use the Skype app on my iPhone whenever there’s wi-fi access – and turn off the roaming to avoid the charges!

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