At one time, it was a cost saving measure for travelers to use their credit cards when out of the country. Credit card companies receive discount rates for currency conversions, which when calculated, a credit card purchase was less expensive than say converting cash or the now blurred memory of a traveler’s check.
Times change, companies get greedy and new fees are imposed. As ex-pats, each credit card purchase or ATM transaction is considered a foreign transaction with American Express, Diners Club, Visa, and Bank of America. However, have you checked your statement carefully lately?
I just happened to notice on my Citibank Visa card that the annual percentage rate is 89.4%. Is this possible? I will never know since I have online banking set-up to pay the bill in full as soon as the bank is notified a statement has been issued.
Credit card companies also have instituted other hidden fees. Diners Club for instance has to be paid in full each month, however, each month that I have used it, the statements shows a “finance charge”. How can this be when it is paid off in full each month? When I called the company, they said “It is really a foreign currency transaction fee”. As ex-pats, we are plagued with these fees for as long as we stay out of the country, so why continue using them? Well, for one reason, Ron is traveling to the US on frequent flier miles. In December, the two of us are going to Ethiopia on frequent flier miles. Why don’t we get credit cards issued here in Hungary? Have you ever looked for hen’s teeth? Yes, they do exist, but are much less ubiquitous here than in the US.
Add to this the fact that Bank of America gouges us twice. They charge a $5.00 ATM withdrawal fee and add a 3% currency transaction fee on top of it. They do have cooperating banks in some countries where the $5. fee is waived, but Hungary is not one of them.
Connecting to this point, I just read in Christopher Elliot’s column that Congress is trying to close some of these fees, yet, there are still gaps that allow leakage. For example, the currency in Ecuador is the US dollar, but if you use your credit card in Ecuador, the credit card companies can still charge you a currency transaction fee for a foreign purchase.
For Christopher’s article and to learn what Congress is not doing to assist travelers go here.