Debit cards are the ultimate portable form of money, allowing you to use your hard-earned cash wherever you want without the rates and fees of credit cards.
But despite the globalisation of debit cards, there are still places and scenarios where using your debit card could be an issue.
So to help you better prepare for travel, here we take a look at some of the most common problems people have when using debit cards overseas and how to get around them.
Unfortunately your debit card may not be enough for you to book additional flights once you are overseas.
Some airlines and travel agents in Europe, for example, will only accept credit cards or cash from travellers.
The easiest way to make this restriction a non-issue is to book all of your flights before you travel, but if that is not possible then it is a good idea to take a back up credit card, travel card or find the nearest ATM.
Planning on driving around while you are overseas?
In theory paying for road tolls can be done with any card or cash, but in practise travellers have found difficulties with certain cards – even credit cards.
While having a microchipped MasterCard or Visa debit card does increase the chances of you being able to pay with plastic, there are a number of countries where you may still have trouble, including southern France and roads across America.
The LA Times recently published an article about travel cards, debit cards and credit cards that included information on which cards should work and which ones may have issues.
One of the biggest problems outlined was dealing with ATMs and unmanned transport ticketing booths.
It can even vary based on whether or not you sign for transactions or enter your debit card’s PIN, as reporter Catharine Hamm explains:
“Either [option] will probably work in most places that use that technology, but there are going to be occasions when it won’t,” Hamm explains, noting that “card purchases at Tube kiosks [in London] require a PIN.”
Most major hotels, including the Hilton and Marriot, require at least one credit card be provided upon check in to secure the booking.
This policy is mainly to ensure that the hotel is able to charge for any incidentals such as room service, but it could be a hassle if you are relying on your debit card.
If you do not have a credit card on hand, or are reluctant to provide it, then your best bet is to offer a MasterCard or Visa debit card.
You could also suggest a cash security deposit – just make sure you get a copy of how much you have left with reception so you can get it back easily when you check out.
The three situations above all look at different transactions that could be declined when you try to use your debit card, but there is also another factor to consider: how your debit card transactions are processed.
Many companies in the travel industry make use of authorisation holds, which reserve funds in your account during the transaction process. Hotels and airlines, in particular, tend to use authorisation holds when you book in so that they can add any incidentals to the final bill.
But these holds can last up to two weeks, potentially limiting your access to funds during that time. Authorisation holds can also increase your chances of ending up with an overdrawn account.
While you cannot stop a company putting a hold on funds during your travel, you can reduce the risk of emptying your account by looking at both the “current balance” and “available balance” on ATM statements or through your internet banking account.
Travelling with a debit card has come forward in leaps and bounds since the introduction of microchipped MasterCard and Visa options but, as the situations above show, there is still a long way to go before debit cards are the only form of money you will need when travelling.
In the meantime, reading up on the most common issues should give you an idea of potential problems when you are planning a trip, so that you can find alternatives and still get the most out of your debit card wherever you are.